For years the inkjet printer manufacturers have used the razor blade model to sell their inkjet printing systems – selling the hardware (the razor) at no or little margin and charging like wounded bulls for the ink (the blades).
Once established, this is a tough habit to break, specially if your competitors are doing it as well. If all printer manufacturers are operating to the same model, it would be a brave global product manager who decided to reduce the Total Cost of Ownership to potential customers by increasing the (one-off) price of printers and dropping the (forever) high cost of ink.
Kodak, in its inestimable wisdom, tried this back in 2007 and failed spectacularly, even with a marketing campaign pointing out to consumers that they were being absolutely burnt by the other printer manufacturers on ink costs. In an exercise in transparency never before (or consequently) seen in the inkjet printing business, it displayed the ‘per print’ cost of its system, claiming that it halved printing costs, and flat-out claiming the other printer companies were ripping off their customers. How unseemly!
The consumer-friendly initiative – which was a major R&D and investment play for an Eastman Kodak searching for post-analogue relevance – found few friends among consumers, costing the company hundreds of millions of dollars and sinking without a trace.
Kodak’s failure to disrupt the market with a better deal for consumers would have been noted affirmatively by Epson and Canon – the oligopolistic ‘cheap printer/expensive ink’ model had seen off the brash challenger. (Also – the Kodak printers weren’t very good at printing photos, to be honest. And in operation, they sounded like a Nutri-Bullet.)
Epson seems so confident that professional photographers will continue to line up to pay over the odds for ink that it recently released an all-new professional photo quality inkjet printer – the A3+ P700 series – with, according to US based inkjet photo paper supplier, Red River, the highest cost of ink of any other photo printer available. (And the printer itself is $1249.)
According to Red River, an A3+ (13×19-inch) photographic poster costs US$4.03 in ink alone using the P706, around 25 percent higher than the printer it replaced (P600), and over twice the cost of the A2+ P900, released at the same time. It’s also, once again according to Red River, twice the cost in ink compared to its nearest Canon competitor, the Pro-200.
Epson placed a spacer in the P700 cartridges to reduce their capacity, then microchipped them so an otherwise-identical-but-double-capacity P900 could not be used in the P700. Replacement cartridges are $55 for the P700 (25Ml) and $60 for the double-capacity, 50Ml P900.
But are we finally approaching the beginning of the end of exorbitant ink prices from printer manufacturers? Inkjet printers with higher capacity cartridges, tanks or bottles are becoming more ubiquitous, but more so in office applications where ink is competing with other printing technologies such as colour laser printers. Not so much when it comes to the rivers of inky gold to be had from professional photographers and print-at-home enthusiasts. And especially not so much, so far at lest, in Australia. But wait…
Epson has launched the refillable 6-colour A3+ L1800 and the L800 series in other parts of the world. They use 70Ml bottles which retail for around $20 each. Unfortunately, the inks aren’t the proven Claria inkset but another dye inkset with no sub-branding. Reviews to come. Epson rates them as producing 1800 6×4-inch prints before a new set of ink bottles are required.
In Asia and parts of Europe, Canon has launched the G550/570 and G650/670 inkjet printers using 60Ml ‘megatank’ ink bottles to refill the 6-colour cartridge system. The printers come with replaceable heads and a user replaceable maintenance tank. Though not branded as such, it’s believed the ink bottles contain the well-proven Chromalife 100 dye inkset. The full set of ink included with the printer can deliver approximately 3800 4×6-inch prints.
‘Unfortunately, we can’t comment on the future local product pipeline,’ a Canon Australia spokesperson responded to Inside Imaging.
‘That said we have recently rebranded our Continuous Ink Supply System to Megatank to align with Europe and other markets, as we do have plans to expand this range locally.
‘It’s watch this space for now.’
Epson also indicated that maybe, just maybe, they had plans to roll out some more photo-quality ‘Ecotank’ models in Australia some time soon.