Dumping Your Printer is Madness

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Sep 21, 2011

The following is an open letter to the industry from Charlie Corr, Vice President of Corporate Strategy, Mimeo.com. Charlie spent many years at InfoTrends before moving to Mimeo.com in 2007. Charlie’s message is an important one so we are posting it here in its entirety with his permission.

Several weeks ago the New York Times published an article titled “Dump Your Printer To Escape the Madness.”  The author, Sam Grobart, launched an attack on the “printer-industrial complex” but by the third line stated that “we live in a world where going without a printer can be more trouble than it is worth.”  He is right! That is why there are over 132 million inkjet printers installed in the US, an average of 1.2 per household.[1] Owning a printer is a major convenience and well worth the minimal cost.

Mr. Grobart mentions two reasons you should own a printer, if you want to purchase or refinance a home, and if you have children in school. He could have added if you need to print out receipts for expense reimbursement, if you want a permanent record for taxes,  or want a hotel confirmation to take on your trip. You might also want to print out a photo or a copy of an employment offer. The reality is that people conveniently print a wide range of output on home printers.

Mr. Grobart also suggests you might add years to your life if you print at the office or go to a copy shop when you need to print.  He claims the copy shop approach is less expensive.  He doesn’t address if it is ethical to steal print at work or provide data for his claim that the copy shop alternative is less expensive.  By unbiased analysis, consumers would actually add complexity and cost if they attempt to sidestep what he describes as the agony of printer ownership.

Let’s examine some facts. According to InfoTrends, a consulting firm that tracks this market, an average home inkjet printer costs about $100 and has a life expectancy of four years ($25 a year). If you include the average annual running cost for ink ($85) and paper ($6), you get a total cost of $116 per year.  If you amortize the home average of 600 pages printed annually, the cost is about $.19 a page.  The typical cost of printing a page at a copy shop is $.10 for black and white and $.59 for a full color page. There is also the time to travel and interact with the copy shop. If your time is only worth the Federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour and you live reasonably close to a copy shop you could get something printed in 20 minutes for a personal labor cost of $2.40 per occurrence.  If you printed 60% black and 40% color just twice a month your annual cost would be $206, almost double the cost of using your home printer.

How do printing costs compare to your other home computing costs? An average home computer with warranty and software costs $1,500 and you keep it for four years. If you add just the monthly Internet charges of $19.95, your annual cost of ownership is about $620. Using Mr. Grobart’s logic, why spend this money? Use the computer at work, at the library or the same copy shop.  I have found the pain of  a virus or a lost Internet connection is much higher than any problem I have had with a printer.

I recently installed a new home printer. The set-up literally took minutes. It is wireless, it can scan, copy and print. I didn’t suffer from any of the hassles or madness that Mr. Grobart complains of. As for his claims about additional savings if you use off-brand ink replacements, that advice is as short-sighted as his advice to use a copy shop. If you saved 20% a year on off-brand ink that would be a savings of $17. Most consumers find the quality to be worth the additional price not including the hassle of procuring off-brands.

The printing press is among the most important inventions in our history. The convenience and ability to print at home is an amazing advancement that saves you time and money without the hassles associated with the alternative.


[1] InfoTrends Annual Equipment Forecast, US Census Data

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