HP Pressuring Retailers Not To Sell Cheap Printer Ink

from the how-nice dept

With the news this week that Kodak is finally taking up the challenge and will start selling inkjet printers with much cheaper ink than its printing rivals, you might think that some of the other printing companies would stop playing hardball and start looking for ways to provide much more reasonable prices. Not so, apparently. HP, the printer leader, has been notoriously aggressive in going after anyone who makes compatible ink cartridges for its printers. The company actually filed patent infringement suits against ink cartridge refilling companies, claiming that their refilled ink violated HP patents. This isn’t that surprising, since the company apparently has a team of scientists whose entire job is (no, seriously) analyzing competitive ink cartridges to see if they’re infringing any HP patents. The next step, obviously, is to go after the retailers. HP has notified a bunch of retailers that by selling those competitive cartridges, they too may be violating patents. Apparently, that hasn’t been all that convincing either, so HP’s supposedly moved on to using a carrot, rather than a stick. Alison Bradley writes in to point to reports that suggests HP is creating “marketing deals” that require retailers not to sell compatible ink cartridges. Staples is already phasing out its house brand of HP compatible ink cartridges, though it claims its just because HP has convinced Staples that HP printers work better with HP’s own ink. Others say that there’s almost no way Staples would do that without a hefty payment from HP (and the fact that the Staples house brand remains for other printers seems to support that). While HP may be able to squeeze more margin for a little while, this seems like a poor long-term strategy. All it’s going to do is convince people to stop buying HP printers, and go to competitors who offer reasonably priced ink.

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Comments on “HP Pressuring Retailers Not To Sell Cheap Printer Ink”

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Bumbling old fool (profile) says:

For a long time now...

I havent seen the value in having a household printer, and I just simply didnt bother to get another one. (my last printer I got with my first pentium, if that dates it a bit)

Three times in the past few years, I needed to print something badly enough that I output a pdf to thumbdrive and drove to my local officemax where I paid 8 cents for my printout.

I’d like the convenience of having a multi-function printer, and I dont mind paying decent money for decent hardware. Especially as my kids get older, and want to start printing things for school. But I get really irate when I look at the price of the refills, so I dont ever buy anything.

I guess this signals a changing times? Hopefully?

Meanwhile, HP has already proven to me that I will never buy anything from them, at least not for a very long time (long enough for the board to get completely replaced).

Kodaks actions are aimed at rewarding customers for being customers, and that wins them more customers.

HPs actions are aimed at exacting revenge on customers for having dared purchase their equipment, and that loses them customers.

Ah, well, I look forward to a change for the better, regardless of how minute it may be. Kodak can count me as a new customer.

Anonymous Coward says:

HP cartridges

The only reason HP cartridges cost so much is because they have the print heads built into them, which in themselves have a limited lifespan and if you keep refilling them really can be bad for your printer, other manufacturers that make printers with cheap ink and have the print heads then built into the printers get you on the other end when those print heads go out and you have to replace them at hundreds of dollars a pop or have to pay out the a$$ to send it out and have them replace them. it’s just cheaper to buy the low end 50 dollar printer that comes with a free set of ink and then just throw it away and buy a new one when it runs out.

bjc (profile) says:

I have purchased my last HP product.

I should have learned not to buy HP when their mandatory Windows XP firmware upgrade fried my expensive scanner (huge coverup), but I was lured by the idea of a $99 multifunction printer, fax, scanner.

I think I have had enough after a year of:
-only being to fax in low-res like they did in 1980
-expensive ink that needs replacing even when the cartridges are half full
-bloated, crashy drivers
-reinstalling 180 megs of software every time I dared to attempt to scan something
-technical support personel who I am surprised can operate a telephone

I will be one of the first to check out the new Kodak offerings. Even though they handled the whole digital photography thing with their heads buried in the sand (did you know Kodak sold one of the very first publication-quality digital cameras?!?), the ONE thing they know is how to output nice images. Let’s see how they do.

pvillese says:

HP just wants to keep there quality image

Personally I have so far only purchased HP brand cartrages for my printer. I’ve had other brands of printers but always had problems with them. I have not had any problems with my HP except that it does not have drivers for Vista yet, since it is over 5 years old and still working great. I payed a bit more for a quality printer that I feel is very efficient on ink and will pay a bit more for the cartages to keep that quality. I think overall HP makes quality products and I’m sure there ink is fairly heavily engineered as well. So I think HP just needs to let its customers know they are buying inferior ink which could cause problems or at least lower quality.

Now if someone else makes an ink that works better with my printer and can prove it to me, I will gladly purchase theirs instead.

Its just like if a high quality engine producer recommends its own oil most likely their oil is high quality, such as echo power tools, they designed their own oil so they can make there engines demand more from the oil or at least used to do this.

Thats just my two cents.

David T (user link) says:

Beating a dead horse

The point has been made many times by many posters (and consistently ignored by Techdirt staff) that the “one monoply rent” theory very strongly suggests that HP’s actions may actually benefit consumers rather than hurting them. The theory is that if HP couldn’t charge high prices for their cartriges then they’d have to charge much higher prices for their printer hardware. Grandma who only prints 5 pages a week has to pay a lot more, while Joe Printalot ends up paying the same on net.

