Consumers need to pay more for printers

Consumers need to pay more for their printers - that's the message from one top exec at digital imaging giant Kodak.

Somewhat paradoxically, however, far from being a being another attempt to rip off consumers by one of the big inkjet makers, it may actually be good news for consumers.

Speaking exclusively to thinq_ Bob Ohlweiler, Kodak's Director and Vice-President of Consumer Inkjets in EMEA said the company was out to turn the established model of the inkjet market on its head.

For too long, the inkjet market has been based around a business model that sees 75 per cent of all the cash a consumer ploughs into their printer during its lifetime spent on ink. It's a ruse that's less-than-affectionately known as the 'Gillette model', after the big share of profits made by razor manufacturers coming from the disposable blades.

In a tongue-in-cheek twist, Ohlweiler told us that an old college friend who now works for the razor maker says that the men's shaving market now refers to it as the 'inkjet printer model'.

"Ink is expensive not because it's expensive to manufacture, but because of the business model," Ohlweiler states. And the only way things are going to change, he says, is if consumers are prepared to spend a little extra on the purchase price of their printer.

According to Ohlweiler, consumers can expect to pay around a 33 per cent premium for one of Kodak's inkjet products, compared to comparable models from rival manufacturers. The pay-off, he says, is cheaper consumables. Kodak's pigment ink cartridges are available for as little as £4.

To demonstrate his point, Ohlweiler cites per-page costs from Kodak inkjets of as little as 5.5p - compared to an industry average of around 14p.

Kodak's stance isn't an easy sell among pile-'em-high, sell-'em-cheap high-street retailer, who provide consumers with very little information about a printer's total cost of ownership. Inkjets from some manufacturer come with price tags of £40 or less.

But the ugly truth lurking behind those enticingly low purchase prices is often cripplingly high running costs. In extreme cases, printers are supplied with part-filled inks and a full set of replacement cartridges can even exceed the original purchase price of the device.

"We've always been transparent about our ink value," says Ohlweiler, explaining Kodak's willingness to quote actual costs per photo, as well as the more esoteric standardised ISO measure of 5 per cent page coverage. "And now the competition is beginning to follow us. In the last two years they've begun to raise printer prices and drop ink prices."

Ohlweiler does, however, concede that Kodak's marketing strategy is mainly aimed at the 40 per cent of home users who print four or more pages a day using their printers.

"There are customers for whom Kodak's not the right choice from an ink use standpoint," says Ohlweiler. "Our primary customer is one who prints a lot."

That target user, he claims, will recoup the higher purchase price of Kodak's inkjets within six months - but he asserts that the majority of users will make the premium back in under a year.