Printer Makers Clash Over Advertising Claims

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For nearly two years, Kodak has promised consumers that they can save big bucks by switching to Kodak all-in-one inkjet printers. Unsurprisingly, the company has encountered some opposition. HP is the most recent competitor to challenge Kodak's claim that consumers can "save on average $110 per year on ink" by buying a Kodak printer.

According to HP and an independent consulting firm, consumers would have to print four pages per day to save that much money with a Kodak printer--far more than most home users actually do. Last year HP lodged a grievance against the Kodak ads. In December, the Federal Trade Commission ruled that Kodak could continue the advertising campaign if it slightly changed the wording. As a result, Kodak's revised ad copy now reads: "Save on average $110 per year on ink based on just four pages per day."

Ads Still Misleading?

Even with the tweaked text, however, Kodak's claims are still beguiling to consumers--according to HP, at least. "The average user in the United States prints about half of what Kodak is using as the basis for their cost-savings claim," says Andy Binder, HP Inkjet & Web Solutions marketing director.

But how do we know whether HP is telling the truth? For one thing, HP is basing its assertion on studies conducted by Lyra Research, a respected consulting firm in the printing industry. According to Lyra senior analyst Andrew Lippman, Kodak's cost-savings claims are far-fetched.

In fact, few consumers would ever achieve the promised cost savings. "You have to be printing 1500 pages per year--well above average for most people--to get the $110 savings that Kodak claims," Lippman says.

Kodak points out that its revised ads are essentially the same these days, albeit with a minor rewrite. "It's not anything different than consumers have always heard for the last three years," says Paula Balik, worldwide communications line manager for Kodak inkjets. The only FTC-mandated change that Kodak had to make, Balik says, was to move "four pages per day," previously buried in the ads' footnotes, closer to the headline.

Quality, Cost Concerns

According to Senior Editor Melissa Riofrio, who oversees printer testing for PCWorld, Kodak's inks may be cheaper than those of competitors, but the print quality on plain paper is not as good. On photo paper, the quality is excellent, but the money you save on ink is eaten up by the cost of photo paper.

As for the printers themselves, HP was at the bottom of the list among printer makers in our 2010 Reliability and Service survey; Kodak finished slightly higher. We asked our readers, among other questions, whether their printer had problems upon arrival, how satisfied they were overall with the device's reliability, and how well the company solved any problems that cropped up. Kodak printer owners said that they had good experiences with the company's tech support, but they gave the printers poor marks for reliability. HP received five below-average ratings--two in reliability, three in service categories.

Perhaps Kodak's biggest offense, at least from its competitors' perspective, is its willingness to call attention to the high cost of printer ink, the industry's cash cow. "[Printer vendors] charge quite a bit for the ink, and discount the printer hardware," says Lippman.

The practice, in fact, has led to outrageous situations in which consumers could save money by buying a new printer rather than replacement ink for their current model. Last December, PCWorld contributor Ian Paul spotted a Deskjet D1660 inkjet model for just $30 on HP's shopping site. The printer came bundled with a black cartridge and a tricolor cartridge offering 200 and 150 pages of output, respectively. In contrast, the replacement-ink pack, which promised a slightly higher yield (165 pages) for the color cartridge, cost $32--two bucks more than the printer itself.

Kodak Hikes Ink Prices

Since entering the consumer printer market in 2007, Kodak has undercut the competition on ink costs. The company's advantage may be shrinking, however, as it recently raised the prices for its new line of cartridges.

But the change isn't all that obvious to consumers. The company's new 10B black cartridge, for instance, costs the same as its predecessor ($10) yet contains less ink. And the new 10C cartridge is $3 more than the $15 tank it replaces, but one Kodak ad implies that consumers are getting a better deal than before: "Now prints 10% more pages," the text reads. The ugly truth? "The 10C color cartridge has a 9 percent higher cost per page, and the 10B black cartridge has a 25 percent higher cost per page" than the cartridges they replace, Lyra's Lippman says.

Even so, despite the cost increases on the new cartridges, Kodak remains the low-price leader. "There's no debate that Kodak's ink is cheaper on average," Lippman adds. "The debate is over how much you can potentially save."

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