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Why Printers Are The Worst

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Why Printers Are The Worst

Why Printers Are The Worst

Why Printers Are The Worst

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/968704526/968771476" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Andrew Harr/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Hewlett-Packard Co. inkjet cartridges sit on display at the J&R Music World store in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2009.
Andrew Harr/Bloomberg via Getty Images

DeLores Williams still remembers the day her printer stopped working. It was a Saturday, in September 2016. She walked, as she often does, to her home office to print photos of her grandkids. But when she clicked print, she didn't hear her printer working. Finally, it did. But what came out were blobs of color.

Across the country, other people were running into similar problems. What's more, they all had printers made by the same company, HP.

Williams called HP customer service. She spent hours with them on the phone, troubleshooting. At one point, she says, they even told her to buy a new printer, which they would offer at a discount.

But there was nothing mechanically wrong with Williams' printer. The problem she was experiencing was man-made, perpetrated by HP itself. It was meant to keep her coming back for more printer ink.

Printer companies have a peculiar business model. They sell printers — these miracles of modern engineering and technology — for extraordinarily cheap. The reason they can do this is because they make up the money elsewhere: Ink sales. The prices they charge for printer ink are extraordinary. At times, the price-per-ounce has topped Russian caviar or fancy champagnes.

With margins like that, it's easy for third-party ink sellers to undercut printer companies on price. And that's a problem for the printer companies. So they've gone to great lengths to keep their customers from going to their competitions.

Today on the show: Printer companies' decades-long quest to sell more ink.

You can read Cory Doctorow's article here.

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