Ink Cartridges Are A Scam


Okay, there’s a story. Flashback almost a decade ago, I’m working at an unnamed telemarketing centre as a “technical support assistant” for an unnamed computer company’s laptop division. Y’know when you call customer support and nine times out of ten the person you’re connected to is from a different country, and you can’t understand them, and they can’t understand you? I was that one time in ten when you’d reach somebody from the States and actually get the help you needed much faster. And you might have noticed – if you’ve ever had the misfortune of ever calling into technical support – that they spend around 20% of the time actually fixing your problem and about 80% of the time…trying to sell you stuff. That’s because they’re trained to. The tech company you purchased that laptop from also needs to sell other products to stay afloat, often times overpriced mouses, backup drives… Antivirus software is a big one because it’s easy to get computer-illiterate folks to buy into; Anything to make an extra buck while trying to fix the broken thing that you’ve already shelled out many for. So anyway, one day, I’m sitting at my desk, getting yelled at by an irate customer from Georgia and a note comes across my computer’s alert system. Every few weeks the manufacturer has to liquidate old products, because they’re about to get replaced by new models, and it was our job to try to sell these old products at full retail price to customers unaware they were about to go on sale. A bit shady, but par for the course. The Georgia dude eventually hung up on me and a second later I was connected to a woman in Nevada who had a really simple question: She had just purchased her laptop and she didn’t know how to install her word processor. I quickly walk her through the process, chatting her up to see if I can sell her something, and I learn that she’s about to head to her freshman year of college. [Posh accent] “COLLEGE, you say? Well, dear madam, have you a PRINTER to produce HARD COPIES of all the ENGLISH ESSAYS you’ll be writing?” (I…didn’t actually ask her like that.) “Oh, I…hadn’t thought about getting my own printer.” “WELL THEN, I can order a model this MORNING and have it delivered RIGHT to your DORM on the MORROW!” So I pulled up our internal store page and accessed the printer section. So, a quick little ditty about that page: When I, the tech agent, pulled up a product I was presented with two prices, one in red and one in black. The black number was the retail price: This is how much you would sell the product for over the phone. The red number was the manufacturing price: In other words, how much it cost the company to make that product. Now, why did it tell us this figure, I have no idea. I think it had something to do with the fact that the bookkeeping folks used the same internal system as the retail folks? I-I don’t know, I’m sorry, I get distracted a lot. So I’m scrolling through the different printer models and talking to the girl about all the various features that each one of them offers and at the bottom of my screen I catch a glimpse of replacement ink cartridges and my jaw drops. We were selling packages of standard capacity multi-colour ink cartridges for $59.95, and the cost of manufacturing? 23 cents! I was stunned. I mean, so stunned that I put the Nevada girl on hold and called my supervisor over. I pointed at the screen and asked him, “is that really the cost of manufacturing?” He took a glance at the screen, laughed, then nodded, “yyyyyyyup.” I looked at him in disbelief. “That’s a total scam!” And he said, “Eh. What can you do about it.” Which leads us to today. Today, I am doing something about it. So this is an ink cartridge, and inside of it is printer ink, the most expensive liquid in the world, right behind king cobra venom, scorpion venom, Chanel number five, insulin, and mercury. So first, some disclosure, I’m only gonna be hating on inkjet printers like this one. Laser printers get a pass. This is my mom’s printer. This is about the fifth one that I’ve bought this week. It excels in two areas: Number 1, the ink cartridges always need to be replaced, and number 2, it’s always broken. Seriously, this thing worked for like a hot minute and then I started getting the good ol’ white lines everybody and their cousins probably experienced. I called up technical support myself and the first question they asked me was, “have you replaced the ink cartridges recently?” So let’s talk about the wonderful scam of ink cartridges. Here’s the inside of one of these babies. Pretty easy to manufacture, just some plastic bits, the ink goes here, but they market for about 50 bucks. Now the line that we’re fed is simple: “Ink cartridges are expensive because ink technology is expensive.” HP reportedly spends $1 billion annually to develop printing technology, but what really has changed about these fellows in that time? Actually, not much. Like I said, plastic shell filled with ink. Turns out all that technology is housed in here. Ever notice how these cost usually cost the same amount as these? Doesn’t that seem insane? Well, what if I told you that it was all in the design? You might not know it, but most printers are sold at a loss, and the money is made back from the cost of printer ink. This is a marketing ploy known as the “Razor & Blades Model”, where one item is sold at a low price in order to increase sales of the complementary good, which is often a consumable that must continually be resupplied. In a nutshell, “give ’em the razor, sell ’em the blades.” The ploy here is, “give ’em the printer, sell ’em the ink.” Mark up the price of the consumable, and before too long, the printer itself is paid for. But, turns out the methods used to recoup those costs haven’t always been so noble. Right, so tonnes of ink cartridges are manufactured with this little chip on them. Printer companies like to tell us that this little thing’s purpose is to “monitor the quality of the ink!” “The chip lets you know when your printer is running low on a particular colour!” “The chip can facilitate firmware updates to improve