Compatible Cartridges

The Razor and the Blade and The Low-Cost Camera and the Free Film For Life: The Dirty Little Secret Brother, HP, Lexmark, and Epson Don’t Want You To Know About Their Printers!

Laser and Inkjet printer manufacturers lose money on every printer they sell. Surprised? That’s only half of the story, though. They make back their losses—and much, much more—by inflating the price of their toner and cartridges to almost obscene levels. And printers, as we all well know, have a voracious appetite for ink and toner.

Printer manufacturers and retailers have, for years, been following a marketing model called the “Razor & Blade Strategy,” a.k.a. “Freebie Marketing” that allows them to offer an apparently valuable item at a very low price, then making a huge profit on the back end.

Almost like a drug dealer saying, “Here, have this dope on the house. The first one’s free.”

Here’s how it works: Consider the last time you went to the store to buy a razor (this applies to both men and women). It was pretty inexpensive, wasn’t it? And it was probably bundled with a few blades “to get you started.”

So, you went home and used the razor and the free blades for a few weeks, and when those blades became dull, you went back to the store expecting to pay maybe a couple of bucks for a package of new ones, didn’t you?

I can only imagine your shock when you discovered that a package of only 3-4 razor blades—identical to the ones you’d purchased along with the razor a couple weeks previously—cost almost twice as much, or more, than the razor plus the blades had on that previous occasion.

What happened? Had there been a huge sale the last time that you hadn’t paid attention to? Had the bundle or the blades been inadvertently been mislabeled? Someone must have made a mistake somewhere along the line!

But, there wasn’t, they hadn’t, and he didn’t.

It’s a perfectly legal and legitimate pricing strategy.

What you have been taken in by, my friend, is the razor-and-blades strategy. It’s perfectly legal and legitimate and doesn’t only apply to shaving products, either.

Consider, for example those old camera manufacturers that promised “Free Film For Life!” if you bought one of their models. Sure, every time you had a roll of exposed film processed you’d receive a fresh one in the mail. The thing about it, though, was that you had to have the film developed by the company’s laboratory—otherwise no free film. And the processing cost at the company’s lab was, of course, considerably higher than at your local drugstore or supermarket.

Again, it’s perfectly legal and legitimate.

And, if you’ve ever purchased one of those low-cost laser or inkjet printers from Brother or HP or Epson or Lexmark or any of a dozen others, you get it home and you’re almost giddy at the thought of the terrific deal you’ve just gotten. You hook it up to your PC, and those first great documents come spitting out in their glorious, brilliant colors and crisp, clean black and white.

You’re not quite so giddy, though, when the “starter” cartridge that came with the printer runs out of ink or toner in the middle of an important project.

And, maybe even a bit less giddy than that if it’s a color printer and maybe only one of the colors begins getting low‑and the printer stops working altogether.

It’s when you go to buy a replacement for that toner or inkjet cartridge and find out just how much that little (albeit essential) thing is going to set you back that your giddiness disappears altogether, replaced by something better suited for a Stephen King novel.

But you have no choice: you check the balance on your credit card, bite the bullet, and buy the darned thing anyway—all the while realizing that you’ve fallen into a relationship with frustration and insolvency for some time to come— until the printer finally dies and the tether is broken for good.

Months (and a few more budget-busting replacement purchases) later, you hear about some so-called third-party compatible replacement toner and inkjet cartridges. They claim to cost less—sometimes, much less—and are as good or even better than the brand name carts you’ve been buying all this time.

And, to add to the veracity of the claim, you discover that millions of people just like you have been buying and happily printing away with compatible replacement toner and inkjet cartridges for years—while you’ve been dining on dog food and peanut butter.

You think to yourself: At last, that farkakt printer’s finally going to pay for itself.

Then you notice the big, red words printed on back page of the printer manual:

USE ONLY AUTHORIZED REPLACEMENT TONER OR CARTRIDGES IN THIS PRINTER

Followed by some fine print too small to read.

Well, that it, you think to yourself: probably void my warranty if I use anything other than their own brands. I’m going to be stuck between buying printer supplies, and being able to afford the rent. You wonder if anybody still uses electric typewriters and carbon paper anymore, and if there’s electric power at the homeless shelter.  

