The Toner Prices Are Too Damn High


Although I try to write as much as I can every day, some days, and some years, just turn out better for me in that regard. At the beginning of 2010, when I was in the middle of a period of peak productivity (including writing the short story that would eventually become my first novel, The Prostitutes of Lake Wiishkoban), I quickly realized that my old inkjet printer was costing me a mint as I kept replacing ink cartridge after ink cartridge when they ran out. I was getting to a point with my writing (and my teaching) where I needed a better solution for my printing needs, in terms of cost and quality. It was finally time for me to buy my first laser printer.

I did a fair bit of research before settling on the HP LaserJet P1102w, which I believed (based on both my research and my previous experience with HP products) would work out best for me. As it happened, Mom was having one of her friends take her to a local electronics store around this time, when the printer was on sale for $50 off there, so I asked her if she could pick one up for me. Not only did Mom come home with the printer, but she refused to let me pay her back for it, turning the printer into an impromptu gift.

That printer sits by my feet as I type these words , and for eight years it’s handled pretty much everything I’ve thrown at it. Even though newer printers have come along, and lower printing costs with them, I’ve been very hesitant to buy a new printer, at least for the black-and-white printing that I need to do 99.999% of the time I print. (I do need a new multifunction inkjet printer for scanning and colour printing, but that’s pretty low on my priorities list right now.) My HP LaserJet has done what I needed it to do, and especially after Mom’s passing, I feel obligated to wring every ounce of use I can out of this printer before I retire it (and I’ll probably hold onto it as a keepsake after it can no longer print).

Lately, though, that hasn’t been so easy. Spending about $100 for a two-pack of toner cartridges for my printer wasn’t that big of a deal for me, even as more printers came out with lower per-page printing costs. Since the last time I had to buy toner, though, the price for that two-pack of toner cartridges has shot up to about $137, and  it’s not so easy for me to justify spending that much money after my recent move, especially when so many quality printers run less than that. I recognize that my old printer will bite the dust at some point, and there’s a strong argument to be made that I should go ahead and get a new printer now, but I just can’t bring myself to do that.

Likewise, I have a very hard time giving in and buying third-party replacement toner cartridges, even when they’re a fraction of the cost of HP’s own cartridges. A couple of years ago, when I was still working to find a traditional agent and publisher for my first novel, I could tell myself that I needed the highest-quality ink possible because I had active queries going on, and the next thing I could need my printer for might be to churn out another copy of the manuscript that could lead to the book deal I was hoping for. Now that I’ve self-published my first novel, that’s not as much of a concern for me as it was before, although I have decided to seek traditional publication for my next big book project (which is, admittedly, only in its research stages right now), so I may need high-quality ink sooner rather than later.

Like all printer manufacturers, HP makes a big deal out of voiding customer warranties for not using first-party ink and toner, and even though my LaserJet has been out of warranty for ages, that threat still has a great deal of influence on me. I think it’s triggering the same part of me that makes full and complete stops at stop signs at two in the morning, even when I’m the only car around for miles; there’s a part of me that just feels compelled to follow along with guidelines, even when I know they don’t matter, and that extends to my printer, despite the fact that I’d hardly risk getting thrown in jail for using third-party toner cartridges with it. (Even when I got into playing Japanese games on my PlayStation 2, I still bought a second system that I could modify for those purposes, just to keep my original PS2 “pristine” and under warranty.)

There’s a part of me that wants to curse HP out for putting me in such a dilemma when it comes to buying toner cartridges, but I know full well that I’m totally to blame for any “dilemma” I feel stuck in right now. I could buy third-party cartridges with little to no risk, or I could just get a new printer with lower per-page printing costs and save money that way. The only thing that’s “trapping” me here is my own damn sentimentality, the fact that I want to do everything I can to keep this printer that Mom bought for me alive, even when Mom left me with thousands more important things (most of which have no physical component) to remember her by. I’m being foolish here.

At the same time, though, I look at the fact that I could buy third-party toner cartridges for my HP LaserJet — cartridges rated by customers nearly as well as HP’s own — for less than a tenth of the cost of what HP wants me to pay for them, and I have to believe that I’m far from the only person who feels jerked around by HP, to say nothing of all the other printer manufacturers who play this same game. From everything people say about how markets work, the pressure created by third-party ink and toner cartridge manufacturers should be forcing the printer companies to lower the costs of their first-party cartridges, but the opposite seems to be happening here. Something is not right about this arrangement, and that seems to be activating the stubborn part of my brain to fight this situation with HP, even when another part of me feels like an idiot for doing so.

Maybe this printer that Mom got me will bite the dust tomorrow, and all of this kvetching will be irrelevant. Maybe I’ll buy a third-party cartridge and it’ll kill my printer dead in its tracks, or maybe it’ll be okay and I’ll keep using this printer for my next ten books. Maybe I’ll just bite the bullet and buy more first-party cartridges, swearing under my breath at HP all the while. Whatever the case, I just hope that the work I do with this printer, and all the printers I buy later on, makes Mom proud.

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