Don't write off the fax just yet

No-one uses a fax these days, do they? Efax specialist j2 Global thinks differently, as it continues its European expansion with new sites that are helping to fuel fast growth

If you thought the fax was dead, j2 Global would like to take issue with you. According to the fax and messaging supplier, the fax business is booming in most corners of the globe.

On Tuesday, the company announced that it was ramping up its European expansion with new businesses in Poland and Austria and a second facility in Spain.

Revenues at j2 have grown every quarter for the last two years, from $106m (£60.6m) in 2004 to $143m last year. The profits are very good in the fax business with gross margins just under 80 percent helping create a cash pile that has grown to $55m in two years.

The j2 jFax service works by giving customers a fax number that they can access from their PC. They can send and receive faxes from their desk or from anywhere in the world. Customers pay £7.50 per month for the service and 6p per page for outgoing faxes.

"This is a market of 500 billion faxed pages and we have 750,000 subscribers using the service a day," said Tim McLean, head of marketing at j2, which is based in Los Angeles. But why worry about a fax when you can send an email? "Security is one element," said McLean, "in the legal world of course, but in other areas where people want to see a fax as validation".

One growing area for j2 is sales, where over-enthusiastic sales people may be tempted to misinterpret a phone call or even an email and fatten a purchase order. "Yes, companies like the fax because it makes things clear," said McClean.

But electronic faxing has really caught on, McClean believes, mainly because of the cost savings — no toner, paper or machine is required.

Just like junk mail and junk emails, junk faxes remain an issue for some companies. McClean points out that there is little his company can do to stop customers receiving unwanted faxes but that with an efax, "at least they don't have the expense of toner and paper and they are easy to delete".

But j2 does pursue companies who are know to send junk faxes. "We may it clear that where we can we will use the court system," McClean said.

The key to j2's expansion is finding new access points for customers, and in moving into Poland the company added new geographic numbering in six cities in Poland including Warsaw, Gdansk, Krakow, Lodz, Posnan and Katowice.

The company has also launched 10 new locations in Spain, bringing the total number of Spanish cities covered to 19 and now increased its coverage in Austria to 25,000 geographic numbers in nine cities, including Vienna, Bregenz, Innsbruck, St. Pölten, Graz, Klagenfurt, Eisenstadt, Linz and Salzburg.

It currently supports English, Dutch, French, German and Spanish language versions. In Europe, j2 Global is approaching 300 locations including both inner and outer London; Birmingham; Bristol; Manchester; and Glasgow.