Curse of the printer

Solid Signal doesn’t sell printers. I, for one, am glad that they don’t. I hate printers, and I bet you do too. The 1999 film Office Space captured our collective hatred of printers perfectly with this scene (which might have profanity even though they say it’s the “clean” version:)

Keep in mind this is a 22-year-old movie. Our collective hatred of printers has only grown since.

Why do I hate printers?

Yes, folks, I’m a little cranky about printers. Why? I’ll let you in on a little secret. The other day I had to lay out a pretty significant chunk of change to replace a printer. The printer in question was about 7 years old and it didn’t get a lot of use. Why? Because it got a paper jam. It got a paper jam in a place that you just can’t get to without disassembling the whole thing. I watched the YouTube videos that I could find. Even with my reasonable amount of skill, I don’t think I could get that printer back together after taking it apart the way I’d have to. So, because one piece of paper went gaflooey, the whole thing was toast.

And so also, the half a dozen spare ink cartridges I’d kept around (since no one wants to go out shopping when they don’t have to) are also worthless to me. So I bought a new printer, and it wasn’t cheap. Demand for printers has gone up, and when demand goes up, costs go up. I don’t think anyone’s really doing more printing than they were before, but with so many more people working from home, they’re printing from home too.

Why are printers so bad?

Once upon a time, printers weren’t awful things. They were magic boxes that could turn out publication-quality pages quickly and with little maintenance. A long time ago I had an HP LaserJet II. Yes the thing was about the size of an aircraft carrier  and weighed about 40 pounds. By today’s standards it was slow and it only printed in black and white. If I recall, it also cost about $2,000 in 1990s dollars. But it worked. And I bet if I still had one, it would still work. This thing was the Cher of printers, it could probably outlive us all.

But we didn’t want expensive boring printers. We wanted colors. We wanted speed. And we wanted a reasonable price. Printer makers responded by giving us printers that were insanely cheap. At one point you could get a fairly decent color printer for $40. There’s no way that the manufacturer made money on a printer that cheap, since the ink cartridges alone cost $30. But the printer was a tease. The real money was in those ink cartridges, and it still is.

Printers have gotten more expensive, but they’re still not well made. And that won’t change, because we don’t want them to get even more expensive. If you really want a reliable printer you can get one. Your office has one, probably. But it’s too expensive for home use.

The curse of the printer probably won’t ever go away, but…

Someone, sooner or later, is going to come up with a solution for the printer purgatory we’re all in. A lot of people don’t have printers, or have had to buy one for work in the last year. They won’t keep it once they’re back to work. But for those who still want to print, sooner or later there will be a solution.

It’s compelling to outsource our need to print. We can go to the local “office” or “mailbox” store and print there for the few times we need it. Or once we’re all back in the office we can go back to printing our personal stuff there.

Maybe some sort of uber-like service will spring up, where you can send a document to a cloud printer and it can get delivered when you get your supper or your groceries delivered. Maybe local coffee shops can offer free printing the way they offer free Wi-Fi. I don’t know what the solution will be, but I hope it comes soon.

Because as I write this I’m staring at that new printer in my home office, and it looks like it’s mocking me already.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.