performance!” All of this is baloney. The chip is designed to get you to spend more money. For example, say you’re running low on cyan ink. The chip will tell the printer to stop operating, Even if every other colour type is full, until that single colour is replaced. But here’s the rub: A lot of the time the chip says you’ve got low ink, you actually don’t. False low ink notifications are really, really, common. In fact, the next time you get one you might find that if you take the cartridge and perform a little techno-voodoo to reset the chip, you’ll actually have plenty of ink still inside. What gives?! Imagine if your car’s gas tank had a chip inside of it that forced the vehicle to stop operating completely once you hit half a tank. There would be rioting in the streets because as a consumer, you should have the right to drive that sucker until it’s bone-dry and then refill it at your convenience, right? Well, what if like cars, I could refill my ink cartridges after they’re empty? OhohohoHO, the chip is designed to prevent that as well. Many printing companies designed their chips to detect when the consumer was attempting to refill a used cartridge, and it responded by – you guessed it – disabling the printer completely. In fact, just last year, a major court case over that very issue between Impression Products and Lexmark went all the way to the top and the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the little guy, reaffirming a consumer’s right to repair and modify products after they’ve been purchased. It makes no sense that something like that had to go to the highest court in the land, but in the printing world, exploitation of consumers is the rule of the day. For example, did you know that many printers purposely mix a little cyan ink into every black and white document you print? That’s right, wile you’re thinking, “hey, I’ll just print black and white to save my colour cartridges”, printers are designed to use a bit of colour without telling you, and as we’ve mentioned before, if even one of those cartridges registers as low ink, the entire machine is disabled. [Crowd goes “oh”] Oh, but the companies say this extra little bit of colour gives it a “purer black”. [Distant] “That’s not how it works?!” Oh, and whatever you do, don’t try to circumvent any of these things or if your printer breaks, attempt to make any repairs, because most manufacturers will void your warranty the second you start tinkering around in the internal components. And believe you me, they’ll break. Again, and again, and again. Printer heads will be misaligned, dirty, damaged, dead-on-arrival, and for every diagnostic you run, every test page you print, you’ll be using up those lovely ink cartridges more and more and more and more. You literally get to pay to make sure the thing you’ve already bought still works on a regular basis. Isn’t that great?! Yes, no matter what company you go with, all of printers suffer from the same eye-gouging issues: The ink costs too much, it always needs to be replaced, the printers always have driver issues, wireless never works, the interface on every model is impossible to figure out… Personally, I think it’s time we said enough. Enough with paying a ridiculous amount of money for a product that costs next to nothing to manufacture, a product that doesn’t work half the time, and the other half when it does work, it’s restricted by the manufacturer to make sure you can’t get full use out of it. A product that changes yearly. A product that is designed to stop working and force customers to purchase another product, even if there’s nothing broken about the product in question! Take this thing, for instance. This is my mom’s printer; she uses it to print letters. It wasn’t printing them right so she went out and spent 60 bucks on new ink cartridges thinking that would fix the problem, and after struggling for a day figuring out to install the bloody things, she tried printing the letter again, but the problem still wasn’t fixed. I got to hear about it over the phone. So then I drive about half an hour to get the printer and take it home where I waste the rest of the new cartridges’ ink to run a bunch of inconclusive diagnostics to try and figure out why it’s not printing correctly. By the time I determine that the printer has a common yet for some reason unrepairable hardware issue I discover the cheapest option is to just order a replacement, but I CAN’T order a replacement, because they update their printer models each year, so now I have to go buy the new-and-improved model, and I can’t use the old ink cartridges in this new-and-improved model because the new-and-improved model uses a whole different ink cartridge type, so I have to spend another $50 on these new-and-improved ink cartridges (which, it turns out, just have a slightly longer piece of plastic on the inside) and by the time I get this new and improved printer ready, I discover the new-and-improved printer’s drivers aren’t compatible with my mom’s computer, so I’ve got to go on the printing company’s obtuse website and use their auto-detect tool (which doesn’t work) to try and find a driver that IS compatible, and in order to locate the compatible driver by hand, I have to determine if she’s using a computer that runs on a 32-bit operating system or a 64-bit operating system, which many of you at this point may realise, is not the kind of information that moms usually know the answer to, so by the time we figure THAT all out, and get the printer working properly, we’re left with an obvious question: Why is this still a problem in the 21st century? We shot a CAR into SPACE. I’ve been waiting to do this for a while… [Sighs] That felt better. We can do this, people. Together. Share this video today, and start a revolution. Tell these companies that enough is enough, we want affordable ink, we want printers that work, and we want printers that last. Think I knicked my cheek. Thanks to these Patreon backers for their continued support. Do you want to find more content like this? Then…look harder. I dunno.

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