Cybernaut 

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.

Luckily, printers are cheap these days. Future Shop (www.futureshop.ca) 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 (www.pcworld.com) 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.

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