To Buy or Not To Buy

One of my colleagues was buying a printer few days back from Nehru Place. I was asking him why he would need a printer at home, to which he replied that often there are a number of personal things of which he would like a printed copy. Now I am sure there are several other home consumers like him who buy printers. And why not, considering that printer prices have fallen like anything? However, my advice would be unless you intend to make some commercial use out of it, think more than thrice before going for a printer at home, as the hidden costs of printing might lead to severe holes in your pocket.

Having said that, the printer consumables segment in India is witnessing a dramatic shift with printer vendors finally moving away from the razor-blade model to making products more affordable to consumers. So while every home consumer would agree that the hidden costs of printing (read cartridges, toner ink and other consumables) far outnumber the actual printer costs, this segment has been largely overlooked by the industry and media alike. After all consumables might be the lifeline of the printer market, however it is yet not fashionable enough to merit analyst dissertations.

The printer consumables industry has always followed the razor and blade model, where the latter costs higher than the former over a period of time. And the key printer vendors have been taking advantage of this set-up, with the consumables serving as the silent cash cow. However, this scenario is slowly changing with the key OEM vendors trying to strike a balance between printer and consumables costs by correcting their pricing strategies and also introducing new technologies. This in turn has the compatibles market thinking of newer ways to formalize their business and maintain their lead.

And while there might be innumerable arguments and counter-arguments over the legality of refills, it’s time we recognize that refills is an important component of this market, especially considering the India market dynamics. Another important contributor to the growing refillers market was the rising demand for laser toners, and the fact that it was easier to refill these toners to maintain their quality. Last few years also saw the formation of associations like Cartridge Recyclers and Traders Association (CRTAI) and ICCRA for the unorganized sector to unite recyclers and re-manufacturers of cartridges and to gain a legal entity for their business. The objective of retail players like Cartridge World and Cartridge Cafe is also to provide high quality refilling without tampering with the cartridge.

Given all this traction in the refilling market, there have been attempts to get it organized. The CRTAI established a Standardized Test Methods Committee (STMC) certification, which is a specification followed by cartridge OEMs and remanufacturers globally, among Indian players as well, apart from educating the yet unorganized section of the industry about intellectual property matters and technological upgradations. However, what has sullied the turf and created unnecessary problems has been CVC guidelines to PSUs and government to only purchase from OEMs and treat refillers as illegal entities. Rather than leaving the market alone to play out its own dynamics and give consumers their own choice, these issues are preventing a level playing field and instead allowing the referee to start playing at his own will and convenience. Unless the fair play principals are not followed to a T, people like my friend would always burn a big hole in their pocket when they purchase a printer.

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