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"ethics" (?) of forced supply purchases

Discussion in 'Embedded' started by Don Y, Apr 16, 2012.

  1. Don Y

    Don Y Guest


    I'm curious as to the ethical issues (opinions) regarding
    tying customers into a particular supplier ("yourself")
    for ongoing product "consumables".

    [E.g., Joe Computer User purchasing printer supplies
    from the manufacturer instead of Bob's House-of-Clones]

    Ignore the case(s) where there are significant liability
    issues involved (e.g., replacement parts for aircraft,
    chemicals for medical assays, etc.).

    Clearly, there are certain cases where the supplies can
    arguably affect the perceived quality of the product (*your*
    product) where you might argue that you have a financial
    interest (reputation) in preventing your product's image
    (and that of your firm) from being sullied by some off-brand

    (This was an argument printer ink suppliers tried to float)

    But, that often can be a thinly veiled rationalization for
    locking the consumer into *your* supplies.

    When does this just get to be *too* outrageous? E.g., I
    know of a medical instrument supplier that sold "proprietary"
    distilled water (!) -- in tamper proof, one-time-use "modules".
    (Do they *really* think no one can supply distilled water
    to whatever degree of purity they claim to need??)

    When does the customer start to *resent* the vendor because
    of this sort of practice?

    (I used the printer ink analogy as it seems that customers
    are *finally* "getting wise" to that false economy -- $99
    printer with $80 ink cartridges!)

    I.e., what would a *rational*, *fair* set of criteria be
    for making this decision (vendor-side)? How do you *not*
    sound "pissy" when you disclaim the use of any "unapproved"
    supplies as voiding the warranty?

    As a distinctly separate issue, how do you extend this reasoning
    into supporting third-party *service*?

    In each case, keep in mind that it is increasingly easier to
    find "proprietary information" for just about anything. And,
    a garage shop, someplace, who will provide the services/supplies
    you want/need via an "unapproved" channel.
    Don Y, Apr 16, 2012
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  2. Don Y

    John Larkin Guest

    I have a can of Ace Hardware "Extra-Strength Acetone."


    John Larkin Highland Technology Inc
    www.highlandtechnology.com jlarkin at highlandtechnology dot com

    Precision electronic instrumentation
    Picosecond-resolution Digital Delay and Pulse generators
    Custom timing and laser controllers
    Photonics and fiberoptic TTL data links
    VME analog, thermocouple, LVDT, synchro, tachometer
    Multichannel arbitrary waveform generators
    John Larkin, Apr 16, 2012
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  3. Don Y

    Guest Guest

    Unless they have a contractual relationship, other people's processes
    are not under the medical instrument supplier's control.
    You have to look at the total cost of ownership. If you're willing to
    assume the risk of incompatibility, go for it.
    In many printers, the technology has been pushed into the cartridge,
    while the printer itself is rather retarded. But the idea to sell the
    base unit cheaply while making money on the addons goes back to video
    game consoles/video games, Barbie dolls/Barbie doll clothing, and even
    safety razors/razor blades. And, in each case, you can't complain
    about the performance of the base unit when you are using someone
    else's addon, whether the blade doesn't shave, the clothes don't fit,
    or the video game doesn't load.
    Demand that the vendor do compatibility testing with third-party
    supplied products or you won't buy it.
    Even factory approved service has sucked in recent years.
    Fine. Just don't go crying to the manufacturer that the reloaded
    cartridges don't print as good.
    Guest, Apr 16, 2012
  4. Don Y

    Don Y Guest

    Of course! But designing your instrument so that it will
    only *work* with "approved distilled water cartridges"
    seems a bit disingenuous. Deliberately making an excuse
    to charge people for a supply that they could otherwise
    get from any number of *reputable* suppliers.

    [Like making harvesting sea-salt illegal to "protect" the
    spice trade]
    That's what the *consumer* has to do. I'm interested in the
    vendor's outlook on the process. I.e., you tie a customer to
    your supplies ARTIFICIALLY and when do you think the customer
    will start resenting this?