Whether the theory applies or not is one thing, but Techdirt keeps ignoring any consideration of the logic behind it.

>you can’t infringe a patent by supplying equipment to refil a bottle.

Depends on the equipment and the “bottle” at issue. Inducement infringement is real and a live doctrine.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Beating a dead horse

The point has been made many times by many posters (and consistently ignored by Techdirt staff)

There’s an assumption there that we have “ignored” the point, rather than rejected it. That’s false.

HP’s actions may actually benefit consumers rather than hurting them. The theory is that if HP couldn’t charge high prices for their cartriges then they’d have to charge much higher prices for their printer hardware.

That’s only true if they had a monopoly on printers… which they don’t. Which is why we rejected that theory. I’m sorry if we don’t explain it in every post, but it seems fairly obvious to us that the one monopoly rent theorem doesn’t apply here.

It is false for a variety of reasons to suggest that if HP couldn’t charge high prices for their cartridges they’d have to charge much higher prices for their hardware. If there is significant margin (and there appears to be), then they can clearly charge less and still profit.

Your assumption is also based on a zero-sum world where there is no innovation on the production side — which is simply false. Given significant competition, the incentives are there to make the cost of printers (and ink) ever cheaper on the production side as well, which still allows companies to sell inexpensive printers while still making money on ink without gouging customers through implicit agreements to keep ink prices high and to block any true competition within the market.

Technology has increasing returns. It should be increasingly cheaper to create equivalent printers over time — and that should leave plenty of room for profit, while still offering up reasonable prices to consumers.

Boo says:

HP ink

Based on previous earnings statements I’ve heard from HP, they make more of their money from ink they sell than from the computers they sell.

Nobody I know would think of HP as an ink company but that is it. As a result, they will go crazy trying to protect the goose laying the golden eggs.

Small businesses shop for supplies at the box stores and what kind of printers do many small businesses have? HP

Anonymous Coward says:

i will never buy another Hp product. After the card reader in the printer stole my E: drive and shut off a DVD rom drive to the point that it took a $35 phone call to microsoft to get the problem resolved. The “great” tech support at HP “has never heard of a problem like this” is BS. In their FAQ’s….same problem, only related to a parallel installed printer. Screw you HP.

whiteyonenh says:

HP makes some horrible printers.....

Got an HP all-in-one a PSC series… it never worked right, printer always jammed, never pulled paper in correctly, have since given up and gone back to regular separates.

Just bought a Brother HL-2040 mono-laser at staples, good $120 laser, great quality, minimal paper curling.

For color prints I have an older Epson Stylus C84

Oh, and the HP Scanjet that I got for free…..

HP will most likely never get my money, I have seen the included “driver” software cause too many issues in most of their newer products. I looked at HP’s cheaper lasers, none of them supported mac’s.

I use a mac as my file and print server at home, so that is important to me.

Nomobrains says:

HP must be giving the stores a nice cut.

HP must be selling their brand of printer ink cartridges to the stores like staples- for less money- at the same time they tell the store to sell them at full retail price. In return the store will make the same profit as they would have by selling their own brand- but they will not get sued. So in return only the customer was bullied and screwed. Thank you lawyers… just don’t run for office.


Anonymous Coward says:

Great printers...terible drivers and overpriced in

While I still love my 6 year old HP printer, other people have had major headaches with drivers from HP. I never had that problem, what I do have a problem with is the overpriced ink. I have been refilling my B&W cartridge for two years with no problem with a cheap refill kit. Never had the head go bad yet…and I won’t buy a color cart. Please! it’s costing
me almost .50 a picture to print a color pic at home. I just print them at the local Rx store.

Don’t have much good to say about HP’s and Compaq’s PC’s and service though.

_Jon says:

I am on the anti-HP bandwagon too.

For all of the reasons cited above:
– Ink is expensive (even on units where print head is separate from ink – e.g. 7130)
– Bad experience with All-In-One printers (one part fails, entire unit is useless)
– Drivers are difficult to install (requires HP setup, will not use Windows slipstreaming)
– Included software is bloated and buggy (I uninstall the HP scanning software and recommend using WIA)

In addition, I’m not interested in doing business with a company that has behaved at the highest levels of the corporation as HP has.

Amerin says:

Printers printers every where

I tried this experiment on a few customer sites, I used to be a consultant for IT services.

Take the cost of the printer, (depending on if its a inkjet or not) if it is add 5 sets of carts to it and divide that by 3 or 4 years. most home users will go through at least 2 sets in a year, either from use or not using it.

$199 inkjet printer $65 set of carts (65×5)+200 =525

$199 laser printer $99cart and 2 carts (200+200) =400
you will use less carts in a laser because the number of total pages output is so much higher than inkjet carts

Think about that before you buy the great deal on a printer deal of the week.

We had a wide range of customer sizes. Small companies, Medium, and Large.

Small companies are about spending as little as possible and getting the most bang for the buck.
We sold allot of HP deskjet printers, and even more ink, some from hp, and when they “found” cheaper knock off s, they would think they were getting a good deal, until the printers started acting up. We always tried to show them the difference in spending more on the printers, (ie a Laser, even a color Laser and not inkjets) and less on ink per printed page, very few listened. All they could see is how much is it now!