You mope and moan for a while, mentally reciting Edgar Allan Poe and Dorothy Parker, when you finally have one of those flashes of brilliance your third grade English teacher assured your parents you were capable of, and you fire up your laptop and use it for something other than a money pit: You perform a quick search for “printer warranty” and “laser toner” and “compatible replacement,” hoping against hope that there’s an answer out there somewhere.

You scroll through the results page, looking for that tiny shard of light hidden in the dark night of your impending insolvency. Wait! There it is!

The answer, when you finally find it, lifts your spirits, puts the bounce back in your step, and returns you to your old, giddy self:

QUESTION: Will using a third party compatible laser toner or inkjet cartridge void my printer’s warranty?

ANSWER: Absolutely not,[1] you read,

two pieces of legislation prohibit companies from voiding warranties when an end user wants to use a third-party laser toner or inkjet cartridge that has not been made by that company. The laws are referred to as the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Improvement Act (MMA) and the Sherman Antitrust Act and Clayton Antitrust Act.

The Magnuson-Moss Act

The MMA states unequivocally that a company cannot sell a product under the pretense that the consumer must purchase replacement parts, add-ons, etc., from only that particular company. This includes laser toner and inkjet cartridges that do not have the manufacturers’ “blessing”.

MAGNUSON-MOSS WARRANTY IMPROVEMENT ACT United States Code Annotated “Title 15 Commerce and Trade”¨ Chapter 50 Consumer Product Warranties¨15 Section 2302No warrantor of a consumer product may condition his written or implied warranty of such product on the consumer’s using, in connection with such product, any article or service (other than article or service provided without charge under the terms of the warranty) which is identified by brand, trade or corporate name; except that the prohibition of this subsection be waived by the commission if:

  1. The warrantor satisfies the Commission that the warranted product will function properly only if the article or service so identified is used in connection with the warranted product, and
  2. The Commission finds that such a waiver is in the public interest.

Sherman & Clayton Antitrust Acts

The Sherman Antitrust Act, a basic federal enactment regulating the operations of corporate trusts, was passed by the U.S. Congress in July 1890, and declared illegal “every contract, combination in the form of trust or otherwise, or conspiracy, in restraint of trade or commerce among the several States, or with foreign nations.”

The Clayton Antitrust Act was passed by the United States Congress during the administration of Woodrow Wilson and prohibits certain monopolistic practices then common in finance, industry, and trade. The provisions relating to corporate activities declared illegal practices that included exclusive selling or leasing, and other forms of price discrimination.

These acts make it illegal for any computer manufacturer to require you to use only their brand of supplies or dictate what supplies you can or cannot use. An OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer), or any other manufacturer, cannot void your laptop’s warranty because you decided to use products other than theirs.

If you’d like more information you can contact the Federal Trade Commission at (202) 326-3128.

Simply stated, manufacturers cannot threaten to void your warranty simply because you didn’t use their overpriced toner cartridges in your printer. Nor can any company, sales associate, or service technician deny you warranty service for work that would otherwise be covered under warranty, simply because you chose to use a 100% compatible laser toner or inkjet cartridge that did not bear the manufacturers’ name from, for example, Supplies Outlet.

The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Improvement Act gives you the freedom to use third party, factory-tested, 100% guaranteed compatible equipment without fear of having your warranty voided.

Thus, emboldened by what you have just discovered, you seek out the lowest online prices for your compatible toner and cartridges—coincidentally, Supplies Outlet—buy two or three for what you’d normally pay for a single brand name cartridge from the manufacturer. Then, with the money you’ve saved, you decide to splurge and order out for pizza—with anchovies.

Later, you call your fiancé, whom you haven’t spoken with since March—no money to load up that old disposable cell phone, you know—and invite her over to help you proofread and print-out that darned dissertation that’s kept you from getting your PhD since 2003.

So, true love, a full stomach, and anchovy breath brings us to the end of this “tale of the printer with a voracious appetite.”

 


[1] This discussion of the Magnusson-Moss Warranty Improvement Act is provided for informational purposes only and is © 2011 by Supplies Outlet. For more definitive legal information or opinion, one should always consult an attorney.