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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.

The Samsung ML-3712ND accepts three sizes of toner cartridge. With Samsung's provided pricing matched against my current research, the costs per page has increased from a reasonable 5.4 percent for the standard-size cartridge, to a whopping 28 percent for the extra-high-yield cartridge. The cost per page for any printer's extra-high-yield cartridge tends to dwell somewhere below 2 cents, but the ML-3712ND's average is now above that number.

Xerox acknowledges toner cost increases

The other vendor that showed noticeable increases in toner cost per page was corporate-minded Xerox. Three of its monochrome lasers that we reviewed a little over three years ago remain available today. Their cost increases since 2009 range from 5.5 percent to 19 percent. The most hard-hit model is the mid-range Xerox Phaser 3600/DN model, whose high-yield cartridges rose in price by 0.3 cent per page.

Why are some vendors holding prices fairly steady, while others are raising them? A spokesperson for Xerox cited the challenging world economy, along with currency fluctuations, as major contributing factors to Xerox's price hikes.

According to IDC's Keith Kmetz, there are numerous reasons underlying increases in toner prices. The weak worldwide economy, environmental concerns, and the rise of paperless alternatives such as smartphones and tablets, have contributed to a drop in the overall number of pages being printed. In response, some vendors have increased their cartridge prices in hopes of generating greater profit margins and revenue out of the pages that are being printed.

Retail prices have seen the most upward pressure, notes IDC. Another macroeconomic factor is currency: The stronger Japanese yen and the weaker U.S. dollar have affected the many Japan-based printer vendors. In addition, IDC points out that costs for cartridge raw materials and for transport are increasing.

As I said when I examined rising inkjet cartridge costs in May, the vendors with the largest inkjet market share--namely HP and Canon--have tended to be more stable in their pricing of consumables. The same seems to hold true for the largest monochrome laser printer vendors: The biggest ones--Dell, HP, and Lexmark--may rely on their strong customer bases to bolster their bottom line, even in hard times. Lexmark says that its laser business remains healthy, for instance, even as the company recently chose to discontinue its faltering inkjet business.

The monochrome laser printer is still the most economical printer choice around, if only because it's simple and straightforward. You may find greater cost stability if you stick with the market leaders, because they're better equipped to weather rough economic times.


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