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Are printer companies gouging us on laser toner pricing?

Melissa Riofrio | Sept. 26, 2012
Your monochrome laser printer is supposed to be stress-free: sturdy, reliable, less complicated than a color laser, and not as costly to run as a color inkjet. Unfortunately, however, you may be paying considerably more to keep your laser printer filled with toner these days than you did earlier in the printer's life.

Your monochrome laser printer is supposed to be stress-free: sturdy, reliable, less complicated than a color laser, and not as costly to run as a color inkjet. Unfortunately, however, you may be paying considerably more to keep your laser printer filled with toner these days than you did earlier in the printer's life.

I looked at 22 monochrome laser models that we've tested over the past three years, and compared their toner costs per page at the time of our reviews with their toner costs today. To determine the latest prices, I shopped online, starting with the sites of major office superstores (Office Depot, OfficeMax, and Staples), and sticking with other established players (such as CDW and NewEgg) whenever possible. Of course, if your office has a service contract or some other special arrangement for your printer supplies, you're likely getting a much better deal than the public retail price.

During my research, I discovered that the costs per page for models from Dell, HP, and Lexmark had bumped up in small increments of between 2.2 percent and 5.8 percent in the time since we reviewed them. Meanwhile, models from Brother, Samsung, and Xerox that PCWorld had reviewed showed cost-per-page hikes of anywhere from 5.5 percent to a whopping 28 percent. Considering that the cumulative rate of inflation from 2009 to 2012 is just 7 percent, the sharply higher costs imposed by some vendors appear particularly egregious.

Low-end Brother lasers show high toner price hikes

When we reviewed the Brother HL-2270DW last year, we warned readers that its toner costs per page were high--as is typical of products that carry modest price tags. Unfortunately, the printer's cartridge prices today are even higher. The standard-size TN420 cartridge had a cost per page of 3.2 cents in April 2011. Today that figure is 3.5 cents, a 9.4 percent increase in less than 18 months. Meanwhile, the high-yield TN450 cartridge's cost per page has risen from 2.1 cents per page to 2.5 cents per page in the same period--a 19 percent increase. The closely related Brother HL-2280DW uses the same toner cartridges.

Samsung toner prices trending upward

We based our original cost-per-page numbers for the low-end Samsung ML-2955DW and the small-business Samsung ML-3712ND on estimated street prices that the vendor provided less than a year ago. I did my own research to find the most recent prices. Samsung's original prices would fall at the low end of the current average, indicating that prices are trending upward overall. Based on the data that Samsung provided last year, the ML-2955DW's standard-size toner cartridge originally had a cost per page of 4.2 cents. The current average is 4.6 cents per page, a 9.5 percent increase. The printer's high-yield cartridge initially cost 3.0 cents per page, but the current average is 3.3 cents per page--a 10 percent jump.

 

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