KODAK’s INK CARTRIDGES & THE END-USER
KODAK’s INK CARTRIDGES & THE END-USER
2007-02-16 at 12:22:00 pm #17704
Kodak’s Ink Jet Cartridges and the end-user
PARIS It has long been a mystery and irritation to consumers: Why are ink-jet printer cartridges so expensive?You can buy an entire printer for the price of three or four ink refills. For people who print a lot of photos at home, it feels like punishment for being a fan. For people who might be tempted to custom- print their own, it is a real barrier to even starting.Mostly, the out-of-kilter pricing is a quirk of how the printer business evolved. It’s the razor-and- blade model: The razor comes at an incredible value, but you are stuck buying expensive, proprietary razor blades for as long as you shave.Kodak, struggling for a way to reclaim its past glory in the digital age, has decided to up-end the approach. This week, it got into the home ink-jet printer business, but it was the printers’ replacement cartridges that got all the attention. The more expensive color ink is priced at $15, while the black ink cartridges go for $10.For those of us paying $30 and up each time the printer runs dry, this is a godsend. Of course, Kodak’s printers will not come at the dirt- cheap prices that we are now used to, but at around $200, the all-in- one printer-scanner-copiers are not completely out of reach, either.Hewlett-Packard, the biggest seller of ink-jet printers, hasn’t officially responded to Kodak’s tactic. Nor have Canon, Lexmark and the others.
The inevitable result of competition like this can only be good for the consumer, right?
You might think so. But it may be too little, too late. Most of the printing of photos from digital cameras is not done at home, but through either Internet services or retail kiosks. Self-printing accounts for only about 30 percent of the snapshots that end up on paper, relegating us home-printing types to nearly the same niche status as home darkroom developers of the film age.O.K., so if Kodak can make printer cartridges at a profit for $10, why can’t the others? My brilliant suggestion to Jaime Cohen Szulc, the chairman of Eastman Kodak Europe, was for Kodak to make $10 cartridges for the other printer manufacturers.Ah, but there’s a catch: One of the reasons Kodak can cut the price and still claim to maintain high printing quality is that it moved the “print head,” the mechanical device that actually does the spraying of the ink, from the ink-jet cartridge to the printer itself.The conventional approach of the other printer makers is to craft the print head, at some expense, onto the cartridge. So Kodak’s cartridges, even if they were slightly rejiggered to fit a Canon printer, would still need to be re-engineered to include the print head. Szulc said that this just was not going to happen.Besides, the disgruntlement over ink prices isn’t just about the $30. It is also about being locked into an HP replacement, for instance, if you have an HP printer, and Kodak has not changed that part of the equation. The existing printer manufacturers have made it difficult, if not impossible, for outside companies to make knock-off (i.e., cheaper) generic replacements.Szulc said the Kodak’s research has repeatedly shown that dissatisfaction with the price of ink cartridges is consumers’ No. 1 complaint about home printing. Most also say they would print more if the cost were more reasonable.”We’re late to the market,” he admitted. “That’s why we couldn’t come in with something that’s only slightly better than what already exists.”Although Szulc called his company’s tactic a “breakthrough” on pricing, he also said, “We’re not doing this because we’re nice people. We intend to make money on each printer and cartridge.” Kodak aims to be among the top three printer makers in the world within three years, he said.Still, Kodak is to be applauded for the move to cheaper cartridges, which will roll out globally in stages. (Two of its new printer models will be sold in Europe this spring before broader availability later in the year; no specific plans have been announced for Asia.) It may yet change the dynamics of the printer market.