The ridiculousness of printer ink

21 Feb

One of the fun things about Twitter is that it’s a great forum for going on rants, to see if anybody else agrees with you. Such was the case this past Friday, when I saw that my printer had run out of ink. I’ve had my printer, an HP Photosmart, for a little while now but I use it sparingly - basically to print out things like plane and hotel reservations, just about never for photos - so this was only the second time I had run out of ink (black, to be exact).

I remember running out the first time very well because I was introduced to the shock that inevitably follows - the ridiculous cost of new ink cartridges. While a decent printer can be had for around $100, refilling that bad boy will generally cost you half as much. You can in fact buy a new printer that is loaded up with ink for less than it costs to get new cartridges. In my books, that’s a pretty hardcore example of highway robbery.

I took my outrage to Twitter and found a good many people agreed with me. A number of people furthered the topic, with Gwen McGuire pointing to an article that explained why ink is so expensive, while Alex Blonski pointed to an amazing chart that shows ink to be more pricey than human blood.

Another great thing about Twitter is that because it is a public forum, eventually if there’s enough bitching about something, it will get noticed by the people involved with said topic. The lovely folks at HP saw my discontent and sent me a link to the following video, which explains why the ink is costly:

After watching the video and reading the above interview that rationalized everything, I couldn’t help but be smarmy in my reply back to HP. I can’t imagine anyone is impressed by all the numbers thrown into that explanation, or by the really weak argument that a lot of technology goes into the ink. The truth is, if there’s one thing I learned while writing Sex, Bombs and Burgers, it’s that a whole lot of technology goes into producing just about everything - including the humble apple - so the rationalization borders on the absurd.

Fortunately, printing is a bit of a dying necessity. I’m heading off to Thailand at the end of the week for a vacation and I may try to make this my very first all-digital trip - no plane or hotel reservation printouts, they’ll all be on my smartphone. I suspect many people are doing the same, which is all the more reason for HP, Canon and the others to start dropping the prices on those ink cartridges.

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Posted by on February 21, 2011 in Uncategorized


6 Responses to The ridiculousness of printer ink

  1. Hub

    February 21, 2011 at 11:48 am

    It is like telco services in Canada, or car insurance in BC. There is a monopoly (for a given printer) on ink therefor they set the price. Most of the marketing is on the printer, which is the customer trap.

  2. Torontoworker

    February 21, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    If you use scale - you’ll find that car tires use 20x the amount of oil products and materials (Carbon black, Kevlar and Silica) as does printer ink and the technology involved in ink. Today’s road tires have higher R&D costs, larger production costs and staffing levels which should mean that the cost to produce each car tire should cost about $5000 per tire if you buy into the arguments of HP and their ink producing friends. The reasons for the relative inexpensive cost of car tires compared to printer ink is mainly healthy competition in the tire industry compared to the pure graft by the two or three companies involved in the production of ink.

    They are paying next to nothing in production and labor costs as the production is done in the 3rd world and the small R&D costs are spread between only a few different printer engines now due to standard printer designs. Ever wonder why you get so little ink in the cartridges? Think of a car manufacturer also owning the gas company you buy gas from. Why wouldn’t they limit the miles per gallon your car achieves when they also sell you the gas!

    Thank god for pdf’s! I look forward to the day when these fools wake up to the fact that people refused to be raped on pricing for ink and toner. I work for an organization that has just returned 75% of it’s leased printers and we now have clusters of 15 people sharing a single printer. We’re also banned on printing out emails and most other memo’s and we now digital sign our online documents. Even our fax /copier machine was sent back to the vendor when the contract was up. Looks good on all of them.

    They’ve microwaved their own goose.

    • petenowak2000

      February 21, 2011 at 1:02 pm

      Excellent analogy, and yes, you’re absolutely right about the goose. They’re pushing people into not needing their product. That’s pretty bone-headed. It’s like continually boosting the cost of cable while more and more programming is being made available for free on the internet. Did anyone running these companies bother to learn basic economics?

  3. mike

    February 23, 2011 at 12:34 am

    As a photographer, this is not a shock at all. We’ve been getting hosed since day one with expensive inks over and over. I can’t believe the people at HP would think that this would ” just explain everything for you and get you to stop bitching “. Yes, inks and all the related technologies and their R&D come at an expensive cost. But when their ink cartridges clog long before they are empty and you have to replace every one of them just to get them to work consumers will switch to either not printing them, or to taking them to customs labs to get printed instead, essentially the rebirth of the photolab.

  4. Chris

    April 5, 2011 at 10:49 am

    The simplest argument against the cost of printer ink is this: if ink was indeed so expensive, please explain why it costs me $2-$4 to print one 8×12 photo in colour on my printer when I can have a superior result from a photo lab, including service, for a tenth of the price (4×6 being at 10 cents per print).

    The answer is clear: there is in fact no product. We are just being sold the IDEA of one. With their ephemeral lifespans, printers might as well be holograms.


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