Out of Ink, Full of Evil

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Evil is OK as long as it’s profitable, at least according to most modern corporations. The Ford Motor Company scares people into driving more by causing plane crashes, and Goldman Sachs requires everyone who applies for a job there to eat a puppy. It wouldn’t be so so bad if the company let applicants use condiments, but everything is off limits except for mayonnaise. Car executives and investment bankers are despicable human beings, but they seem like crime-fighting nuns compared to the guys who run the most reprehensible businesses in existence: printer companies. The outlaw executives from that industry might not be household names yet, but former unpaid interns who worked there include four members of the Manson Family and Hitler. His mustache was actually a tragic ink stain. Maybe that’s why he was so unpleasant at dinner parties.

As the world becomes increasingly digital, ink manufacturers cling to life by making each cartridge cost more and print less. I churn out fewer than 15 pages a year, yet I still have to buy a $50 refill annually. No one counterfeits paper money anymore because the ink is worth more than the forged bills. In some countries, printer cartridges actually replaced money as the national currency. The most expensive mansion in Zimbabwe now costs one teaspoon of cyan.

With a jug of ink, it’s possible to buy an entire army of mercenaries. That’s how Genghis Khan got his start.
Per ounce, ink costs more than gold, but its value is about as real as a stripper’s boobs. Printer companies don’t send out divers to hand-squeeze squid, even though organic ink would appeal to the hipster market. Instead, huge factories pump out the colorful liquid by the barrelful. Despite the savings generated by advances in mass production, this glorified paper dye costs exponentially more now than it did 200 years ago, when the most cutting-edge technology in the industry was a feather quill. It took scientists years to discover they didn’t need to dip the entire bird in ink. For a while there, that was one very agitated ostrich.

There are few written records from mankind’s early history because ostrich wrangling is exactly as difficult as it sounds.
In a free market, fair and honest competition should drive down the price of ink, not make it more expensive than a premium blend of cocaine and diamonds. Only people who own ink factories can afford sparkle crack. Each brand of printers offers a unique, proprietary cartridge, yet by an amazing coincidence they’re all sold at the same one-million-percent markup. Also entirely by chance, each company offers a standard cartridge with enough ink to print a total of one page and a high-capacity version that prints almost four pages, but only if they’re mostly white space. It would be substantially cheaper to have a monk transcribe documents by hand, complete with ornate illuminations. It’s a great alternative for people who don’t mind keeping all of their paper records in Latin.

It’s odd that rival companies adopted identical business models dedicated to screwing over customers. If I have a full cartridge of black ink and I want to print a black and white document, my printer won’t work if I’m out of yellow. That isn’t a design flaw; it’s an intentional kick to the testicles. If car manufacturers followed that strategy, family sedans wouldn’t start if they were low on windshield wiper fluid. And if a headlight burned out, the car would simply explode.

It’s awfully presumptive to think a printer will actually print documents. It’s basically just an expensive jewelry box that stores ink.
To cap off this blatant self-sabotage, ink companies insert unnecessary microchips in each cartridge to create a monopoly over what goes into their machines. I once had a printer I could refill with third-party ink from China that was cheaper than tap water. Given the environmental record over there, it was probably just pollution dredged from a river, but it was black enough to do the job. When that printer broke, however, I bought a new model that had microchips in the cartridges. I then had the privilege of paying 100 times more for official refills that weren’t any better than Beijing’s industrial waste. With each new generation of products, ink companies use technological advances solely to make printers worse. There’s a reason printer factories have to spend millions of dollars a year on armed guards and defensive razor wire to keep angry customers at bay.

Evil works best when it’s shared, which is why printer manufacturers illegally collude to fix prices. If a single printer brand broke ranks and offered a reasonable deal – or even crappy deal that abused people slightly less than usual – all of the other printer companies would instantly go out of business. But nobody goes rogue to win the ink wars because everyone in that industry works together to gouge consumers. It’s not like ink has changed over the years. Printed text documents are still nothing more than black characters on paper, just like they were 20 years ago. I’d be OK with ink that costs the same as a used car if the new cartridges offered some advantage. I want them to make me sound smarter or turn my words into magic spells, but to date that hasn’t happened. For $50 a refill, the ink should at the very least summon a dragon.

Many consumers sit back and let these injustices happen because they think printer companies will be bankrupt in a few months anyway. What they fail to realize is that by charging what amounts to a dollar per printed word, the ink moguls will soon have enough money to buy America and everyone in it. Once they’re in charge, our new printer overlords will abolish save files and require us to keep all of our records on paper like cavemen. If we let printer companies continue on their current course of exploitation, civilization as we know it will come to an end.

Despite the confirmed wickedness of the people who make it, I’m still surprised by how fast I run out of ink. I use my printer about once a year, usually to make a physical copy of my tax return, yet I inexplicably have to buy a refill every January. I suspect the store sells me empty cartridges with a small amount of usable ink caught in the nozzles. The whole process is more trouble than it’s worth. From now on, instead of printing documents, I’ll just memorize them and recite them out loud as needed. That’s way more practical.