Somewhere in the code running inside our big HP household printer (and, I suspect, every other printer on the planet) there’s a line of code, something along the lines of
if (drum_age > drum_warning_level)
  display BuyNewDrumWarning

Well, that warning message comes up awful early. And it dawns on me that the value chosen for drum_warning_level has an impact on HP’s cash flow that’s measured in billions: smaller value, more money. And the temptation to move it down and then down again over the years, that’d be irresistable.



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From: Martin Probst (Oct 13 2006, at 02:32)

It's actually worse. At least at some point in time, there was this check:

if (drops_dispensed > maximum_drops)

i_am_empty()

else

drops_dispensed++

Which was built in to prevent customers from refilling the cartridges on their own. I'm not sure if it's still there, there was a push (at least in the European union) to outlaw that. They also tried to prevent customers (or other companies) from tinkering with this particular check by referring to the DMCA.

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From: Andrew (Oct 13 2006, at 10:50)

Any product that generates business through consumable replacements (razor blades, ink cartridges, oil filters) is potentially open to this type of manipulation. However the whole idea of free competition is that the market will force this type of inefficiency to go away. If the drum life of your current laser printer is being held artificially low (by which I mean it is lower than it needs to be for the price you paid for it) then sooner or later a competitor will notice this and offer a better product. This is why monopolies are so bad and why an essential function of government is to protect against the formation of monopolies.

Often times what happens though is that a competitor will come in to a market with a cheaper product that doesn't last as long. People tend to just look at the headline price rather than assess overall value and will thus reward the competitor. The other company then responds by dropping the price of their product but to remain profitible they also have to lower it's life.

If you really think HP are lowering the life of their drums then take some measurements. Track the number of pages printed versus the price you pay for the drum. It's perhaps a little simplistic but assuming your drum is still popular in the marketplace then you should get a good idea about whether HP are pushing up the cost per page or not.

BTW, as a comment on your comment system, it would be useful to have the original fragment on the comment entry page itself because I often find myself wanting to refer back to the original words.

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From: Jordan Christensen (Oct 13 2006, at 12:02)

I was on the phone with someone from Dell, and they confirmed that their Ink Jets do something like that, but are even more sophisticated. It's more like:

if (ink_per_day*ink_level < delivery_days)

display_order_more_ink();

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From: Diehl (Oct 15 2006, at 12:13)

When I see the HP printer drum warning I interpret it as meeaning "It's time to buy a new drum but not necessarily time to install it." I wait until the print quality begins to suffer before changing the drum. I suppose if I knew I had a big print run, I might be inclined to replace the old drum to avoid the last pages of the run being a poorer quality than the first, but I don't usually do large print runs on the home printer.

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October 12, 2006
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I am an employee of Amazon.com, but the opinions expressed here are my own, and no other party necessarily agrees with them.

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