If there is any area of the electronics market more prone to shenanigans than mobile phones it is the fabulous world of printers. Although not exactly a “razors and blades” market, the world of printers is all about maximizing profits on the purchase of supplies, especially ink cartridges. Although HP’s games with expiring inks (and whole printers) last year gave me pause, I decided to buy another HP printer. Now I’m not sure I made the right move.
The Ink Racket
HP’s printer ink business is one of their most profitable, and ink is real “black gold”, far more expensive than blood, oil, or penicillin. And printers are constantly asking for replacement ink cartridges, even when a substantial amount remains inside!
My new HP PhotoSmart C410a came “starter” ink cartridges, and these didn’t last long. I decided to buy a full set of replacement inks at the same time, including an “XL” black cartridge. This is the printer racket: Keep the customer coming back for ink!
Annoyingly, like every printer I’ve owned, the new PhotoSmart stops printing when the ink is low and asks you to replace the cartridge. But there is still some ink left, as you can plainly demonstrate by overriding the warning by pressing “ok”. In my cast, my printer is still going a week after asking for new black ink!
Many techies realize this and won’t replace the ink immediately. But casual computer users would run out and buy a new cartridge and replace it right away. So HP sells more ink than gets used – I bet they love that!
XL Means What Exactly?
I was interested to see that the new PhotoSmart printer used HP’s “564” inks, which include a line of “XL” cartridges with extra capacity. I did the math and found that, assuming HP’s yield numbers were trustworthy, the XL was indeed slightly cheaper per page than the regular 564, though this didn’t hold up after taking into account the “Staples Rewards” $2 per cartridge recycling rebate.
Fast forward to this week. I went to buy a replacement black cartridge, since the printer was asking for more, and grabbed the 564XL black pack off the shelf. I immediately noticed a major price reduction – the price was $22.99 rather than the $34.99 I paid previously. Could HP have actually reduced the cost of ink?
No way! It turns out that this new 564XL pack (part number CN684WN) has “lower ink volume” than the old 564XL pack (part number CB321WN)! The old cartridge was good for “800 pages”, but the new one will only do “550 pages”, according to HP. That’s a nice way of saying “no longer all that XL after all!”
Bait and Switch?
There is a lot of anger online over this, with many Amazon customers reporting they ordered a CB321WN and got a CN684WN. I feel for those folks – that’s definitely “bait and switch”, and should draw an investigation from Amazon.
Were it not for two facts, I’d be all up in arms over this:
- I noticed the difference in the store before buying anything. The low price seemed too good to be true, so I inspected the packaging and saw HP’s truthful statement, “new lower price, smaller size” emblazoned in red. And I noticed that it said “up to 2x more pages” rather than the “3x” the old package claimed.
- I did the math and the new 564XL is actually a better deal than the old one! In fact, the old black 564XL was actually more expensive per page after the Staples rebate than the regular 564! But the new one is cheaper than both in all cases.
Although HP reduced the size of their “XL” ink cartridge without telling anyone, it really is a better deal for the consumer. They’re upfront about the change, too, though I wish they had used a different part number. Rather than redefining “XL”, HP should have called the new size “564L” or used some other name.
But HP and Amazon simply must do something about the sales there. It’s unconscionable for customers to order one part number and receive a different, smaller product. Even though these are sold through a third-party, Amazon is the merchant of record and it they have the power to fix this situation!