    To return to the printer ink analogy... sell *your* ink at prices
    comparable to the third-party suppliers and the customer no longer
    has a gripe with you. OTOH, sell yours at an artificially inflated
    price and the customer starts to resent his relationship with you!
    In *some* printers, that is the case. In others, the only technology
    in the "tanks" is a metering device that ensures the tank will
    not be refillable. Extra cost put there *just* to ensure the
    user doesn't buy someone else's supplies.
    toilet paper with proprietary dispensers, etc.
    This is a *rational* explanation that a vendor can engage in.
    However, the customer can see it differently: you are *forcing*
    me to purchase these substandard supplies because you have
    artificially inflated the cost of "genuine" supplies.

    As a vendor, you're foolish to reassure yourself with these
    sorts of rationalizations -- once your customers come to
    *different* conclusions!
    *We* are the vendor. We don't want customers pissing and moaning
    because they feel forced to buy something from us that, in their
    minds (or, in the minds of third parties INFLUENCING THEM), they
    should be able to purchase from other "less expensive" sources.

    Validating third party suppliers just gives the customer another
    outlet for his cynicism: ("Of *course* they refuse to validate
    Bob's Discount Outlet -- because Bob's prices are *so* much
    lower than the other suppliers they've crawled in bed with!")

    IMO, the "safest" approach is NOT to be in the supplies business
    at all. Are you selling printers or ink? Cameras or film?
    Assay equipment or distilled water?

    But, that means you have to be able to *attract* someone to that
    That doesn't address the question.

    "Service is bad -- so let *anyone* service the kit?"
    Don Y, Apr 16, 2012
  5. Don Y

    Guest Guest

    If you make it refillable, what's to keep the customer from using tap
    water? Tap water is the cheapest solution yet. Why not design your
    product to make distilled water unnecessary?
    If you don't believe your control of the supplies adds any value, then
    price the instrument so you don't need to make your profit on the
    razor blades.
    Do a FMEA review (Failure Modes and Effects Analysis) of your product
    and supplies to determine what's critical to product function,
    reliability, etc., and what's not. Then you have an explanation for
    why certain items need to be controlled, either by you or a third

    If you have a small, manageable number of customers, work with them to
    understand who their preferred suppliers are. Based on your analysis,
    you should be able to tell these suppliers what's important and why.

    No -- if the vendor's blessing of the servicer is meaningless, then
    let the servicer stand or fall on his own reputation.
    Guest, Apr 16, 2012
  6. Don Y

    Don Y Guest

    A hospital wouldn't put tap water into an instrument designed
    to use *distilled* water.

    You've missed the point of the example: distilled water is
    readily available in these settings to damn near *any*
    degree of "purity" you can ask for! Forcing the customer
    to purchase prepackaged distilled water, single-use "cartridges"
    is clearly an attempt to profit *after* the sale...
    This is not what usually happens. There is far more ONGOING
    profit to be made from the supplies than the instrument itself.

    I worked on the design of an instrument that had a *cost* of
    just about $300 (DM+DL). It was *priced* at $6,000. And, they
    were all GIVEN AWAY (expecting to make their money on supplies,

    Different markets have different (customer) expectations when
    it comes to supplies. A hospital may care very little as the
    supplies get passed on to the patient in some form. As long
    as the cost of the supplies doesn't exceed the amount that the
    hospital can recover from its customers, everyone is happy
    (with the possible exception of the insurance company/patient).

    OTOH, marketing to The Unwashed Masses gives different results
    and expectations. (as the printer ink issue evidences)
    Again, this ignores the issue. The distilled water does NOT need
    to be controlled any more than a typical hospital would control
    any of their other consumables. Yet, the manufacturer *chose*
    to control it TO EXTRACT ONGOING RETURNS from an existing customer

    Aftermarkets for toner cartridges, ink refills, etc. clearly shows
    that Joe Computer User is very willing to find alternative suppliers
    for artificially priced consumables. Extra effort (and cost) added
    to the printer/cartridge's design to discourage/prevent this has an
    uphill battle convincing customers that they should *want* to use
    these supplies (instead of being FORCED to do so).

