Free Linux Laptop with every inkjet printer?

I am bit slow between the ears sometimes. Sometimes things take a long time to sink in and when they do, I have a "duh!" moment. I had one recently in an outlet of well known, computer chain store. I wandered up the printer aisle marvelling at the inventiveness of the printer manufacturers in conjuring up so many mutually incompatible containers that all serve to delivery streams of cyan, magenta, yellow and black ink. Such diversity in a such a small amount of shelf space.

Next, I wandered up the laptop aisle and had - to my surprise - the opposite reaction. There were lots of machines but they were all from 3-4 well known brands. Very litle diversity. I was disappointed. What about the ASUS EE PC's I hear a lot of buz about? What about the OLPC machines? How about a few "no name" brands from the Far East to spice things up? None.

Then I had my "duh!" moment. I am used to the notion that physical stores can only carry popular items because shelf space is at a premium. I am used to being driven on-line in order to find things like left anded mice, obscure books and so on. Consequently, I don't expect aisle to contain weird and unusual stuff. I am also used to the foibles of the printer market. Inkjet printers are so cheap and have such wafer thin margins that retailers cannot make a profit selling them.

However, they can more than make up for it in cartridge sales given that ink - suitably packaged - can be more expensive than gold. So, it is worth allocating the shelf space to those cheap printers.

But if cheap printers can justify taking up shelf space, where are the cheap laptops? This is where printers and laptops part economic company I think. Retailers cannot justify selling a cheap laptop with a wafer thin margin when it does not contain within itself, the recurring revenues associated with consumables like printer ink. Is that why there are so few cheap, cheap laptops in the mainstream outlets? Maybe I shop in the wrong locations? Is the economics of the situation such that these machines will only ever be available online where shelf costs do not apply?

Here is an odd thought. Imagine you are a retailer and you like the buzz associated with brand XYZ, Linux powered laptop but there is no margin in it for you to sell them. Can you use it to drive sales of something that does have a margin? Find a way to tap into the buzz amongst the geekerati?

How about this for a pitch: "Free Linux Laptop with every color inkjet printer"?

Yes, I am joking. But only by a wafer thin margin.

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