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Commentary & Analysis

Dumping Your Printer is Madness

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." Charlie Corr examines the facts.

By Charlie Corr
Published: September 23, 2011

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.

1 InfoTrends Annual Equipment Forecast, US Census Data

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.



By Jacob Aizikowitz on Sep 23, 2011

Simply a great article. thanks Charlie and thanks InfoTrends for publishing.
It appears that the commercial digital printing revolution that started somewhere in '95 is behind us while we are entering an era where printing at home is becoming a viable option for getting a quality printed piece.

Where will this take the industry around variable data printing is an interesting open question.


By Gordon Pritchard on Sep 23, 2011

I've dumped my home printer. Unless you print enough pages on a regular basis the ink jet nozzles dry and block up. So then you have to spend about $75 to replace them to print out your document and pray that you'll need to print some more pages before the nozzles dry out again.
Now I just go to the library and do my document printouts there.


By Charles Corr on Sep 23, 2011

An interesting finding related to EBPP (Electronic Bill Payment and Presentment) was that it moved the printing of some statements off large production equipment to the home.


By Gordon Pritchard on Sep 23, 2011

I get my billing statements via email. But I don't print them out as there is no need.

There may well be 132 million inkjet printers installed in the US. But that doesn't mean they're all being used. I'll bet a great many of them are collecting dust.


By Patrick Henry on Sep 26, 2011

May I put in a good word for the "other" home printing technology?

I've spared myself the agony of inkjet by running nothing but black-and-white toner printers at home: Apple LaserWriters initially, HP LaserJets today. The cartridges, now almost $200, are expensive to replace. But, I can get thousands of crisp hard copies from each one, and I never worry about clogged heads, cartridges suddenly running dry, or any of the other inconveniences of inkjet.

About five years ago, I got an Epson desktop color inkjet printer as a premium for purchasing a laptop from MacMall. The printer is still sealed in the box it came in, and I may never hook it up. I've found that if I need to reproduce an image in color, it's almost always because I'm working on something in a medium other than print: a PowerPoint presentation, a Web page, a blog post, etc. No CMYK hard copy is necessary.

Home printing is and will always be indispensable for record-keeping and the other applications mentioned in Charlie's post. But when Gordon speculates that millions of home inkjet printers are gathering dust along with my MacMall freebie, I have to concur. An untold story of overcapacity is the overselling of home inkjet systems to people who probably would be better off taking a brisk walk to the copy shop when they need color printouts.


By Chuck Gehman on Sep 27, 2011

I agree with Patrick, although I do have an Inkjet, too, for the occasional photo or document that absolutely needs color. The inkjet I own also has a built-in scanner, which is the only scanner I have, and is very useful.

My HP Laserjet 1320 is a workhorse, it's postscript and pcl, was dirt cheap when I bought it, and uses an HP 49X toner cartridge that costs $119 at Amazon and lasts for more than the claimed 6000 pages. It does 95% of my home printing. And I print quite a bit. Having the monochrome laser really makes the economics of color inkjet work well!! When this printer dies, I will consider buying an HP Color Laser MFP.

The necessity for the average person to own a printer at home is definitely on the wane, and the prices of inkjet cartridges are so high that the sticker shock isn't helping this trend. But if you are a "knowledge worker", or do business from home at all, or an artist, it's more than convenience, it's still necessary.


By Mark Bonacorso on Sep 27, 2011

If anyone plans on "dumping their printer" my inkjet MFP isn't working and I could use a new one.


By Hal Hinderliter on Sep 28, 2011

Like Chuck, I've got both mono laser and 6-color inkjet in my home office, and wouldn't know how to live without them both. Unlike Gordo, I've found that the inkjet's nozzles do not clog (so long as I leave the printers plugged in, so they can run the occasional maintenance cycle). Replacement laser cartridges (Brother) only cost $70 and last a long, long time. The best part is that the inkjet is a MFP that works as a fax machine (still need one once or twice a year) and does WIRELESS scanning at really high resolution with excellent quality. Methinks Grobart was just looking for an easy target, but he shouldn't have picked something as liberating as the personal printing press.


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