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Printer Foes Rally Around Inkjet Standards

UPDATED: Rival printer makers have agreed on a standard to make comparing printing prices easier after blasting Kodak's claims that it could cut inkjet printing costs in half.

Manufacturers supporting the standard include Kodak, HP , Canon, Dell , Epson, Lexmark, Okidata, Ricoh and others.

The standard, already in place for monochrome toner vendors, outlines the steps manufacturers must follow to obtain a pages-per-cartridge figure.

The proposal would quell the debate in the industry over a cartridge's lifespan, said Andy Lippman, analyst with printer experts Lyra Research. However, printer vendors still dispute competing claims regarding printing speed, ink coverage and image durability.

Will consumers benefit by knowing how many pages each cartridge would print? Although consumers could calculate the cost-per-sheet using the standardize pages-per-cartridge number, "for consumers it's too much work," Lippman told internetnews.com.

The standard is just the latest skirmish between original ink vendors like HP and after-market ink suppliers. Because off-brand companies can't compete with corporate giants in ink technology, the smaller firms offer more ink per cartridge. If consumers learn OEM ink cartridges provide a longer printing lifespan than aftermarket alternatives, they may win back some market share, Lippman said.

HP is apparently feeling the pinch from increasing competition from retail brand-replacement inkjet cartridges.

The printer maker wouldn't comment directly on a report it allegedly pressured Staples to stop selling its store-brand alternative to HP's often more expensive cartridges.

"Like any company that makes consumer products sold through retail, HP provides incentives to retailers who market HP products and educate consumers about the value of the entire HP printing system, including original HP supplies," said Sarah K. Stevens, an HP spokeswoman. "HP does not prevent channel partners or retailers from selling non-HP or refilled print cartridges."

Super outlet stores, such as Staples, make over $1 billion each year from their store-labeled compatible inkjet cartridges. The relationship "really annoyed printer vendors," Lippman said.

He added that superstores receive 30 percent of sales of retail inkjet cartridges. Staples likely received a 2 percent increase in that channel margin.

Staples pointed to HP's changing printer technology as the reason it will stop selling Staples brand ink and toner cartridges, Staples spokesman Owen Davis told internetnews.com.

"Hewlett-Packard continues to rapidly advance its technology in printing systems and ink and toner. Because of these innovations, Staples has decided to focus on original HP technology for ink and toner and stop selling Staples brand ink and toner cartridges compatible with HP."

Despite railing against Kodak's marketing, HP seems to be following a similar path. Lippman said that, like Kodak, which plans to make its money from the printer and not the ink, HP offers a new technology in its higher-end printers enabling inexpensive ink. Purchasers of bargain-basement printers will be left holding the bag, forced to buy the expensive inkjet cartridges, said the Lyra analyst.

Aftermarket inkjet cartridge suppliers are in trouble, warned Lippman. "We've seen the last of their growth."