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Special Report: The Cartridge Wars

If you're like me, you feel the same raw, burning, sinking sensation every time your inkjet printer notifies you that it is out of ink. Didn't I just change the ink cartridge last month? Probably. But households and small businesses can print hundreds of pages and photographs a month -- and enterprises can go into the thousands. That's a lot of ink. Which translates into a lot of dollars.

No matter how you cut it, ink is expensive. Consider a personal example: Last year, I spent approximately $160 on inkjet replacement cartridges for my Epson CX6600. The printer itself only cost $200, making it hard to not feel ripped off on a yearly basis.

Cartridge Wars

•  Introduction

•  Hello, Lawsuit

•  Quality Concerns

•  Price Comparison

The typical inkjet printer owner spends about $80 per year, although that experience varies greatly, says Jim Forrest, a senior analyst at Lyra research and a 35-year veteran of the printing and digital imaging field. "It's difficult to create an overall average across all printer brands, because of the different designs and cartridge types printers use," he explains. He adds that "the average inkjet printer owner uses about four cartridges per year, and the average price of a [first-party manufactured] cartridge is about $20."

Eighty dollars a year multiplied by hundreds of millions of inkjet printers is a whole lot of money. Is it any wonder that a number of tech-savvy consumers have embraced ink replacement techniques such as third-party cartridges and syringe refills in the pursuit of reduced costs (despite the possibility of damaging either their print heads or their clothing)?

Rubbing Ink Into The Wound
For the Epsons and Hewlett-Packards of the world, the so-called aftermarket of replacement ink (and paper and other supplies) represents a shiny, happy profit center. Total inkjet cartridge shipments will reach 1.5 billion units worldwide in 2006, including 514 million in North America, according to Lyra Research. At an average of $20 a pop, that's a whopping 32 billion-dollar market.

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