December 15, 2009, 5:21 PM — Yesterday, at a small business networking lunch, one of the members asked me about buying printers before the end of the year for tax planning. We talked about the office equipment exemption limit , and then I asked him what type of printers he planned to get.
“Whatever's cheapest at Crap-Mart.” OK, he didn't say Crap-Mart, but another Mart that I avoid. Many small businesses buy their hardware from consumer retail outlets.
Oops, that's the wrong thing to say about equipment with as many moving parts as a printer. I got on my soapbox and explained the difference between the Cost of Acquisition and the Cost of Ownership.
Thanks to the constantly-dropping technology hardware prices, end users have gotten used to expecting lower and lower hardware expenses. Unlike, say, a router, a printer has moving parts. Moving parts must be engineered and assembled correctly to work properly, and those that aren't break down quickly.
The more moving parts your equipment has, the better the equipment should be to get maximum value from that equipment. Printers, especially low end ink jet printers, have skewed the Cost of Acquisition – Cost of Ownership balance considerably, since you can buy some printers new for less than the cost of replacing all the ink jet cartridges. Those tend to be the off-brand printers often bundled free with a computer, for instance, or the “Deal of the Day” to lure the unwary into a big box retailer.
Is it technically a printer? Yes. Does it work? Yes, at least for a little while. Will you be happy with that printer in three months? That's an entirely different question.
Unlike some non-moving electronic part, like your CPU, your printer's full of moving parts that must work together correctly for best results. Cheap printers will lose their parts tolerance before long, degrading the printed output but not really breaking down. One day you look at a page and clean your glasses, but the print stays fuzzy. Not long after that, your printer will wheeze to a halt. RIP, cheap printer.
The old saying is “buy cheap, buy twice.” Buying new printers every six months gets expensive and boring. Buying one good printer you can use for two or more years with great results saves time and money. Just don't expect to save money with cheap, off-brand printers.