    Since these artificial constraints are superficial, its only a matter
    of time before someone finds a work-around (a hospital wouldn't
    even *attempt* a work-around as it would expose them to liability
    I'm not advocating "blessing" anyone! Rather, saying "here is
    the information OTHERS would need to support the device" and
    letting The Market sort out the good from the bad (servicers).
    I.e., you bring your car in to some guy operating out of his
    back yard and you *may* get a great deal... or, you may get a
    royal screwing! In either case, it's not the car manufacturer's
    Don Y, Apr 16, 2012
  7. Don Y

    Martin Brown Guest

    It could be for product liability reasons. For medical use you probably
    need not only that it is distilled but that it is also free from any
    bacterial contamination. The latter bacteria free condition is certainly
    *NOT* met in many industrial scale distilled water plants.

    You would be surprised what I have seen growing in sterile eye wash
    bottles and bulk ultra pure distilled water containers.
    The suppliers marketing people have worked out that Job public is pretty
    stupid and will buy the cheapest printer without realising that a new
    set of inks cost more. It is a loss leader on the hardware.

    Same is true for mobile phones - they damn near give the phone away to
    lock you into a long term contract.
    Of course the inks have an artificially inflated price if they are
    single sourced and the no-clone technology works well enough. It is
    annoying if you don't need absolute premium quality. I try to find high
    quality printers where the ink/toner monopoly has been broken.

    Incidentally does anyone know of Canon BCI-6 cartridge clones that
    actually work adequately?

    There are plenty of sites selling third party inks and toners of varying
    degrees of reliability. If you don't mind the risk of gumming up the
    print head then you are free to try them. Some work some don't. CAVEAT

    Printer ink on the street typically costs more per gramme than cocaine.
    And there are ingenious third party vendors that have designed fake
    chips to defeat this mechanism for certain popular models. Do your
    homework or get ripped off it is your choice what you buy.
    If you are daft enough to opt in to a single source lock-in then yes.
    And they have a point. You as buyer have a choice of buying the
    product(s) that they offer for sale or something else.
    Capitalism is red in tooth and claw. Their objective is to maximise
    income for their shareholders which pretty much means screwing every
    last penny out of you. If you don't do the sums for cost of ownership
    rather than headline price you deserve to be fleeced.
    Why then do most people fall into exactly the same bear trap with every
    successive purchase of a new printer?
    You have to make sure then that your offering is better than that of the
    third parties. Once you have a department called "Customer Care" you
    know you are on a downward spiral - it rapidly becomes a highly
    profitable enterprise selling meaningless repair contracts on kit that
    will almost never go wrong. Ever noticed how disappointed the sales
    droids look when you fail to buy the extended guarantee at checkout?
    Then it is up to you to try Bob's Discount but don't come back whinging
    if your printer has obviously gummed up with Bob's crappy ink.
    If there is demand for something then someone will sell it. The tricky
    bit sometimes is persuading a manufacturer that the market is large
    enough to be worthwhile. There are for example some Japanese optical
    filters easily available in the US but not in the UK.
    That route leads to very expensive faults if some incompetent nincompoop
    has a go at mending equipment they do not understand.
    If you are seen to be way out of line with others in the same game then
    you will suffer either way - by being too expensive or too cheap.

    Fred Laker's SkyTrain is the textbook example of the latter.
    Martin Brown, Apr 16, 2012
  8. Don Y

    asdf Guest

    Welcome to the evil side of consumerism.
    asdf, Apr 16, 2012
  9. Don Y

    Walter Banks Guest

    Look at the ethics from the extremes and see where the
    dark gray starts to become white enough to be acceptable.

