EU to investigate printer manufacturers?
By Ian Burley
It has been widely reported that the European Commission is seriously considering an investigation into the market for the supply of ink for ink-jet printers. The allegation is that some printer manufacturers might be using their market advantage to adversely control the price we are forced to pay for ink-jet cartridges.
Here at DPN as part of our printer review procedure, we research and calculate the cost per page of the ink component. Below is an example of the costs we have calculated for printers from the four leading manufacturers.
Composite A4 photo test page at 10x7.5 inch coverage (75 square inches)
The cost per page varies by up to in excess of 400 percent. For more about these calculations, click here.
There is no doubt that ink costs are uppermost in the marketing minds of these companies:
It was recently revealed (source: ft.com) that HP’s revenues for printer consumables, like ink, amounted to more than half the total revenues for its Printers and Imaging division. This division recorded an operating profit nearly double that of the whole of HP.
When Epson launched the Stylus Photo 810 printer late last year, it increased the cost of this printer’s ink cartridges compared to other comparable models in the range. We wondered if this was to recoup the unusually low cost of the purchase price of the printer itself. Epson also ‘chips’ its cartridges. Many suggest that Epson does this to prevent the re-filling of its cartridges with cheaper third party inks.
Lexmark, by our calculations, the most expensive purveyor of ink of all, by quite a margin, conceded that the affordability of its ink cartridges was a problem for some customers and has recently decided to introduce lower cost cartridges, though these will contain less ink than standard cartridges.
Canon has pioneered separate ink tanks for each colour with the clear marketing message that it’s less wasteful. Our calculations show Canon’s photo ink-jet printers to be the least expensive on ink, but that doesn’t mean demand for cheap third party ink to replace Canon’s is absent.
$1,000+ per litre
With ink-jet printer ink costing in the region of US$1,000 and more per litre, it’s perhaps no surprise that the EC has declared an interest. It’s also not the first time printer manufacturers have been targeted by the EC. In the 1980s there were regular headlines citing far eastern manufacturers allegedly dumping printers, fax machines and copiers at below cost price in the EU.
“very important market for consumers”
Mario Monti, European competition commissioner, said recently: "This is probably a case here for us... We intend to examine this in detail." He added: "This is a very important market for consumers... The sector is relatively concentrated and it is the role of our forces to remain vigilant at all times.”
The EC will be looking out for any signs that printer manufacturers are illegally using their dominant market position in restricting the choice of consumables in order to artificially maintain high prices. Part of the impetus behind the interest in this market is the growing business in third party ink supplies, variously valued at up to 11 percent of the total ink-jet ink market. The fear is that as this sector grows, the printer manufacturers will respond to protect their market against the consumers’ interests.
But are third party inks safe?
What complicates the whole issue is the technical complexity that lies behind the development and even presentation of ink-jet ink. The stuff must be made to exacting standards of colour reproduction, stability, viscosity and it has to behave correctly when it’s heated and compressed by the printer’s print head. It has been suggested to us that poor quality ink can damage the print head, shortening its life. Even the design of the cartridge itself, is said to be a reliability factor.
We’ve been briefed by all the manufacturers who have gone to great lengths to underline why it’s safest to use their inks and cartridges and to be frank, we’ve heard of many problems experienced by users of some third party inks. Then again, we’ve heard from many happy users of third party inks too.
Undoubtedly, the task of the EC to investigate this issue will be a challenging one and we’ll be keeping an eye out for further developments in this story.