Everyone knows the feeling of dread when a printer starts begging for more ink. While the machines themselves are often a bargain, the ink can bleed you dry. That might change soon as HP, the largest maker of consumer printers is considering a change that would mean cheaper ink. The downside is the printers themselves might be more spendy.
The printer business is an example of the tried-and-true “razor blade model.” That term comes from razor manufacturers which sell the handles cheap but charge high prices for the blades to go with them. Over time, the company can make many times more on the blades than they could ever make on a high-priced handle. Printers are the same with inexpensive hardware and expensive ink cartridges. However, hair just keeps growing, but our need for printing continues to drop.
An analyst report from Morgan Stanley claims that HP is internally planning to give up on the razor blade model. It’s not doing it to make you happy, though. It’s about money — HP isn’t making as much of it on printer ink because people print less often. The investor note says that about 20 percent of HP’s printer customers aren’t buying enough ink to be profitable.
Being stuck on the razor blade business model has probably contributed to the sorry state of today’s printers. Virtually every part of the computing experience is better than it was at the turn of the last century, but printers are almost unchanged. Sure, they have Wi-Fi and fancy little LCD screens, but print and hardware quality have stagnated. If HP works on selling the printers instead of the ink, we could end up with better devices. Imagine, an inkjet printer that doesn’t start choking on paper or spitting out distorted pages after 18 months.
We might finally see HP release some innovative printers if this plan comes to fruition, but it’ll come with a price. Specifically, a higher price for printers. Instead of counting on ink sales to turn a profit, HP would have to make money selling you a better printer. That means a higher upfront cost, but maybe that’s worth it to escape this nightmarish cycle of expensive ink and failure-prone hardware. If HP can make this work, other manufacturers could get on board and change printers for the better.
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