Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Printer Betrayal

Everyone's favorite economics text describes how the seemingly ridiculous prices of toner cartridges relative to printer prices is an indirect price discrimination scheme. Little did I know that the situation is even worse than I thought.

How do you know whether your printer needs a new cartridge? The printer tells you. Stop and think about that for a minute. What are your printer's incentives to be honest with you? Not too many. Wouldn't your printer be a little bit better off by perhaps shading the information it reports and telling you that you need to replace the cartridge before you really need to? I always thought my Brother HL-1440 looked a bit suspicious sitting there so quietly (it's always the quiet ones).

Here's an article from Slate discussing how your printer tricks you into thinking you need new toner and what you can do about it.

Dirty, low-down, lying printer! Or perhaps economics has infected my brain. Perhaps my printer is truly an altruist who is just extremely worried about me running out of toner when I am printing an extremely important document.


  1. Oral-B makes a toothbrush that operates under a similar scenario. The "indicator" bristles fade half-way when one "should" replace their brush.

  2. I generally don't replace printer toner cartridges until after they don't print anymore, even after repetitive shaking :)