A Free Press

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About a year ago, we a ran a Citing by Jesse Walker about the printer manufactuer Lexmark's attempts to use the DMCA to prevent competitors for making refill cartridges for their printers. (Short version: Lexmark printers were made not to work unless they detected a chip present on the cartridge. When another company made cartridges with a chip that would activate the printer, Lexmark charged they'd violated DMCA's "anti-circumvention" provisions.) Now, Wired News reports that an initial injunction in Lexmark's favor has been overturned.

NEXT: A Different Sort of "Open Source"

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  1. Does anyone besides me think that way that most printer manufacturers market their ink cartridges is obscene? I have to spend $60 to refill my little HP DeskJet, and that’s almost what I initially paid for it.

    Yes, I’ve tried remanufactured cartridges, but they don’t last anywhere near as long as the name brand which doesn’t justify the pittance I save. The ink refill kits they also peddle are worthless too.

  2. I went through a series of small inkjets several years ago; a new printer cost the same as a replacement cartidge.

    And yes, it’s obscene.

  3. “I have to spend $60 to refill my little HP DeskJet, and that’s almost what I initially paid for it.”

    If you look at overstock.com, its usually cheaper to buy a new printer than a cartridge.

  4. The printer manufacturers (and software vendors and record labels and movie studios) want it both ways. They want the kind of enforceable monopoly on how their equipment (and intellectual property, etc.) gets used that they could reasonably be entitled to if they were renting the printers to consumers, but they want to sell the printers outright so they can have nice simple accounting and near zero liability for faulty equipment.

  5. You may find that some new printers come with a smaller or less-full cartridge than the replacements. Also, I think the lexmark cartridges are more than just ink – you are sorta rebuilding your printer when you replace the cartridge. Anyway, just be good greenies and do what’s right for the environment. Ever replace the battery in your cordless phone?

  6. The cost per page for a ink jet is flat out outrageos. If you don’t need color, you’re far better off with a laser printer, the initial cost is higher, but the per page cost is a fraction of an ink jet.

    Regards

    Joe

    PS you can now buy a good color laser for under a grand, but that is still too pricey for most peons.

  7. Last I checked, mass market printers were being sold at below their production cost. It may not be that the ink is so expensive as much as it is that companies like HP reimburse themselves for the costs of printer production with ink revenue.

    I wouldn’t advise anyone to quit their job, buy HP stock and retire on the checks HP sends you for your share of the gouge. According to the link below, HP’s profit margin is just over 4%, and it’s return on equity is about 2.5%.

    http://finance.yahoo.com/q/ks?s=HP

  8. Please ignore my comment above–entirely!

    Lexmark’s operating margin is 10.75% and its return on equity is a whopping 31%.

    HP’s margin is at around 4%, but its ROE is at 8.5%, oh yeah, and its symbol is HPQ.

  9. It may be obscene the way they sell cartridges, but hey if you think you can start up a printer company and offer something better and grab the market share then by all means do it, and put me down as your first customer. That’s what the Netflix guy did, got a $45 bill for an overdue movie from blockbuster and figured he could do better.

  10. There are other printers besides HP. Canon, which produces very good photo output, does not make you change the print head every time you run out of ink. You are simply buying tanks of ink, therefore the cost for Canon replacement ‘cartridges’ is around 8-10 dollars for OEM ink. Now, granted, to get the photo-realistic printing, you need 6 colors, and after one tank runs out, you’re going to be continually low on at least one color at all times, but the print quality is excellent.

    The cost per page is STILL rather high (full page color is about $1.50 per sheet, but cheaper than HP) compared to laser copying, and large-scale color printing has come so far that our company now has a full color copier that works out to about $.25 per sheet.

    The abuse of copyright law is not amazing though, and will end up costing everyone. s.m.koppelman’s statement isn’t limited to only the printer manufacturers, but expands to nearly everything. IP should be protected, but it can’t be the same way that copyright has been, or we WILL be buried under its weight.

  11. Here is an interesting question. Why do ink jet companies charge next to nothing for printers and a lot for the ink, while laser printers are sold for not much more, but they charge much less for the toner. These companies all compete in both markets, so there must be some profit-based answer to why the costs are so different.

  12. What’s awful isn’t the ink price gouging. After all, you *are* getting a great deal on the printer itself- they’re practically giving them away. And if they want to lock down their hardware, that’s fine too- because they’ll be punished in the marketplace if a competitor sells printers that aren’t locked into one ink vendor. What’s obscene is using that $*(%&ing DMCA to go after people. This is *not* what that law was written for, and everybody knows it. Just like using the Patriot Act to go after drugs, it was such a poorly written law that it practically screams for abuse. The DMCA has even been used to threaten a garage door remote replacement manufacturer.

    The DMCA urgently needs to be repealed.

  13. I have an Epson Photo printer 820 and the Epson cartridges run around $20.
    I’ve been getting my ink from Printpal.com for less than half that with satisfactory results.
    Another saving is Epson photo quality paper from Costco for $20 for 100 sheets.
    My main complaint is the nozzles clogging up if you don’t use the printer frequently.

  14. Umm, to the HP ROI person above: HP loses money/breaks even on its other divisions aside from printing (PCs, Servers, PDAs, etc.) Dell tends to mop the floor with them, apart from really big iron.

    There’s even a rumor that they’re going to spin off the PC biz, and keep HP as the printer only company.

    That said, who the heck would ever use Lexmark?

  15. I never used to care about the price of ink until I left last job, where I had “unlimited access” to a $15,000 color printer. It worked great. Now even the Staples cartridges look overpriced to me. Ain’t life a bitch.

  16. David,
    I have a few buddies that work for HP developing new, cool technologies. One guy left because he hated doing bleeding edge technology work for what he called “an ink company.” He said that everything else was a way of boosting the company’s standing in the public eye to boost printer sales, which are ink sales. He liked the job, but the fact that what he did was a tertiary concern bugged him.

  17. I have a few buddies that work for HP developing new, cool technologies. One guy left because he hated doing bleeding edge technology work for what he called “an ink company.” He said that everything else was a way of boosting the company’s standing in the public eye to boost printer sales, which are ink sales. He liked the job, but the fact that what he did was a tertiary concern bugged him.

    Hear that a lot. HP was a great company…

    /Carly

  18. I am an electrical engineer– EE Times magazine ran a story last month about how unsafe batteries in consumer equipment were a big concern and that the same encyrption chips could be used for batteries. I wrote them a scalding letter saying this was just a trial balloon for yet another evil tying arrangement. When you do the business case for anything that has consumables, whether razors or printers or phone service, there is an exponential growth curve because each new customer adds revenue till infinity– MBA scum love this. I assume those same heros that cracked every other form of corporate rape (DVD encryption, dongles etc) will save us again.

    Oh yeah– that s.m. koppelman guy/gal is a very smart person.

  19. I bought a used Canon 600 on ebay a few years ago. It takes 4 separate ink tanks. I have to change the black tank fairly often if I do a lot of text printing, but since I don’t do much color printing it is enormously cheaper to use a multi-tank printer than the “all-colors-in-one-cartridge” alternatives.

    Another thing that sucks about inkjets is that the cleaning cycle uses up ink. I bet the genius who thought that up got a gold star.

    Kevin

  20. Maybe the Unabomer and his typewriter were onto something. I mean, typewriter ribbon isn’t exactly pricey these days.

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