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The printer conundrum

Although the end goal is a paperless society, with the exception of Pique Newsmagazine, a computer without a printer is like a guitar without a low ‘E’ string – you’re just not getting the full effect.

Although the end goal is a paperless society, with the exception of Pique Newsmagazine, a computer without a printer is like a guitar without a low ‘E’ string – you’re just not getting the full effect.

Luckily, printers are cheap these days. Future Shop ( has inkjet printers for sale starting at $49.95 – far less than you’d pay for an average quality blender.

The catch – and there’s always a catch – is the high cost of replacing the ink cartridges. Some industry watchers have accused the big printer companies of selling printers at cost in order to benefit later from ink cartridge sales.

The printer that sells for $45 has two ink cartridges – one black and one colour, a feature that allows you to print in black and white and save money and colour for when you need to impress someone.

A black ink cartridge is $26.99. A colour ink cartridge is $32.99. If you need to replace them both, you’re looking at a charge of $59.88 – almost $10 more than the purchase price of the printer.

When you think about it, you’re actually getting the printer for free with a $10 rebate because it comes equipped with both cartridges.

It’s actually cheaper to throw out the printer and buy a new one than to replace the ink cartridges.

This same dynamic holds true in varying degrees for higher-end printers – the more expensive the printer, the more expensive it is to replace the ink. The sky appears to be the limit.

Because none of this appears to make sense, PC World Magazine ( put together an interesting article this month on why ink cartridges cost so much. Or, as they put it, are "more expensive, by weight, than imported Russian caviar."

According to their research, some companies are selling consumer printers at cost, or even at a loss of up to 20 per cent in order to grab your attention and your business for the foreseeable future. It’s already common practice in the cell phone industry, where phones come free as part of various calling plans.

One financial analyst found that printer companies make as much as 80 per cent of their profit from the sale of ink and other accessories.

Enter the third-party companies. Some enterprises out there have gotten into the business of designing their own replacement cartridges, or recycling old cartridges, and selling them for about 75 per cent of the cost of brand name replacements – and still manage to make a comfortable profit.

The brand name companies have hit back, taking some third-party manufacturers and retrofitters to court for patent violations. Currently third party ink companies account for about 16 per cent of the $21 billion ink cartridge industry in the U.S. alone.

Some companies are taking unusual steps to keep their captive audience captive. Lexmark is leading the way with its more expensive toner cartridges by installing a special chip. If your printer doesn’t see this chip when you install a replacement, it simply won’t work. People are now worried that this idea could be extended to inkjet printers, and that similar ideas will be adopted by other manufacturers.

They are also taking pot shots at the third party manufacturers, claiming that the quality and the materials are inferior. In some cases, they have a point. But when it comes down to 75 per cent savings and a few smudges, or full price and top quality, most home users will go with the former every time.

The big companies also justify their higher costs the same way pharmaceutical companies justify their prices – the high cost of cartridges reflects the high price of research and development as much as it reflects the cost of production.

One European NGO, called the Office of Fair Trade, is advocating an idea that the leading printer companies should clarify what the costs of operation are on top of the store price. That would allow budget-minded customers to make better decisions when buying a printer, instead of going for the printer that could be more expensive.

It’s probably not going to happen. All the information is there, if you care to do a little research, so you can hardly blame printer companies for separating printer sales from cartridge sales.

It’s interesting to note is that the cost of printers has dropped dramatically, while the cost of ink cartridges has increased, shifting the business model to selling ink rather than printers. According to CAP Venture, the average price of a personal ink jet printer dropped 60 per cent from 1996 to 2002. During the same period, the average price for a printed page has risen about 12 per cent, from eight cents a page to nine cents.

Seeking out quality third party replacements, and printing black and white instead of colour where possible, is probably the only way to keep your printer costs down. And if that doesn’t work, you can always go paperless.

Gamer demographic shifts

A recent Entertainment Software Association poll of gamers turned up some remarkable findings.

According to the poll, the average age of video game players has risen to 29. Furthermore, about 26 per cent of all game players are women 18 or older, while just 21 per cent are boys from 6 to 17. Even stranger is the fact that adults over 50 are about 17 per cent of the gaming population.

Men 18 and older still represent the largest slice of the pie at 38 per cent.

Although the data is far from conclusive, it does point to a few changing trends that game companies are no doubt aware of. Look for more game titles to reflect the shifting demographics, including more games targeted to women and men over 50.