    For example there are third party replacements and then
    there are copies of the reverse engineered originals. One
    extreme would be a movie DVD from a street vendor.

    Walter Banks, Apr 16, 2012
  10. Don Y

    Walter Banks Guest

    One argument that I have heard from consumers and suppliers is
    there is a benefit to having a single supplier for a product because
    part of the payoff is a single supplier is responsible for a products
    functioning correctly. In effect we have a consumer paying so
    someone else is responsible. This was IBM marking to company
    executives 40 years ago and some printer companies today.

    Walter Banks, Apr 16, 2012
  11. Don Y

    Don Y Guest

    Hi Martin,

    It *could* have been done for those reasons -- but it wasn't.
    In case I haven't been abundantly clear: it was made that way
    to generate an ongoing income stream. Period.
    Replace "public" with "officer of large corporation" (responsible for
    making purchasing decisions). The vendor still has to consider how
    his customer will view the transaction.

    The vendor can be uninspired and just try to nickel and dime
    every customer for every item/service.

    The vendor can package everything in a one-time transaction.

    The vendor can come up with some strategy that decides what
    supplies/services should be marketed to the customer, what
    should be handled by third parties, and what should be
    "hands off".

    The first two of these scenarios are uninteresting as they
    don't require any fine degree of thought/evaluation. I am
    more concerned with criteria that the vendor can apply to
    making the decisions in the *third* scenario.
    So, you are already demonstrating a resentment for the vendor(s)
    who've tried (unsuccessfully?) to lock you into a supply regime.
    I get perhaps a request every two weeks for a printer recommendation
    that "doesn't use expensive ink" -- so, people are aware of this
    (enough so to actively question about it).
    But its not just printer ink. Or replacement battery packs.
    Or distilled water cartridges. Or...

    Obviously, how the customer views the monetary outlay is a
    significant issue. If he thinks he can just pass it along
    to *his* customer, he probably doesn't give it a second
    thought (unless it becomes a significant portion of the
    charges that his customer incurs and threatens to motivate
    his customer to looking for alternate suppliers!)

    Similarly, the potential "consequences" of the purchase decision
    weigh into it -- will this put some greater investment at

    And, the relative cost/savings ("investment risk") as well.
    E.g., I'll often buy off-brand battery packs EXPECTING them
    to have shorter times between charges *and* operational life
    simply because I expect batteries to die often -- especially
    for low duty cycle devices.
    This is less likely to be encountered in "distilled water cartridges"
    as the stakes are higher for the customer. Can a counterfeit
    cartridge cause the machine to break? What is the (lost)
    opportunity cost in that case? Can the counterfeit interfere
    with the accuracy of the results? etc.

    OTOH, counterfeit memory cards carry little downside risk -- if
    the customer feels screwed by the product, chances are he'll
    never know FOR SURE who the actual manufacturer was.
    Again, I think it matters who is making the decision and their
    relationship to the money/consequences. Being "given" thousands of
    dollars of capital equipment (free toilet paper dispensers) in
    return for being locked into a particular consumables supplier
    (toilet paper) lets you avoid the sticky issue of justifying the
    cost of all of that equipment (whereas the ongoing supplies just
    looks like a normal cost of doing business)
    Correct. And a savvy vendor will consider the potential for
    lost sales and/or damage to reputation that ensues from this
    sort of behavior. E.g., people dislike (current) HP printers
    while, previously, their (laser) printers were respected and
    I'm not seeing that. I've seen people walking away from printers
    (especially color/photo printers) completely and opting for
    simple B&W printers. Want a photo printed? Go to your local
    office supply store and have it printed while you wait
    for *less* than the costs of supplies "at home" (and without
    having to worry about dried out cartridges, clogged heads,
    poor color accuracy, etc.)

