Epson Ecotank: Want a printer that's cheaper to run? It will cost you...

Epson's new range of printers runs on large bottles of ink - but the cheapest model costs $379 (about £240)

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The Independent Tech

No one likes their printer. No one strokes the power button affectionately and sighs wistfully over the paper tray. While we've developed affectionate bonds with our smartphones, laptops and tablets that can verge on dysfunctional, the printer sits in the corner unloved, the runt of the technological litter, fulfilling a disappointing range of functions and eating up huge amounts of money. People tend not to sit down and work out how much cash their inkjet printer costs them, and having just done so, I can understand why. It's horrific.

I bought mine for £120 in 2009. At the time, it looked like a bargain, but since then I've spent a lip-wobbling £700 on ink cartridges. Even the most persuasive salesman with the loosest definition of the word "bargain" would admit that I've been lured in and screwed over. I probably should have bought a more expensive laser printer, and I'm undoubtedly a victim of my own poor choices – but I'm not the only one.

Consumers rarely take into account future costs associated with buying a product; give us something cheap now and we'll worry about the cost of running it later. While a printer's sales blurb includes information about the "page yield" of its cartridges to give us some way of comparing models, at no point will you be told the likely cost of running the thing over five years. Nope – you'll learn that the hard way.

But things are changing. Last year, there was talk of Epson launching a new range of printers that ran on large bottles of ink, and now they're here – or, rather, North America for starters.

The cheapest Ecotank model costs $379 (about £240) – way more than your standard inkjet, but a full set of replacement ink bottles only costs $52 (£33) and, according to a write-up in the Wall Street Journal, that'll last you two years if you're a fairly heavy user. This totally upturns the established inkjet business model.

Why have they done it? In an interview with Bloomberg, John Lang, Epson's North American CEO, talks about how the new machines soothe customers' anxiety and fear of running out of ink. "It's amazing to me that that was so prevalent," he said – making no reference to the more obvious fury customers have repeatedly shown over the sheer cost. But this move comes at a clever time. For years we've felt powerless as the printer industry finds new ways of leeching money out of us, and right now the Ecotank looks like a bargain investment for the jaded consumer. After looking at all my ink cartridge receipts, I'd be tempted to buy one. But the truth is that we're printing much less stuff.

Online billing, PDFs on tablets, boarding passes on phones, images shared on social media – there's never been more ways to avoid printing. As we're buying fewer cartridges these days (and finding ways to avoid buying the expensive branded ones) it's little wonder that printer companies are trying to make us pay more up front. But just as we finally manage to break free of the shackles of the old inkjet model, we're also accelerating into a paper-free, ink-free future. Gah! Those pesky printer firms have got us again. "It is my belief," says the text of one online comic strip addressing the subject of printers, "that they were sent here to inspire rage, loathing and murder in the hearts of all mankind." That might be a bit excessive. But one thing's for sure – no one likes their printer. No one.

@rhodri

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