Friday, December 17, 2010

Liquid Gold or Daylight Robbery?

Having worked for HP for almost 15 years, I would always purchase HP cartridges for my printer, rather than having them re-filled. “Why are you doing that? You can save so much” my friends would say. However, I still felt a certain loyalty to my old company. I knew that it costs a lot of R&D to develop ink, and I also knew that even though $8,000 a gallon
does seem a little excessive, it pays for the R&D and means that we can buy printers for $100 as opposed to $400. Plus I know that you could have problems with warranty and print quality. I feel so foolish now, but I actually felt a little bit proud when I saw the ‘Genuine Printer Cartridge” installed on my printer screen.

Imagine my surprise then when I got an email from HP announcing “Notice of Proposed Settlement of HP InkJet Litigation”. What could this be about? According to the email, the first claim was that:
“certain HP inkjet printers used "low on ink" messaging technology to indicate that replacement of a cartridge is needed when the cartridge is not empty”
Big deal, everyone knows that you don’t replace a perfectly good cartridge while it’s still working, you just make sure you’ve got a spare for when it does run out. But there was more. The second claim regarded printers not working if the expiration date on the cartridge had expired (I didn’t even know that they had one), but the third claim was most worrying:
“certain HP color inkjet printers used color ink in addition to black ink when printing black text and images without disclosing this to consumers and without providing consumers with the option of disabling this feature”
Surely this couldn’t be right? The company that I knew and once loved would never do something like that? But then I got thinking. I’d just bought an HP6500 OfficeJet and both the black AND color cartridges were now almost empty, yet I’d only really ever printed black text as my daughter is home schooled and needs to print out a lot of her assignments. So I decided to test it for myself. I replaced the black cartridge with a new HP920XL for $28 and left the color cartridges almost empty. Sure enough, when I went to print, all the text came out red. This didn’t make any sense, so I called HP technical support.

“That’s because we put down a layer of color ink underneath the black ink and there’s not enough color ink left.”

“But I didn’t want you to put down color ink first. Why would I pay $30 for a color ink cartridge, and then waste it by printing over the top of it?” I asked.

“It makes the black more vibrant sir.”

“It wouldn’t be so that you force me to buy twice as much ink would it?”

“No sir.” Of course not. What a suspicious mind I have.

“You didn’t ask me - my printing is for my daughter’s school work, believe me, it doesn’t need to be vibrant”.
So we went on to see how we could disable this “feature”. Buried in amongst the print options and cunningly hidden under Paper Type/Quality is an option to print with the black cartridge only. But you need a masters in computer science to find it. First you have to select Color and then set it to Greyscale. You would think that would be enough, but no, you then need to select Color Options before you see the Black Print Cartridge Only option. After selecting this option, bingo, I could print in black.

However, after a couple of pages of printing, it started to print in red again. This couldn’t be right. So I hunted down my new favorite best setting, only to find that my printer had CHANGED the print setting back to the old “use as much ink as possible” setting and further more, GREYED OUT the Black Cartridge Only setting. It was like my printer was now really mad at me for finding it’s hidden setting and was going to punish me,

Another call to the HP support line and they all innocently claimed it must be something wrong with my Mac, or that I should try re-installing the driver (which I’ve done but that makes no difference). Do you know what fixed the problem? Replacing the color cartridges. As soon as I did that, it started printing fine - if you call over-printing my expensive color ink with black.

Now I don’t believe in coincidences. What are the odds of a software “bug” that just happens to reset your printing options to use both black AND color ink without giving you any indication, thereby doubling the amount of ink you use, and doubling the cost? I calculate that over the last 10 years, this deception will have cost me over $2,000. Now let’s think about that for a second. According to IDC, HP Inket printers have 66% market share. Since about 52% of US households own a computer, each of which has a printer, and around 79 million households, that would put the total amount of theft at $54 billion. Let’s say I’m a heavy user, and not everyone has inkjet printers, even half that figure is $25 billion which I would rate that con as the biggest theft in human history.

I still can’t believe that HP is doing this. The Bill and Dave (HP founders) that I had read about would be turning in their graves. What ever happened to honesty, integrity and honor? When did the interests of share holders override the legal rights and moral expectation of a company’s customers? Even though my company is tiny in comparison, our customer's trust us and loyalty is our number one concern. Many times we will routinely refund part of our shipping charges if the actual cost of the shipping is less than what they were initially charged on our website.

So what of the class action suit and the settlement? Finally, there shall be justice right? HP has agreed to settle and allocated the huge sum of $5 million to cover the costs. If you file a claim, then you’ll receive a staggering $5 e-credit. To be fair, it might be $6 in some circumstances. If I was one of the lawyers, I’d receive $2.9 million. This is a messed up country.

Has HP learned? Will it discontinue these practices? Of course not. Think tens of billions versus $5 million. Slam dunk. It will disclose in the printer manuals and on it’s website the use of under-printing and how to disable it, or minimize it’s use. But let’s face it, who reads the manual?

About the Author
Philip May is President of TechnoRV, an online retailer specializing in technology products for the RV industry.

References
1 http://arstechnica.com/hardware/news/2007/12/hp-and-staples-accused-of-colluding-on-printer-ink-prices.ars

2 https://www.hpinkjetprintersettlement.com//FAQ.aspx#q2

3 http://www.zdnet.com/blog/btl/hp-grabs-printer-market-share/38724

4 http://www.kltprc.net/foresight/Gifs/Fig_44_2.htm

5 http://www.allbusiness.com/electronics/computer-equipment-computer-printers/6513113-1.html

6 http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/hh-fam.html

3 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  2. Another suggestion to save ink AND paper. Unless you need a full sized sheet for some reason, print two pages on one sheet of paper. I always do this if I'm printing for my own use. It even works with Boarding Passes!
    Kathleen

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  3. couldn't be any clearer than that... liquid gold huh
    well, that's a good way to put it, nice insights works well in clientele explanation and information resource option.
    color ink cartridge

    ReplyDelete