    I.e., IME, people are learning the printer lesson (which is why
    it was such a good example). It's *their* money (not their
    employers'). They run out of ink and price the new supplies...
    and decide to discard the printer!
    I'd prefer to simply make the "what sort of business are you in"
    decision and, unless there is some *really* strong motivation
    for being in the "supplies business", delegate that activity to
    some third party.

    But, you have to make it attractive enough for that third party
    to *want* to take on that business (for some commitment period).
    And, have to ensure that you don't then compete with them
    (e.g., let *them* make all of the supplies and *you* purchase
    them from them for the folks who insist on buying "from the
    Why is it the vendor's job to do this? Do auto manufacturers
    validate proper operation of their vehicles with fuel from
    You buy fuel from Bob's Discount Gas Station and end up with
    water in your tank and it's *your* problem.
    Exactly. And, to reassure them that you won't be undercutting
    "their" market.

    OTOH, you need some reassurances from them that they *will*
    continue to support these supplies for some period of time.
    Otherwise, your customers complain because they can't get
    supplies for the device they purchased FROM YOU!
    But, what obligation does the vendor have to prevent this?
    I.e., they can hide all service information to make it
    difficult for "unapproved" firms to attempt repairs -- though
    that doesn't PREVENT someone from trying!

    Does that sort of "monopoly" aggravate customers who feel
    trapped into using "factory service" (at inflated rates)?
    I.e., just like forcing them to buy ink from the manufacturer...

    Again, what is the thinking that a *rational* firm should
    undertake in making these decisions?

    I know some larger companies that are very methodical about
    evaluating new product offerings -- in terms of their expected
    impact on sales of other, existing products. But, I think
    they have "big numbers" to fall back on -- lots of history
    in their markets and a good feel for how their customers
    are likely to react to new offerings.

    I'm not sure how they would address something like this
    "artificial dependence" as it seems to have two edges
    to it (whereas a new product is just a cost-benefit
    analysis in the customer's mind).
    Don Y, Apr 16, 2012
  12. Don Y

    Martin Brown Guest

    So were they cross subsidising the initial hardware or design and
    development cost against the long term sales of consumables?
    That is a partly legitimate thing to do to get expensive capital kit
    into the market. The other common model is to sell very expensive units
    to the early adopters or people who absolutely need maximum performance
    at any price and amortise most of the development costs on them.

    They tend to whinge a bit if the price falls too steeply, but have
    usually forgotten before the 5 year renewal cycle comes around. This
    sort of assumes that your new kit is sufficiently interesting.
    Sometimes you have to wonder how many liquid lunches and free overnight
    golf sessions some of these executives had from corporate hospitality
    before signing off on insanely expensive lock-in deals.
    Unless you have approved third party suppliers then you are open to your
    customers using cheap dodgy ones and then complaining bitterly when it
    breaks their kit. People installing dodgy addins on PCs that are
    configured to run expensive scientific instruments is the sort of thing
    that really annoys me. It doesn't take much to tip it over the edge.
    Even something as humdrum as engine oil you get manufacturers endorsing
    one particular brand for their engines. And if you are daft enough you
    can buy even BMW branded screenwash...
    I have a pretty good idea what it should cost.
    But not enough of them to really matter.
    Hmm! I have a stash of batteries that have failed in high current drain
    applications waiting to be used in clocks and low drain applications. I
    made a cute but incredibly inefficient bistable voltage multiplier that
    will only just light a white LED if the cell is half decent. Any that
    can still light the LED do not get thrown out.
    If we are talking about analytical equipment here then it is common for
    larger companies to prefer to buy consumables from the OEM manufacturer
    even if they could shop around and get the same range of things slightly
    cheaper from 10-20 other companies. There is a cost to raise and process
    invoices that can make it better to pay a bit more and know you are
    getting approved consumables that preserve the warrantee.

