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12 December, 2008

What's Up With Printers, Huh?

I bought a new printer yesterday. Funny thing is though, I only went into the shop to buy some printer ink.

My last printer (a Canon MP160) I bought after the one before that broke down. I found it in a KMart going cheap. At $67, I didn't much care what it's features were as long as it worked. And it did. Very well. When I ran out of ink, I went to but a new cartridge and found myself paying $94 for a pair (one black, one colour) - and this was a very good price. Since then, I've seen then at anything up to $120 a pair!

When I went out yesterday to buy another cartridge, I didn't have much time. I could only take 10 minutes in OfficeWorks in Brisbane in between other appointments. To my dismay, the black cartridge I wanted was $58. However, to get to them, I walked past a pile of Canon MP480 printers - almost identical spec to my Canon MP160 but with a much more attractive number - going for $99, including two full ink cartridges. It was a no-brainer really, especially when I discovered that the refill ink cartridges for the MP480 cost about half as much as those for the MP160. So I bought one. A new printer, that is.

The whole transaction has been bothering me ever since. For a start I can't understand why printer ink is SOOOO expensive. Is it just the printer companies ripping us off, or do they really make it out of orchid pollen, platinum, and the gonads of endangered bats? Something must account for why it is one of the most expensive liquids in the world, costing as much as $8,000 per gallon ($2,100 per litre) according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Secondly, since the printer, its software, its manuals and all that packaging is collectively worth about as much as one ink cartridge (because two cartridges and the printer (etc.) come to the same price as three cartridges) and it has circuit boards, lamps, motors, a colour LCD screen at least as good as the one on my 3G phone, many moving parts, and the look of something they paid an industrial designer to cast her eye over, why aren't all consumer electronics dirt cheap too?

And thirdly, given that printers are essentially disposable now (like the similarly-priced ink cartridges) where do printer companies get off not running printer recycling schemes so you can dump your old one responsibly and pick up a new one when your ink runs out?

There is something horribly wrong with this whole situation and I suspect it all comes down to massively inflated prices for printer ink. Why, for instance, are there so many different cartridge sizes? There have been printers around for decades now and nobody has come up with a standard format? And why are ink cartridges not refillable (and I mean from a bottle of ink I can pur into a reservoir in the printer)? And why don't ink cartidges say what their content by volume is? Or their content by square centimetres of printed surface? Or give any clue whatsoever what their capacity is? Could that be so that you can't make a rational choice about which printer to buy or which manufacturer's cartidges?

This has got to be a scam. Someone is cheating and profiteering. Call me paranoid but, when it gets so bad that a printer costs less than a complete ink refill, I smell a rat.


(Picture is from the San Francisco Chronicle, see link in text.)

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