The true cost of printers

The true cost of a printer can’t be found on the price tag. In fact, the one with the cheapest sticker price could end up costing you the most, long-term, in consumables and other hidden costs. Buying the right products and managing your print environment can, instead, cut back on unnecessary expenditures and ultimately lower your total cost of ownership.

Today’s low-end printers follow the disposable razor model. Unlike razors, however, you could end up spending far more money maintaining these devices. An “output fleet” includes printers, fax machines and photocopiers, and this typically accounts for about five per cent of the average IT budget, says George Goodall, senior research analyst with Info-Tech Research. And this can be a big variable cost.

It’s a good idea to figure out your cost per page for certain options. Fixed costs include hardware, accessories and installation. If you installed the printer yourself, the cost of installation becomes time. Then there are operating costs, such as print cartridges and paper — and don’t forget about power consumption.

Also, consider the importance of reliability, print quality and consistency of that print quality, says Mike Orekovic, category business manager of supplies with HP Canada. Labour costs are by far the biggest aspect of cost of ownership. If you have a busier and larger environment, then you also have to consider the cost of IT, help desk support and downtime.

“Everybody worries about it,” says Bill Fournier, senior market analyst with PRC. “They worry about how much they’re going to print and what the consumables costs are, because consumables costs are eventually more than the cost of the unit.”

In a small or medium-sized organization, it should be fairly easy to control these costs. When employees print off the Internet, for example, they should select “greyscale” to print in black and white instead of colour (you can set the printing parameters so this is done automatically).

You want to avoid overuse of colour, because that can make costs jump, and they’re going to be higher in ink than in toner. But there’s also a misperception that colour is going to kill you. It costs a lot for colour, says Fournier, but when vendors quote coverage costs, say 20 cents per page based upon 10 per cent coverage, it sounds dramatic but that kind of coverage is seldom used. With general business correspondence you might have colour letterhead and maybe a business graphic, which is more like two per cent coverage.

If you know you’re going to use a lot of paper, say 40,000 pages per month, then don’t try to save yourself a few hundred bucks by buying a printer that’s rated at 30,000 pages per month. Buy the appropriate product so the product will last as long as it’s intended to last, and perform as it’s intended to perform.

Often, when buying consumables, people only look at the price of the print cartridge, but 70 per cent of the print technology resides in that print cartridge, says Orekovic. “It’s not a stapler,” he says. “It’s actually a technology piece.” Buy the recommended brands of toner, ink and paper that are designed to work with your product, so you’ll get the best print quality and longest life out of your equipment.

You may want to consider killing the inkjet altogether. When it comes to consumables costs, inkjets are about four times more expensive than network lasers, according to Goodall. There’s still a role for inkjets, though, for confidential documents or for use in remote locations.

If you plan on auditing your processes and existing contracts, drafting legal documents and negotiating with vendors, that will typically take about three months and cost at least $10,000, says Goodall. “So unless the savings are going to be in that neighbourhood, don’t even start,” he says. “But the savings can be quite considerable.”

The first step is to benchmark. What printers do you already have? How much are you spending on ink or toner? This information could come from inventory logs, purchase orders and billing orders. The second step is getting executive buy-in by making a business case to upgrade your existing infrastructure. Third, build requirements. Figure out what you want to do moving forward. Keep the good, get rid of the bad and replace the ugly, says Goodall. Equipment that’s more than three years old is often a trigger point. After that, it’s a matter of monitoring your service-level agreements and costs.

On the high-end, if you’re negotiating with vendors they’ll typically come in with a monthly price, but this can also be a mistake. Instead, look at the full price over the length of the contract, including consumables and service.

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Vawn Himmelsbach
Vawn Himmelsbach
Is a Toronto-based journalist and regular contributor to IT World Canada's publications.

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