Medium sized companies were better listeners, and we sold for the most part more lasers and less deskjets, mostly because their printing outputs needs were higher, and they lasers just performed better. They didn’t like the higher initial price tags, bet they could see the long term cost savings.

Large companies would by higher end printers, and then act like a smaller company and think “OH, we can save a few bucks buying re-manufactured toner carts”. Course we loved that, selling them more on site printer service and parts, as the re-manufactured carts did their “dirty” work on the higend printers.

A few of our clients would actually listen to our advice, and buy better printers, and original print manufacture carts, spend more for the printer initially, and somewhat more on the carts, but less on service calls, over 3 or 4 years.

As for home users, its funny the same rule still applies, and the printer companies know it.

I actually order a small color desk jet for from PcConection for a customer, it $38, and when I went to get an extra set of carts for it, they were $42. The printer companies know it too.

They will make you a great deal on a printer, and know you will spend more in its life time on ink, than they could ever make selling the printer at higher costs.

I used to work from my home and had and several all in one printers over the years, they would last a year or 2 and then have some major problem that could be repaired, and I would have to buy a new one, but since the company was paying I never batted an eye.

When I switched companies a while ago, and had to purchase my own personal printers. I bought a small HP100 B&W laser for general printing, its now 6 years old and Ive only ever bought 2 toners for it, ($199 printer, and $68 toner carts bought online) and I have gone through multiple cases of paper, not packs but cases

A color Inkjet, all in one. Ive replaced that all in one twice, once under warranty, and again after the warranty expired, and then I recently replaced it with a color laser all in one, with Wireless networking built in.

Ok that printer was $700 and the carts are almost $100 each and you need four, black, red, yellow & blue, but bet over four years, that initial 1100 bucks, makes it like 300 a year, the other all in ones were like $300-$400 each and $80 a pop for a set of carts, every few months, do the math.

An for all of you hp bashers, any product line, printers, PDA’s, whatever, your going to have tons of problems, when you sell multiple billions of dollars in hardware, but for all you complaining, they must be doing something right to have been in business this long and have so many printers in use not having problems. you never hear about “Ive had this printer for ever and never had a problem.”

We sold many lines of printers, Cannon, IBM, Lexmark, Panasonic, Dell, Konica, Epson, Xerox and let me tell you, they all have printer driver problems, they all have defective units out of the box, but from what I have seen with my own eyes, HP runs along the high end of reliability and usability.

But you know what, your a consumer speak with your wallet.

cdwatters says:


The ink patent question is valid, since the formulation for the ink can be patented.

However, with both my HPs and my Lexmarken, I’ve been buying 3rd party refills for decades (at least 2), other than one embarassing incident where I put the wrong colors in the wrong places (very strange printouts – Warholesque), I can usually get 8 refills before print quality suffers as heads seem to fail. My cost per sheet comes down substantially, figure $10-$15 for a pint of waterproof black, which gets me a lot more than 8 refills.

The vendor I’ve purchased from warrants their ink, and says if it damages the printer in any way they will replace the printer.

Tim says:

Carrot and stick

Please get the carrot and stick metaphor right.
You attach the carrot to the stick with a string. You then attach the other end of the stick to the mules head. This way mule to moves forward, towards the carrot. You don’t feed it the carrot or hit it with the stick!!! It is not a “you get the carrot or the stick” scenario.

slyon says:

too invested with HP to be done yet

Wow – that was a lot of commentary to read through – and some good advice.

What ticks me off is HP’s screw the customer attitude – the IBM sings the Big Blues analogy is a good one (It may be elementary advice, but HP should look for Big Blue’s Clues and stop pissing off the customer). I have not had problems with HP printers either on the Mac or PC, and have several HP printers. My old reliable HP 710C parallel cable printer just died last week after 11 years of service – the drive belt shredded. I would have tried replacing the belt, but the printer is put together with special fasteners and unserviceable without special tools that would probably cost more than a new printer. (Printer serviceability is another issue worth discussing)

I have tried refilling myself (cheap and messy) and I have bought refilled cartridges (sometimes saving half the price over HP, but usually a third)and found it a poor compromise in quality and reliability. I’ve bought Staple’s (and other) replacements (on 2 for 1 sales) and went back to HP. What really irks me is that HP has steadily reduced the ink content of cartridges for it’s new printers over the years. Some cartridges are sold with barely a thimbleful of ink – disgusting! The value in the old 710C was that I could buy a relatively huge, reliable cartridge (by HP’s current standards) at a low cost. Now I buy multipacks of HP 57 and 56 at Costco – not a great savings, but some. It is time to fight back, but how?

RAVEN says:

RE:No Ink For Sale...

You have go to be kidding! Well, all I can say is once everyone throws away their HP printers. I guess they will sleep better at night! At least I will. Not that Kodak, Epson, and even the wet ink Lexmark will be more than happy to take over their share of the printer market. Not like they aren’t creaping up on them anyway. WAKE UP HP! Get a life!

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