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 user 2007-02-21 at 10:57:00 am Views: 36
  • #17378

    An inkjet price war, at last
    It’s been a long time coming: in an inkjet market dominated by three companies whose business plan is to make profits by selling overpriced consumables (ink cartridges), it was only a matter of time before someone would come in with lowball prices. Kodak, bless their corporate hearts, have obliged.Earlier this week, Big Yellow announced three inkjet printers, dangling the promise of 10-cent 4×6 prints. The press gobbled it up, and rightly so. Cutting the price of making a print at home in half is big news.

    $10,000 per gallon!
    How overpriced have inkjet catridges been? My friend and former co-worker Mike McNamara at Popular Photography & Imaging recently calculated that a Magenta HP ink cartridge for its Photosmart 8200 series holds 3.5ml and costs around $9.99. There are 3,785 ml in a gallon…and therefore, a gallon of magenta ink would cost $10,788 per gallon! .Mike went on to predict that oil–sorry, I meant ink–prices would continue to rise this year. That was before Kodak introduced its trio of all-in-one (scan/print/copy) printers and pigment-based inks they say will cost half as much as inkjet inks from Canon, HP, and Epson. So…I guess that means the price has gone down to $5,000 a gallon. It’s a start.
    Let’s look at how this can play out.

    Scenario 1: A real price war.
    HP, Canon and Epson see consumers flocking to Kodak thanks to an advertising and viral Internet publicity blitz , and get the hint. The three companies introduce a new generation of printers that use less expensive inks. OK, maybe they won’t last quite as long as current ones, but probably won’t start fading for at least 25 years–comparable to a typical photo lab print. The battle is joined. Consumers win.

    Sceneario 2: Kodak bombs, prices stay high
    Hey, it could happen. Kodak, a latecomer to digital printing, may not be percieved as a serious player in the public mind, and sales of the new units are slow. Kodak hasn’t helped itself by limiting the distribution of two of the three printers to a single retail source. Consumers miss out on price competition–except on the 5500–the most expensive model–which will be widely available in May. Kodak took a risk here. Consumers who already use online printers stick with them.

    Scenario 3: An inkjet caste system develops
    The most likely scenario, in my opinion, is this one: premium, high-end inks for professional and enthusiast use will continue to be expensive and unaffected by Kodak’s announcement. But most inkjet printer companies will reduce pricing on consumer-level inkjet inks. For the non-descerning eye, the difference will hardly be noticed, and the lower price will be welcomed. I also think Kodak will add lower-price printers that will be widely distributed, which will bring down the cost of entry. Consumers win.

    What about online processing?
    But what does this do to online processing? There is still the convenience factor: with online processing, you don’t need to invest in a printer and keep ink and paper stock in your home. Just press “upload” and they do the rest.There is also an added value in labs who know how to coax the best print quality out of image files, something that might take some effort at home. For example, Adorama’s PIX Photo Center (go here) gives users the option to let them (PIX) choose the best print settings based on their experience.Many labs make this process easy, and should continue to develop software for home PC users (and don’t forget Mac users!) to make uploading and processing large batches of photos push-button simple. By keeping the price competitive and emphasizing the advantages, online processing labs should ride out a home printing craze, if it comes.

    The next phase
    Why spend so much time thinking about the cost of making prints at home and online? Because the digital camera industry is starting to show signs of maturity: camera prices have fallen, and sales are starting to flatten. Expect this trend to continue, since most consumers have by now purchased at least one digital camera.Printing, organizing, sharing, and preserving images will take on greater importance now as we enter the next phase in the digital age. Look for new, innovative things to do with all of these image files clogging our computers, USB drives, and memory cards.