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Jan 25

The Evil that is your Printer… part 1

Evil printers

We’ve all been there…

Back in 2010 you may remember that the police, acting on a tip-off from Saudi intelligence, found a printer at East Midlands airport, sent from Yemen and destined for the US, packed with explosives.

My first reaction was – as if printers weren’t evil enough already.

They have certainly come along way in the past ten years alone, but I bet the average office manager still spends a good few hours a year pulling out trapped paper, and silently cursing whoever replaced the  ink cartridges without telling anyone they had used the last one.

Printers are an interesting example of two economic and marketing phenomena. Both designed to make you poorer.

The first was first demonstrated by an 18th century French economist who postulated that the main reason third-class on the new railway system was so uncomfortable (they didn’t even get a roof!) was to scare or shame people into paying more for second class tickets. It’s the same reason why the ‘value’ and ‘own brands’ in supermarkets are packaged so distinctly and plainly. It allows them to say how cheap their prices are, while doing everything they can to persuade you to spend more.

It happens in office life as well. What do you think costs more to make? Windows 7 Ultimate or the Home version? Given that the former is about £50 more expensive, logically you would go with that. However, Microsoft engineers actually spend most of their time designing and testing the former option. Once that is done, they then invest more time developing ways to disable features for the cheaper versions, meaning more costly programmer time to develop the cheaper options.

And printers – the same. Xerox is an example that comes to mind. They once produced two versions of the same printer, one significantly faster than the cheaper model. Once people started poking around and trying to repair them, they noticed that the cheaper model had an extra chip.

Yup, they went through the expense of designing, developing, programming, building and installing an extra chip in the cheaper model to make it run slower. And then sold it for less. Once the news was out, of course, people started buying the cheaper model and removing the chip to get the high-end performance of the more expensive one.

The second way printers are used to bleed your organisation dry is probably more familiar. They are loss-leaders.

Booze and bread in supermarkets, printers and … ink. The other black gold. Famously more expensive than champagne, you will fork out many times the cost of the printer in refills over its lifetime.

You’re trapped – you have already bought the printer, and to use it you need the ink they sell. They tell you that the printer guarantee is void if you use generic products. They probably recommend that you use their paper as well, you know, for optimum performance.

So, now we know the ways they gouge you … our next look is how to make the most of the printer you have, and what to look for in a new one. Stay posted!