A Monthly Subscription Plan for Ink
Hewlett Packard (HP) recently launched a new subscription service for printer ink that’s based on a cost per page rather than the cost per ink cartridge. Your printer communicates your number of pages printer with HP and you’re billed 3 to 6 cents per page for ink consumed. They claim that the service can save you hundreds of dollars per year as shown in the chart below:
The program seems like an amazing deal. However, if you take a closer look at the cost estimates, it’s clear that the savings are exaggerated.
Sustainability Efforts Haven’t Gone Far Enough
HP offers extended capacity (XL) ink cartridges for lower printing costs and to reduce waste. Presumably that’s the maximum amount of ink you can fit in a cartridge.
Yet, apparently they’ve been holding out on us.
Take another look at the chart above. Notice the statement: “Our cartridges have more ink than HP XL ink cartridges…”
So, all along, HP could have been putting a few more pennies worth of ink in those cartridges, reducing our carbon footprint, saving a trip to the store, and saving money. Yet, instead, it turns out that their XL cartridges don’t hold the maximum amount of ink. That’s apparently reserved for the customers who pay for the monthly plan.
HP Overstates Potential Savings
For example, the HP Officejet Pro 8630 uses the 950 series of ink cartridges. If, like most people, you print mostly using black ink, you can purchase a black ink cartridge for $38 that will yield 2,300 pages.
That’s about 1.5 cents per page, or $54 per year for the 3,600 pages that HP says could cost you $792. That’s way below the annual amount claimed by HP in their promotional materials. Even the ink subscription ‘savings’ plan of $120 per year is over 100% more than what you’d pay just buying about one extra capacity cartridge per year.
Let’s say you use black ink and color inks equally. That’s very unlikely, but let’s say that’s what you do. Then you’ll spend about $120 for a set of four which might yield 1,500 to 2,300 pages. That’s still only 8 cents per page at the lowest estimated yield.
HP is claiming you’ll spend $792 a year on ink to print 3,600 pages. That’s 22 cents per page for ink. That’s virtually impossible regardless of what printer you’re using. Even if you’re printing hundreds of 8.5×11″ portrait photos (which most people aren’t).
If you use the black only setting, and the draft option whenever possible, your print yield will be much higher. Combine that with purchasing XL (extended capacity) cartridges, and you actually could save hundreds of dollars on ink.
Promise of 50% Savings Not Accurate
In the marketing materials, HP states that you can save 50% on the cost of ink. At first glance, any reasonable person would assume that you’d be purchasing ink at a savings of 50%. That should be achievable given that subscription services for products are typically more economical, and if HP is ‘cutting out the middle man’ it seems that a 50% savings off of retail prices might be possible. Yet, as was demonstrated above, the subscription plan in this case could cost 100% more rather than 50% less.
What’s strange is that some of the marketing materials promise 50% savings. Yet, elsewhere, like the chart above, the savings are more like 85% ($120 instead of $792). Why would the representation of savings be so different?
You Pay Even When You Don’t Use Ink
On the subscription plan, you pay every month, even if you’ve printed nothing. HP claims that unused pages on your plan ‘rollover’ just like a mobile phone company. However, there’s a limit and the credits don’t accumulate beyond one month. For example, if you’re on the 50 pages per month plan, you can roll over 50 pages to the next month. Then you loose those credits after a month. You’ll never accumulate more than 100 pages total.
You can cancel any time, but will people really remember to cancel when they go on vacation and then reinstate the program when they return?
What about mis-printing, when you mistakenly have a page with just one word print. With HP, you’ll pay as if the page was covered with words or pictures.
What about printing on smaller pieces of paper, like 5×7 size pages for photos? Presumably you’ll pay the same as if you’re printing 80% coverage on legal size 8.5 x 14″ pages.
The monthly fees are shown below.
Who is the Program For?
Like a buffet for big eaters, the people who really save money on the subscription plan are those who regularly fill the page with colored ink. It’s well suited for people who use more than the average amount of colored ink consistently and have significant page coverage. These people might only get 1000 pages yield per XL cartridge. So, they might save money on the $10 per month plan (for example).
HP really needs to create a simple online calculator to help consumers determine if this program is right for them. The statement of saving is really arbitrary. The savings will be different depending on a user’s typical printing needs.
Intentional Misrepresentation to Persuade Consumers?
Unfortunately, it seems that HP is engaged in misleading representations about the annual ink costs in an effort to encourage people to pay for a service they may not really want if they knew the savings weren’t that great.
Why Not Switch to Another Brand?
Whenever we’re dissatisfied with a company, there’s always the option to switch to another, right? Well, that’s not so with printers.
Other printer manufacturers aren’t any better.
At least in HP high-end inkjet printers, the ink cartridges are tightly sealed which extends their life during non use. With other brands of printers, the ink and/or print heads can dry out after a month or two of non-use. Other manufacturers use separate components for printing heads and ink tanks. This means it’s possible to overrun print heads causing them to dry out or otherwise perform poorly. HP all-in-one devices such as the Officejet 8630 have very fast scan times — about 3 seconds per page for 300 dpi high quality color. Other scanners sometimes take 10 seconds just to ‘warm up’ and then another 10 seconds or more to scan a page. HP printers are built solid. For all of these reasons, it’s not possible (or at least not practical) to switch to another brand of printer.
What Should HP Do?
The subscription plan in its current form is about as annoying as mobile phone service contracts or lease vehicles where you estimate your usage ahead of time. Inevitably there’s some waste or money lost.
HP should really make some tweaks to this program and roll out a new version that offers the following:
- Automatic. Automatic orders are placed based on when your ink is starting to run low.
- Economical. Benefit from 30% savings on ink cartridge purchases.
- Fair & Green. You pay for ink, not pages, so you can be rewarded for responsible printing choices such as less page coverage and using draft mode. This is fair and promotes more sustainable practices.
The emphasis would be on the convenience, while delivering sufficient savings to motivate consumers to choose the subscription service.
Below are updates regarding this case.
- Saturday, 26 July 2015 @ 1:14 AM CT. We contacted HP using the Senior Vice President feedback page and provided a synopsis of the above information.
- Monday, 27 July 2015 @ 9:50 AM CT. We received a call from HP Case Management in response to our communication yesterday. The case manager was very polite and appreciated the feedback about the ink subscription program marketing materials. They said this case would be escalated.
- Sunday, 22 November 2015 @ 7:25 AM CT. We noticed a sponsored ad on Facebook that continues to promise in at 50% off (see below). So, apparently nothing has been done yet about their advertising campaign.