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 user 2009-06-30 at 12:07:38 pm Views: 92
  • #22073
    Why Printer Ink Is So Expensive
    Tolstoy, wordy fellow that he was, used a lot of ink. He was also on
    the frugal side, eventually renouncing his fabulous inheritance, trying
    to free his serfs and opting to stay in his kid sister’s convent. So
    you’ve got to wonder, if the Russian novelist had a home office, what
    kind of ink-jet printer would he use? It’s a question worthy of a great
    thinker’s consideration. After all, depending on which system you
    choose, the cost of printing a black-and-white page can range from two
    to 14 cents. Whether you’re printing a 1,400-page novel or your
    favorite borscht recipes, it adds up fast.

    Maybe he’d go for the
    Kodak. Unlike its rivals, which sell printers at a loss and make huge
    profits on the ink, the photo giant has been marketing its ESP printer
    line with an appealingly contrarian pitch: a fairly priced printer that
    takes cheap ink. Yes, it costs 30 percent more than comparable models,
    but the cartridges cost less than $15, and per-page printing costs are
    among the lowest in the industry. When I recently tried printing War
    and Peace using the Kodak ESP 5 and its $10 black cartridge, I got all
    the way up to page 317, where Rostov hears that the czar has been hit
    with a cannonball. Three cents a page works for me.

    You’d think
    the line would be a surefire hit. After all, the cost of printer ink is
    an old sore spot with consumers. In a 2007 Ipsos survey, 69 percent of
    respondents said cheaper ink tops their home-printer wish list. And
    it’s a legitimate gripe. The average retail price of a milliliter of
    ink shot up 360 percent between 1999 and 2007. Meanwhile, a $30 ink
    cartridge costs just three bucks to make; suppliers could cut prices in
    half and still take in a nice profit, says Lyra Research senior analyst
    Andy Lippman.

    But for most manufacturers, the traditional model
    is too lucrative to change. HP, for one, says its $29 billion Imaging
    and Printing segment is its most profitable division, earning three
    times what the company does on personal computers. That’s because even
    while printer makers lose about $30 on every $100 printer sale, the
    typical customer spends more than three times as much on ink over a
    three-year period as he did on the printer. And often, the cheapest
    models require the most expensive ink. If you find yourself
    irresistibly drawn to, say, the $30 Lexmark Z611 printer, replacement
    cartridges will set you back $66 a pop.

    So is Kodak
    revolutionizing the industry? Hardly. While the line launched with huge
    press fanfare, it sold just 520,000 printers last year—a tiny fraction
    of the 85 million ink-jet printers sold overall. Analysts say it’s
    because consumers are too shortsighted to consider the cost of ink when
    buying a printer. But I suspect the real reason is a strange quirk in
    the law that makes it almost impossible to compare long-term ink costs.
    The 1966 Fair Packaging and Labeling Act, which requires manufacturers
    to state quantities on consumer packaging, allows just a few
    exceptions, including lighters, safety pins and—you guessed it—ink.
    Only one of the major makers, HP, offers page-yield information on its
    cartridge packaging, and you still have to calculate per-page costs.
    “Consumers don’t have the right information to make the right choice,”
    says American Consumer Institute President Steve Pociask, who studies
    the ink market.

    Actually, the information is available, if you
    know where to look. Two years ago printer makers agreed on a universal
    standard to test how many pages their ink cartridges produce. HP and
    Epson, bless their inky souls, link to this information from their
    product pages. Canon and Lexmark, meanwhile, bury it so deeply online
    that I had to call their press offices for directions. Once you’ve got
    the data, you simply have to perform a series of seven calculations to
    determine the three-year cost of ownership for any particular printer.
    Have fun! Personally, while Tolstoy may not approve, I think I’ll let
    my serfs do the work.