    In the same way that buying from RS or Digikey might not always (ever?)
    be the cheapest source but you don't waste any time getting the part.
    This sounds like another clueless MBA trick where they shout look how
    much money I have saved in the short term before the chickens come home
    to roost and the long term costs of a lock in contract become apparent.
    Such people have always moved onwards and upwards before the insanity of
    their decisions becomes apparent.
    The latter were made by an entirely different company. "HP" is all that
    remains of a once great brandname for scientific instruments and
    computers - the good bits are now called "Agilent".
    I reckon some people are just there to be ripped off and the trick of
    marketing and salesmen is to separate them from as much of their cash as
    is inhumanly possible for as few of the companies goods. If you have
    ever looked at their bonus schemes you will understand why.
    That can be a viable strategem if you buy certain models in the refurb
    aftermarket with two sets of toner/ink cartridges. Not exactly very eco
    friendly though. It annoys me that I can get a better price on Gillette
    razor cartridges by buying a complete new razor Xmas special offer pack
    than buying the consumables separately so that is exactly what I do.
    It is worth asking your customers what they want. Larger companies do to
    some extent prefer to buy everything from the OEM unless you really
    transparently are ripping them off.
    If a customer puts unauthorised ink in their printer and it fouls up
    they have no comeback on the manufacturer.
    Surely in that case it is Bob's problem since the goods he sold were not
    of merchandiseable quality and he will be paying for your vehicle
    recovery, warned by trading standards and eventually closed down for
    repeat offences.
    That is why larger companies prefer to get consumables from the OEM.
    We just charge extra when the thing has obviously been savaged by a
    moron. Our suppliers used to do it to us too. It was not uncommon to
    return a unit to them that had multiple faults constructed of swapped
    dead boards out of several units. Fault finding is a lot harder when
    there are multiple unrelated faults present...
    What we had was a service contract with various response times, parts
    and labour as and when we can fit you in or nothing. AT&T & IBM went for
    premium service whereas academic research groups would usually ring up
    only after they had inflicted further damage with a soldering iron.
    Unfortunately, customers do not necessarily tell you the truth even in
    well controlled expensive marketing surveys. Worse still executives
    ignore the warning signs when $$$ signs flash in their eyes.
    As a supplier if you can secure a worthwhile long term revenue stream
    then it makes sense to do it. This is especially true if you can use it
    provide some perceived added value to your customers in the process (ie
    sell them other bits an pieces, upgrades, addons, new kit whatever).
    Martin Brown, Apr 16, 2012
  13. Don Y

    Guest Guest

    If by cost you mean "bill of materials" you may be missing a lot. When
    I investigated this years ago, the biggest item in the cost of an
    aluminum ladder was liability insurance, to cover the claims of people
    who either fell off or leaned it against a power line. (Apparently
    many people still do not realize that aluminum is a good conductor of

    Further, a for-profit company may prefer the expensive consumable
    model if it minimizes the capital cost of the equipment. For tax
    reasons, the equipment must be amortized over a period of years, while
    the cost of consumables can be immediately deducted from profits.
    Think of leasing a car (expense) vs. buying a car (capital cost).

    Have you ever been in an actual hospital? Some workers are brain dead
    and some have brain farts. There will come a time when one of them
    will put tap water in your instrument -- you can bet on it. Does it
    matter to your instrument? If not, not. If it does, then maybe putting
    DI water in a sealed container of proprietary design is the only
    rational choice -- even the brain dead cannot put a square peg in a
    round hole.
    Guest, Apr 16, 2012
  14. Don Y

    Don Y Guest

    Hi Martin,

    No. Just looking to make *more* money. It's possible they didn't
    have any real "design pipeline" to rely on for continued revenue
    and opted to "sell water" to keep paying the bills. If that's
    the case, then woe to the customers who purchased the
    soon-to-be-unsupported device! :< (I've no idea what became
    of the company or its products)

    Again, I think they looked at it in terms of costs that could
    be PASSED ON. E.g., if a printer ink cartridge effectively
    sets the price per printed page at $0.10/page/color, Joe Consumer
    sees that as expensive -- even if he is only printing a dozen
    pages a week.

