Printers suck

datasouthDS-180I miss computing’s Cambrian period, when Datasouth printers still roamed the Earth (or at least its offices). They were made in Charlotte by durability fanatics and could not be killed. The DS-180, for example (that image is a fossil scan of a fossil fax of one), was a thundering dot matrix mother that could pound clear type through six-part forms, endlessly, and without complaint. Loved those things.

But that was then.

Printers do lots more now, and much better, during the brief spans that the fucking things actually work.

I am convinced that printers today are designed for suicide. They are made to kill themselves, but only after consuming toner or ink so ravenously that your $50 laser or your $120 ink jet has digested $5600 worth of consumables before failing right after you buy some more, which (of course!) won’t work with the new replacement models from the same company. Fun!

I bring this up because I have a dead Brother and a dead Espon here, one with new toner and the other with new ink, and I need to go out in the snow and buy a replacement for at least one of them. Let’s hope that one has at least some will to live.* (Alas, hope is the best I can do. Faith is asking too much.

*Proven short life expectancy actually makes the 2-year $4.99 “protection plan” worth the money. Just be sure to affix the paperwork to your fridge with a magnet, because death is near the moment you plug the damn thing in.


  1. francine hardaway’s avatar

    I could have written this post, it echoes my feelings about printers so perfectly. I would have used “self-destructive,” to describe them, but suicidal is better.

  2. vanderleun’s avatar

    I junked them all about six years back. If I need to print something on it goes to a memory stick and I just drive by my local FedEx…. must have saved myself a grand in ink alone.

  3. Dave Winer’s avatar

    Doc, a friend of mine recommended getting the Brother laser printer, and I bought one and have been using it for almost ten years, and it’s never skipped a beat. Really fast. All I’ve done is buy a new cartridge every so often and paper of course.

    I almost never use the printer, however. Mostly for legal documents and printing tickets.

  4. Dave Winer’s avatar

    I just noticed the price on that printer!

    I paid about $60 for it and now i’ts $649?

    Very odd. Do not pay $649 for it.

  5. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks, Dave. That’s the one I have that just died.

    Actually, what I have is the model that preceded it. Looks identical but uses a different toner cartridge — which is actually the guts of the printer itself: the whole mechanism that prints. The old laser printers had toner cartridges that were just toner.

    The printer cost us $55 new, 3 years ago. The new replacement (that you link to) is cheaper, even at the nearby Staples.

    The toner unit costs $79. That’s what we just paid. But we can’t return it, because we’ve already attempted to use it.

    So the new one would be another $50 and another $79, or whatever. We need the new toner unit because the one it comes with is intentionally insufficient. It only prints a few sheets then demands a new cartridge. It isn’t quite bait-and-switch, but it’s still icky.

    FWIW, we’ve kept the old toner boxes, because the cartridges are supposedly recycle-able. There are two. Both said the unit should produce about 4000 pages. So I guess we got about 8000 pages out of the thing, and spent about $230, including taxes. I suppose that’s not too bad.

    What failed, by the way, was the roller that picks up the paper and feeds it through the toner-printing thing. I looked at it closely. Conclusion: cheap part, not meant to last.

    The next one we’ll get will have wi-fi, so I won’t have to use an old printer as a print server. And I’ll get the $5 “protection plan,” because I’m guessing I’ll be needing it.

  6. PJ’s avatar

    HP has an ink subscription thing that may make sense, depending on your printing needs. Basically if you only print occassionally it ends up working for you: the printer monitors its own resources and they auto-ship you ink when it gets low, for some fairly low price like $3/mo or something on the low end (goes up with your pages per month used or something). For the small amount of printing done at my house (average <20pages/month) it's been worth it just to not worry about making sure there's enough toner, nor having to worry about finding the right replacement type.

  7. T.Rob’s avatar

    I guess I got one of the last durable printers. Bought a small HP LaserJet back in 1999. Tricked it out with an Ethernet card and maxed the memory. Used it daily until it became hard to find toner last year. Last two toner carts I bought had sat so long the toner had caked up inside so I got a new Brother color laser. ( Put 4000 pages through it already and loving it. Will let you know in a year or so how it holds up.

  8. Brendan’s avatar

    I believe the term is planned obsolescence. This doco ( covers the topic, and is a fun watch. One of the stories within it is a guy who discovers the mechanism that causes his printer to die after a certain period, despite the overall printer being fine. He then learns how to hack it so that it doesn’t die, and his printer soldiers on.

  9. Ol' Sarge’s avatar

    The price of printer ink stays high because the cattle keep buying it. The paperless office happens when you just say, “No. I don’t own a printer. Have you heard of this amazing new thing called an email attachment?”

  10. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Ol’Sarge, have you heard of these things called lawyers, real estate agents, doctors who want only faxes (faxes!), landlords and building maintenance contractors? Those are just some of those with whom I do business, and from whom your good question will only get a blank stare.

Comments are now closed.