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 user 2007-08-23 at 12:24:00 pm Views: 35
  • #18609

    The fall of the inkjet
    August 22, 2007 -With extraordinarily cheap inkjet printers now lining the shelves of electronics shops all around town, the cost conscious consumer could be forgiven for thinking the moment has finally arrived to print out all the family snaps sitting on their hard drive.But once their brand new $49 printer has cranked out all of last year’s happy snaps, a rude shock awaits; there is a very good chance their ink refills will cost more than the printer did.

    So how do the printer manufacturers get away with charging so much for their ink?While they claim that the cost is relative to the calibre of their product, to those initially suckered in by the lure of a cheap printer, it might feel more like highway robbery.The truth is that the vendors have adopted a business model we do not normally associate with technology products. To illustrate the ink sales model, think of razor manufacturers who almost give away their latest five-blade model, and then charge a small fortune for replacement blades. So, as inkjet printers increasingly sink below the $100 mark, the price of replacement ink cartridges creeps ever higher.

    But a recent study conducted by Choice magazine reveals that, often the cheaper the printer, the more expensive it will prove to maintain over time.In two separate inkjet tests run in the past year, the magazine concluded that the cheapest models on the market cost substantially more to own over a year than those which cost more and which had the lowest running costs.In the most recent study, it concluded: “We’ve done some simple comparisons including the purchase price as well as running costs. The cheapest printer to buy (Canon Pixma MP160) is still $110 more expensive to own for three years than the cheapest to run (Canon Pixma MP530).”Although comparative price-per-page data for the full range of printers on the market is hard to come by, internet chat forums are stuffed full of tips on how to lower average printing costs, and third-party ink suppliers are doing a roaring trade, despite manufacturers’ dire warnings that these products will produce inferior prints.

    But Rishi Ghai, an IDC research analyst says that the printer makers’ sales models continue to work in spite of cheaper alternatives on the market because many buyers of inkjet printers “don’t want a high involvement decision” when it comes to procuring replacement ink cartridges.Indeed the sales model promises to become so profitable for printer makers that the low end of the market is becoming increasingly crowded, with machines costing less than $100 now accounting for more than 33 per cent of the total market, up from less than 7 per cent in 2005, Mr Ghai saidThe first to kick back against that trend is Kodak, a new entrant to the inkjet market. The company is hoping to grab headlines with the news that its new Easyshare 5300 multifunction inkjet printer due to hit the shelves here in September will slice up to 50 per cent off the average cost of ink. Although the machine will not compete in the sub $100 segment, the company believes the $299 inkjet will have broad appeal owing to the lower cost of replacement ink.Magnus Felke, product marketing director at Kodak, says: “When I talk to customers they talk about how much they limit themselves or their kids in printing because of the cost of ink. We are embracing a very different business model. We want to be disruptive.”However Robin Kenyon, managing director of Calidad, Australia’s largest seller of printer refill kits, argues that it isn’t necessarily cost that prevents people from printing out their photos at home.”Price may be important but the key reason that people are not printing their photos is because they don’t know how. The technology is still too complex.”He says that, despite an excellent range of printers on the market, the expertise required to combine the camera, printer and their associated software is still too much for the average user.Not only that, but he says the biggest stumbling block of all is that most people still believe that they can only print photos on A4 sized paper at home  when in fact most printers can easily handle smaller prints.”The printer manufacturers have created beautiful equipment, but I cannot count the number of times I have asked people with printers what they do with their photos only to discover they are still in their camera or the computer. So there is a pent-up demand of people who would like to print but are unaware of how to achieve it using the technology they already have,” he says.

    Another concern that is often voiced by potential buyers is image quality. However Mr Kenyon says that technology has now reached the stage at which most inkjet printers are able to produce very attractive prints, so it is matters such as the speed at which photos are printed, and additional functions, that will determine the final price of the unit.But there is still the issue of durability of those photos that you decide to print.  A total of 23.1 million printer ink cartridges were bought in Australia last year, and, of these, 3.2 million were cheaper third-party refill inks.”We do not claim to have the same print life or quality [as original manufacturer ink],” Mr Kenyon said. “We offer value and choice and we are not claiming to be the same. However, the point is that, regardless of the ink, precious photos are generally well cared for and well protected, and far less subject to harsh environmental influences that are known to diminish their quality over time.”