    OTOH, spending $0.10 on *water* to run a clinical assay and
    doing hundreds per week can be seen as inconsequential -- if
    each of those $0.10 are passed along to different patients,
    etc. as part of the cost of the test.

    [The issue then becomes one of keeping the cost of the
    test low enough that you can still make money at it given
    negotiated rates with insurers, etc.]
    I have to try hard not to let cynicism overwhelm reason here... :>
    but, I think it boils down to "it's not their money". And, there is
    enough obfuscation in the process that they aren't easily "blamed"
    for these decisions.

    I was talking with a guy responsible for a few hundred $M expansion
    project at a local hospital and listened to some of the decisions
    that had been made with growing incredulity. When he was done,
    I simply stated, "if this was *your* money, is this how you would
    'invest' it?". He couldn't even look me in the eyes *or* respond.
    Yet, he showed no compunction in board meetings when he actively
    advocated this approach.

    [I'm not savvy enough on accounting trickery to claim to understand
    why its "better" to do things less efficiently... :< ]
    I think if the "fault"/failure is obviously tied to their actions,
    this is easier to deal with. I.e., use bad ink and printhead needs
    to be replaced. They can piss and moan that it costs so much
    to *replace* the printhead. But, they know that it is *their*
    action that resulted in the damage.

    OTOH, imagine the ink use resulting in a power supply failure
    (insane... that being the point of the example!). The customer
    would find it harder to accept that his use of off-brand ink
    could have anything to do with the power supply's failure.
    *Then*, it looks like you are blaming *your* defect on something
    the customer did that is not actually causal. (even if there
    *is* some way that the power supply could fail as a result of
    ink usage).
    Even if you *don't* know what it "should" cost, you can evaluate
    the cost of the *capability* and its actual value to you! E.g.,
    using an all-in-one printer as a cheap photocopier might make
    a $0.10/page copy-cost acceptable if the alternative is a trip
    out to a store (and a comparable $0.10/copy fee!). OTOH, spending
    $10.00 on ink costs to print a 100pp document might exceed your
    tolerance for waste!

    [I keep several different printers with different costs-per-page
    to address this convenience-vs-economics tradeoff]
    Perhaps not to the printer manufacturers. OTOH, I can say that I
    know of only one household in the neighborhood that still uses
    an inkjet printer -- the woman running the HOA uses it to
    print flyers (again, it's not *her* money that she's spending on
    supplies! :-/ )
    I dislike battery powered devices that don't see regular use -- simply
    because the batteries end up *flat* when you "need" it. Another
    PMP just bit the dust yesterday (integrated battery refusing to
    take a charge).
    But the instrument could simply have used available (bulk)
    water supplies in the lab. Why not artificially make the device
    battery powered and then go in the battery sales business? :<

    The point of my question is to try to identify criteria that
    *could* be used to make the to-supply or not-to-supply decision.
    Then, wrap each with an honest appraisal as to whether it is
    a simple "rationalization" or a "valid issue".

    Consider portable glucometers. The patient bases his lifestyle
    (and the doctor bases his treatment regimen) on the results
    reported by the glucometer. Use an "off brand" test strip
    and the glucometer has no way (?) or knowing/recording that.
    And, the patient doesn't *retain* used test strips! So,
    you rely completely on the records from the glucometer to
    base these treatment/lifestyle decisions. *Surely* this
    argues in favor of tying the supplies to a particular
    manufacturer (even if it is not the same manufacturer
    that produced the glucometer).

    [even moreso when the cost of the supplies is often paid by
    an insurer, etc.]

