Is it time to open the books on printer ink?

ink-cartridgeThis weekend, the National Conference on Weights and Measures is meeting in Nashville, Tenn. Few things can sound less exciting — even to nerds — but on the agenda are discussions about the possible reform of labeling requirements for printer ink and toner cartridges. At least one state agency chief — Florida’s Max Gray — wants to make it clear how much productivity a user can expect to get out of the expensive but necessary accessories.

As Consumer Reports’ Dean Gallea tells Ashley Milne-Tyte in a report aired Friday on American Public Media’s outstanding Marketplace radio program, printer ink is “probably one of the most expensive liquids that you can buy.” The report also highlights how difficult it is to find honest information from manufacturers about how many printed pages a particular cartridge will produce — a factor that Gallea says should be the standard measure, since the amount of ink contained doesn’t tell you much about its life. How many cartidges have you bought that gave up the ghost when it’s obviously not anywhere near empty?

When every cent counts like it does these days, it’s not just the big rackets like out-of-control health care costs and Wall Street bonuses that should come under the microscope. The little expenses — which aren’t so little when they literally give printers away but charge a fortune for the ink — should not go overlooked if meaningful changes are to be made in the way an economy is run. Companies like Hewlett-Packard and Epson and Canon can say as little as they choose about the efficiency of these products, and that would be unthinkable at the gas pump or the supermarket or the appliance warehouse.

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