Got ink?

Another article about printing costs because inkjets stink.

I just read Marc Wagner's post on reducing printing costs and saving the world one page at a time (Buy a server, save a tree). Within minutes of reading the post, a flood of teachers began sending me emails, walking into my office, and otherwise pleading with me for ink and toner. Of course last year's budget cuts meant that we didn't purchase much in the way of ink last year, so I can't blame them. I can only blame myself (and my predecessors) for ever thinking that inkjet printers had any redeaming qualities whatsoever.

You'll probably see lots of inkjets in a K-12 setting. Especially in the last several years, the price of inkjets has dropped so drastically that they may be the only type of printers we can squeeze into a tight budget. In fact, the temptation is very strong to buy lots of these little guys. Heck, for less than the price of the cheapest black and white lasers, you can get one that prints, scans, copies, and does the dishes, all in color! Better yet, if you're a penny pincher like me, you can snag a basic printer at WalMart for $30 or less. Many teachers do just that, purchasing them with their own money since real printing resources tend to be pretty scarce. It's even tempting to let them do this, since it gets them off your back for a month or two until they run out of ink.

Of course, therein lies the dark side to all of this. Ink. I can live with buying toner for laser printers. Even cheap lasers crank out 3-4000 pages on one $60 cartridge. Even strategic use of draft or economy settings on most inkjets will rarely yield more than 8-900 pages on a given cartridge. Half that is much more typical. Walked through any corporate offices lately? How about universities? Trust me, you won't find many inkjets. We in K-12 forget that fabulous 3-letter word, so beloved by the rest of the free world: TCO.

So here I am, grudgingly emailing my Dell rep to get a quote on 20 black and 10 color cartridges for the 12 Dell inkjets we have floating around the school (most of the other inkjets accumulated over the years have fortunately died sticky, dusty, clogged up deaths). Say what you want about Dell and the need to order replacement cartridges exclusively from them, but their prices are quite competetive and beat the stuffing out of WalMart for comparable HP cartridges. However, I must admit to some serious sticker shock when I got the quote, having not thought through the math beforehand. Wanna take a guess? Well over 600 large for ink that might last me into the 3rd quarter. UGH

To be honest, this really makes me want to spend a little more on a few networked lasers for each wing of the building and $30 on donuts for a training session to get teachers to use the lasers instead of their ridiculous inkjets.

This brings us back to the fundamental question that Marc Wagner has addressed on many occasions: why are we printing this stuff out in the first place? Project it, post it on the web, email it, hang it off a blog, use Blackboard, IM it to your students, put it on your MySpace, anything, but don't print it out. If you're not a tree hugger like me (I was raised in Seattle - Tree hugging, like wearing flannel, owning a raincoat, and consuming vast quantities of overpriced coffee, is a fundamental part of my being), then do it for the bottom line. Seriously folks, $600+ dollars for 30 little plastic containers filled with ink? I could buy a computer for that. Or a spiffy laser. Or a web server (if I get George Ou to help me build it on the cheap). Or Internet service with free web hosting for a few months. I could go on, but I think you get my point.  And don't even get me started on the whole paper issue.  Maybe someday I'll tell you the story of "The Year We Ran Out of Paper."  That was fun.