Monday, September 24, 2007

Printer Economics

My venerable HP Deskjet 500 has finally died. I have had it since the early 90's I think. It was only the second printer I ever owned after my old Epson LX-80 dot matrix printer (which would probably still work just fine, actually, but whose output was no longer acceptable - even in the bad old days of the early 90's).

By died I don't mean that there is anything major wrong with it. The thing is a tank (like all things HP used to be). By died, I mean that little things have started to go wrong and it is most likely not worth the trouble and expense to fix it. The sheet lifter doesn't always work on the first try and for some reason the ink cartridges are clogging with depressing regularity.

I have two other printers. An Epson Stylus Photo R2400, which is completely brilliant for photography, but isn't really a general purpose printer, and some generic POS from Lexmark that I got for free when I bought my last computer, which is, umm, temperamental and very slow for basic printing.

The kind of stuff that I tend to print these days is very different from when I bought my old Deskjet. I want to print google maps and web content. Things that are mixed color and black and white. I want the color bits to look reasonable and the black print to be perfect. The only kind of printer that really meets this need is a color laser printer.

So I started looking at low end color laser printers to see if I could afford them yet, and lo and behold, I can. I settled on the HP Color Laserjet 2600n, which when I ordered it had a $100 instant rebate in effect, making the total 299.99. Less than half of what I paid for my Deskjet 500 way back when.

The cartridges that come with this printer are full new cartridges (not the crippled "teaser" cartridges that some manufacturers try to slip you) that should print around 2500 pages (mixed duty) before they need to be replaced.

Now here is where it gets funny. A set of replacement cartridges costs $323.96. That's right, more than the printer. So this printer is disposable. I can't believe that I live in a world where color laser printers are disposable.

The total cost for this printer works out to about 12 cents per page, which isn't bad.

I feel really sad for the environment, though. This kind of economic model is criminally stupid. Is there anything that isn't disposable anymore?



En-her-gy Girl said...

I am thrilled to hear you are concerned about your old printer turning into e-waste. I wish more people were concerned about it.

In our town (Berkeley, CA) we have I hope you have something similar?

(I'm Jeff's little sister.)

Jeff Carlson said...


This is boggling. With the Inkhjet printers you have the option of getting "refilled" cartridges and lower cost options rather than the ones from the manufacturer. I Googled color laser printer cartridges and found a hit for low cost options. The best I could find is a place that sells each color for about $15 less (so $62 x 4 = $248). This is still essentially buying another printer every time you replace all of the cartridges but at least it is not more.

One does have you question the quality of thought by those marketing and setting price points for printers and their accessories. This seems suspicious at best.

David said...

I am not aware of anything like around here. It sounds like an interesting organization.

David said...


I intentionally kept the economics really simplistic. I am very familiar with laser cartridge refilling as my brother in law was in that business for a while and a friend of mine still is.

So I might buy some refilled cartridges, if I can find them and they are cheap enough, after these quit.

But even if it costs HALF as much I have a problem. Now I have to estimate the probability that the printer will crap out with this set of cartridges (not because they are refilled, but just because stuff breaks) and factor that in to the cost. I would have to do estimates over a range, or take my best guess, and things get fuzzy.

Intuitively though, I think that if I can find cheap refills it might be worth refilling up to twice. As time goes on it will be more likely that the printer will break soon and less likely that I will find cartridges cheap (if they get rarer over time). And more likely that technology will have made some other printer technology more attractive to me.

If I used the printer more (if I were an accountant or something) it might make sense to refill it much longer (with cheap refills), but I expect these cartridges to last me for a year or two.

I might also find myself in a position where I would just refill the black cartridge, which I didn't analyze at all. That would also improve the overall economic value picture. I might be able to force this by being really good about selecting black and white printing as often as I can. But then that isn't why I bought the printer.