GEEKNOTE: Printers As Loss Leaders

Printers are often sold as loss leaders with the manufacturers making it up on ink or toner sales.

GEEKNOTE: Mom came by the store this past week because her old HP printer was eating paper. I explained that it just wasn't worth trying to repair an old printer.

I did some checking with my distributors and found that I could get an HP printer for $29.55 plus shipping and have it within a couple of days. I checked one of our local "big box" retailers and found out, sure enough, they had the same printer on sale for just $29. As much as I detest going to this particular store, I drove over during my lunch break and picked up a new printer for mom and installed it for her that afternoon.

Interestingly enough, two local Big Box stores sell the ink for this same printer for $30.99...

Yep.  The next time mom runs out of ink, it is going to be cheaper for her to buy a whole new printer than it will be to replace the ink cartridges.

This is not unusual. HP and other printer manufacturers have figured out that the "Gillette Plan" is the way to printer profits. They all but give away the printers and then take you to the cleaners for the ink.  Wikipedia has an interesting article on how this works, including estimates that we are paying upwards of $8,000 a gallon for ink:  ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inkjet_printer ). I haven't verified that number, but given how little ink you get for your $31, it sounds like it is probably not far off.

Low-end laser printers are priced the same way. I picked up a couple of inexpensive laser printers for our store on closeout sales for $99 each and the toner cartridges I feed them are about $70 each. When one of these printers breaks, I'll add it to the stack of old gear we send out for recycling.  hese little lasers are disposable.

Lasers print a lot more pages per cartridge, so the per page cost is significantly lower than for inkjets. If you don't need color, a low end laser like the ones I picked up may be just the ticket. If you print a lot of color, one of the color lasers on the market may be the right solution for you. If you are in the market, watch the sales.  There are deals to be had and you won't hurt my feelings by buying one on closeout elsewhere, given the lack of margin I've got on printers even at list price.

As you move up the printer price list, things get a little more interesting, but the same general principle applies. Some of the better inkjets and lasers can be had with high capacity cartridges that reduce the per page price. Keep in mind, the cost of supplies can be breathtaking: We had a color laser a while back that had high capacity cartridges ... the black cartridge was $150 and each of the three color cartridges were $330 each!  The printer itself retailed for about $12,000. Do the math.

You can also go with third party cartridges. I have personally not had a lot of luck with these, but I have customers that swear by them.

You might also consider what you are printing.  One off photo prints on an inkjet are quick and won't break the bank.  For most folks though,  printing a batch of pictures is going to be cheaper if you farm that job out rather than using an inkjet. As a bonus, you get better quality prints.  One of our local drug stores runs regular ads for 50 4x6 prints for just $0.10 a print. You can't print 50 pictures on an inkjet for $5. 

While I'm on the subject of printers: I am NOT a big fan of the multi-function scan / fax / print devices that are on the market. If you need all the features, that is fine, but if you don't, you are wasting money on the extra features and the added complexity just makes it that much more likely that the device is going to break.

If you want more information on printers, feel free to drop me a note or leave a comment here.

Rob Marlowe, Senior Geek, Gulfcoast Networking, Inc.


(Rob also serves as deputy mayor of the City of New Port Richey. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not necessarily represent the position of the city.)


This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Marilynn deChant May 29, 2012 at 01:38 PM
Great article (again!) Rob...and I learned so much. I have to agree about the hybrid printers...too many things going on in one machine makes me wonder about longevity. Also, I liked Jason's comments and his suggestion about an article on queue jams.
Rob Marlowe May 29, 2012 at 01:49 PM
Dusty, I've also seen these "starter" cartridges, especially with laser printers.
Scott Neal May 30, 2012 at 04:59 PM
Great Article, but I do believe there is something was overlooked. The newer printers do not come with Full Ink Cartridges they only come with Starter Cartridges now, Thus to intice you to purchase replacement ink in a hurry. If we keep purchasing and throwing away the disposable printers our landfills will over flow. Spend the extra money and get a better printer.
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