Planned obsolescence is a business and production strategy in which the usefulness of a product is planned and built into it from the beginning. Thus, the date at which the product stops being useful is already set from when it was manufactured.
This is done so that consumers will feel the need to purchase new products and services to replace the ones that have become obsolete. This can range from out-of-date fashion, old cell phones, college textbooks, cars, light bulbs and more.
As a profit strategy, companies will generate more profit if their products do not last forever. As long as consumers keep using and needing, they will buy replacements time and time again. However, this strategy can backfire on companies if it is done too often. Consumers may start to resist the newer models or replacements if they don’t think the extra value is sufficient or necessary.
It has even spread to the printing industry. There are several ways the printing industry is cashing in on planned obsolescence.
Low initial costs, high consumable costs – Moderate-quality, basic printers are cheap. There are many models available for under $100 that will satisfy the needs of the majority that use them. Where they really get you is in the ink. Printer ink is an exploitable commodity for companies: if a consumer buys a printer, they will need more ink some time in the future. To make a profit, printer companies use low initial costs to bring in business. This works, but can also lead to customers buying a completely new printer since it’s cheaper than replacing ink cartridge costs.
Microchips in toner and ink cartridges – If you take a look at your toner and ink cartridges, you will be able to find a small microchip set in the plastic. The microchip will stop your cartridge from working after a fixed number of pages (usually around 5,000) or after a fixed period of time, no matter how much ink is actually left in the cartridge.
Built-in error messages – Many printers now have built-in error messages that will pop up after a fixed amount of time or number of pages printer, similar to toner and ink cartridges.
Ink waste – Inkjet printers use fresh ink to clean the print head constantly. Although it is good to keep the print head clean and unclogged, the used ink is not recycled, but rather drips into a pan, which just holds it. This process wastes ink and forces customers to buy more ink sooner than anticipated.
Hard to fix – Have you heard of a printer fixer? They are almost impossible to find. This is another strategy the industry uses to keep profits up: if a customer cannot find someone to fix a certain part of the printer, they will buy a new one.
Warnings against third party or remanufactured parts – All major printer brands will warn customers against using third party and/or remanufactured ink and toner cartridges and replacement parts. In an effort to keep sales of original manufacturer equipment (OEM) up, companies warn the “fakes” will ruin the brand name printer. This is simply not true, however. Non-OEM cartridges will NOT void the printer’s warranty, and the Magnuson Moss statute of 1975 prohibits manufacturers from requiring the use of OEM ink or toner cartridges, or from charging extra fees if you use non-OEM products.