Epson: Cheap printers, expensive ink? Let's turn that upside down

Razor blade biz model in retreat with more two-year ink tanks

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There can't be many printer owners who haven't had an apoplectic fit about the outrageous cost of inks for their machines, and now Epson is trying to change that business model and lower the cost of printing.

Traditionally printer manufacturers have sold their hardware at a loss and made the money back over the lifecycle of the product in consumables. Ink can cost more than expensive perfume or good single-malt Scotch, and in some cases it's cheaper to buy a new printer for $50 rather than replace all the damn cartridges.

Now Epson is introducing Americans to its EcoTank printers that can hold two-year supplies of ink. A bottle of the replacement ink will cost around $13 per color, so the cost per page is drastically lower than for conventional printers.

"The introduction of EcoTank marks a fundamental shift in the way we think about using color in business and in the home," said Keith Kratzberg, VP of Epson America.

"Epson EcoTank sets a new standard for color printing, convenience, and value. We believe that our new EcoTank printers are well-positioned to take a large bite out of the small business printer market."

Epson still has to make money, of course, and will do so with a much higher upfront purchase price. The cheapest printer in the range, the Expression ET-2500 EcoTank, will set you back $379 plus tax, and the most expensive model, the WorkForce Pro WF-R4640, costs $1,200 – minus a buck.

Epson is banking on American consumers and small businesses recognizing that a higher purchase price will translate into lower overall costs. The company is already selling the EcoTank line in Europe, South America, and Asia, with some success – the company reported higher than expected [PDF] sales in its last quarterly results.

"Epson's EcoTank launch represents a sea change in today's printer market," said Barbara Richards, senior consultant at analyst house InfoTrends.

"Establishing a new printer category – Supertank – Epson is positioning itself for significant market expansion. The appeal of low-cost, hassle-free color printing in business and in the home has potential to capture a significant share of the market." ®

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