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 user 2007-04-09 at 12:22:00 pm Views: 64
  • #17481

    To print or copy?
    Henry recently wanted to make
    copies of some reading for his economic development seminar. There were a
    limited number of books on general reserve, and they couldn’t be used for
    bedside reading. So, he purchased a copy card and added $10 to it. After the 30
    or so double-sided pages, he was shocked to learn that only $4 remained! Six
    George Washingtons to take home a little bit of reading? That’s odd, he
    thought. If the reading had been scanned and uploaded to Blackboard, a
    facsimile would have been free. In fact, he could have scanned it himself (at
    the cost of his time) and printed it. Why are copies 10 cents apiece while
    printing is unlimited and free?

    We can’t imagine that the actual costs of printing and copying are that
    different. Toner is toner and paper is paper. One close source tells us that
    copy toner may even be cheaper than print toner. Is copier maintenance more
    expensive? At the rate that printers in McCabe break, we doubt that.

    Since a supply-side explanation hasn’t presented itself to us, maybe the law
    of demand could help. Yet if anything, a demand-side explanation implies that
    the price of printing would be higher! Those JSTOR articles and seminar papers
    can’t be copied. Printing is significantly more convenient for making multiple
    copies of a document in a computer file. Furthermore, the set of copyable items
    is a strict subset of the set of printable items. Anything that can be copied
    can also be scanned and printed, but not vice versa. The demand for printing
    would seem to be higher than that of copying at any given price, and thus we
    might expect a market outcome in which printing was the more expensive option.

    More importantly, Swarthmore’s pricing policies are clearly inconsistent
    with an efficient outcome. If the marginal costs of printing and copying are
    the same, their prices should be equal. Thus, at Swarthmore there is too much
    printing and not enough copying. Why should we care that Swarthmore doesn’t
    price things optimally? Ultimately, the answer to this question is that our
    scarce resources could be reallocated in such a way that everyone would be no
    worse off and some group would be better off. There are three ways in which
    this manifests itself.

    First, we might be tree-hugging hippies. All the printing of articles and
    seminar papers that you hope to read but never will wastes paper and toner.

    Second, we might care about getting to class on time. If printing costed
    money, people would print less. Hence, there would be less demand for the
    printers. When you wanted to print, there would not be the extravagant lines
    that cause you to lose your printouts and force you to print again. With less
    use of the printers, they would break less frequently, also reducing back-ups.

    Third, we might want more equality between the majors. At first blush it may
    seem unfair to penalize students who take classes that require the reading of
    many Blackboard-based articles and seminar papers. However, the college has
    heretofore been subsidizing said students at the expense of textbook-bound
    scientists and palette-bound artists. If anything, equity tips the scales of
    reason toward a positive price for printing.
    It is clear that the current policy of free printing and
    outrageously priced copying makes no sense. Printing should be more expensive
    and copying less.