The price of everything

"Every day we commit to buying goods and services without paying careful attention to their cost. In 2009, the HP DeskJet D2530 printer might have seemed a steal at $39.99. But the price, displayed prominently on the HP Web site, was almost irrelevant. The more relevant numbers were $14.99 for a black ink cartridge, which prints about 200 pages, and $19.99 for the color cartridge, which prints 165. For those printing photos at home, the crucial number was $21.99 for the HP 60 Photo Value Pack, a set of cartridges and 50 standard sheets of photo paper. At the Rite-Aid drugstore, 50 same-day prints cost $9.50. The worldwide printing business depends on selling cheap printers and expensive ink. According to a study by PC World, printers will issue out-of-ink warnings when the cartridge is still up to 40 percent full. HP, Epson, Canon, and others have sued providers of cheap ink refills, charging them with false advertising and patent infringement to make them stop. But the best ally of the printer business is consumer ignorance about what they are really paying to print. Just setting the printer default to “draft” quality would save consumers hundreds of dollars a year. Yet few consumers do. Though many companies still sell cheaper ink refills, refills account for only 10 to 15 percent of the market. That means that 90 percent of printing is still done using ink that, according to the PC World analysis, costs $4,731 per gallon. You might as well fill your ink cartridges with 1985 vintage Krug champagne."

(from The price of everything : solving the mystery of why we pay what we do / Eduardo Porter)

About Vlad Bunea

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