The Printer Scanner Scam

November 2, 2017

A few years ago I bought a brand new HP printer-scanner.  It printed in colour and scanned to pdf, jpeg, and tiff.  It also could send a fax.  I could scan to computer, to a USB thumb drive, or a memory card.  It worked fine.

But now, I find I was misled by the product.  It will not scan.

Why?  A product malfunction?  A failure of the drivers?  No.  A marketing idea from the manufacturers.

My scanner won’t work because the unused ink has dried and the unit won’t work without the purchase of new ink.  Ink?  Why does one require ink to make a scan?

Of course, you don’t.  There is no ink involved in scanning.

But, of course, you do!  Because the low priced printer-scanner machines are not that profitable.  The profit is all in the ink.

So the peripheral only operates if you stoke the fire by buying ink.

<<SPOILER ALERT>> In many cases, if you reboot the printer scanner, you can initiate a scan even if you have no ink.  But why do customers have to go through this trouble?  Because most won’t and will simply buy some more ink.

The strategy of gaining your profit from ancillary supplies is not unique to printers.  It was also a part of the early strategy with fax machines before plain paper faxes.  When thermal paper was required, fax manufacturers would almost give their machines away knowing that the after market for coated paper would earn more than enough from each machine to cover costs.

It is the same strategy that video game manufacturers have used when they control the game supply.  Sell the system cheaply to get people into playing it, then make your profit on the game sales.  Many years ago, we helped NEC launch their Turbo Grafx system, also known as PC Engine in Japan.  It was a generation ahead of the other game systems available with larger sprites and more colours.

NEC did not control the manufacturing of the games for their system, feeling that if a lot of companies developed games there would be a greater chance for hit games.  There were some great games.  But the entry cost for the superior console was much higher than competitive NES and Sega options and people just didn’t buy the console – technical superiority aside.  We still have a TG16 system and enjoy playing it.  Experienced gamers still appreciate it.  But it failed because the price of admission into the TG16 gaming world was too high.

Automobile dealers often take the same position and account for more profit on the service side of their businesses.

But none of these industries are like the ink jet folks.  None of the products stop providing one of their main benefits because you don’t buy support element for another feature.  Shame on you, Ink Jet manufacturers.

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