    OTOH, toilet paper for "proprietary" TP dispensers have
    pretty much the same constraints. The dispenser has no way
    of recording which TP was used to wipe <whomever's> *ss!
    "Customers" (users?) don't *retain* used TP (ick! this
    is getting disgusting!). So, there is no way of tying
    "substandard performance" (Help Wanted: toilet paper
    evaluator. No skills necessary!) to a particular set of

    Yet, in the TP case, you can freely choose between suppliers
    based on cost, availability, "softness", kickbacks, etc.
    Trying to artificially tie supplies to the dispenser is
    dubious, at best.
    Yup. But that doesn't stop them from making those decisions!
    People who lease automobiles, etc. It's not uncommon for firms
    (governments!) to sell off property and turn around and LEASE
    it back! With lease terms that make it clear that they are
    handing the proceeds of the sale *back* to the buyer! (would
    you do the same with your home?)

    Accounting rules distort the decision making process.
    Yup. Makes you wonder what Bill H and Dave P think of the situation.
    I suspect much of the marketing is geared to exploit laziness/inertia
    in the buyer. I.e., easier to buy more supplies for something you
    *have* than to start on the tedious process of making a new
    purchase decision.

    E.g., I will gladly repair TV's, appliances, etc. around the house
    to save myself the chore of having to look for a suitable
    replacement (which, sooner or later, will *also* need to be
    Yup. I rescue printer discards *if* they come with adequate
    "supplies". When the supplies are exhausted, I discard the printer.
    Since the printer was already headed for the tip when I rescued it,
    I've not made matters any worse than they would otherwise have been.

    OTOH, it does take up a fair bit of room to store spare toner
    cartridges, imaging units, fusers, etc. in anticipation of
    future failures! :< (though I don't spend for anything
    other than paper!)
    I buy the 52-packs of disposables. :>
    IME, customers rarely know what they *want*. Rather, they know what
    they *don't* want -- AFTER you give it to them! :< I think you
    have to understand their businesses and get inside their head
    if you want to make a truly "informed" decision. Otherwise, its
    just guesswork.

    If you can come up with an *honest*, rational set of criteria
    for making the supplies decision, then I think you have a chance
    of rationally presenting that to the customer and getting their
    buy-in. But it can't be hand-waving or smoke-and-mirrors.

    Everyone *knows* (even if they don't consciously admit it) that
    you are in business to make money. By extension, that the
    product they are purchasing wouldn't exist if not for this
    fact! What I think they object to is you making too *much*
    money -- OFF OF THEM! (especially if there is no obvious
    value added to justify that profit)
    I think that can be a slippery slope. Who makes that decision?
    Who decides how *much* extra to charge?
    Yes. When you're in business, you are often at the mercy of your
    customers. <frown> I've worked in businesses where they would
    go to significant lengths to discourage any sort of tampering
    (repairs). Conformal coating, full custom chips, etc. And,
    you'd still come across cases where someone *thought* they
    were smarter than they actually are! :<
    I think you can set service policy to cover those costs -- even
    if you treat the products as "disposable" (I see many printers
    where this design seems to be de rigeur -- as if you can just
    see the service depot pulling the logic board off the unit and
    tossing the entire mechanism into the trash!)
    Exactly. It's too easy for a customer to be "lead" -- especially in
    focus groups, etc. I think most customers truly don't know what
    they want. They have some general idea. But, can rarely put it
    into concrete terms.

    OTOH, *hand* them something and they can tell you what they
    *don't* want (about it!).
    That last bit is the trick. If it looks like you've just
    "got 'em by the b*lls", I think you breed resentment.
    Don Y, Apr 16, 2012
  15. Don Y

    mike Guest

    Do you believe that profit is unethical?
    Would be silly to try to compete selling a razor that
    used someone else's blades.

    That "chip" in your printer ink cartridge does little
    to improve the quality of your printouts, but it goes
    a long way toward putting gas in the CEO's private jet.
    And greed is what makes the world go 'round.
    mike, Apr 16, 2012
  16. Don Y

    Don Y Guest

    Hi Walter,

    That;s what I've been trying to do, systematically.
    I've tried to identify common products that have
    "ongoing" supplies streams. Then, making an objective (?)
    assessment of how the nature of that stream might have
    been (or currently be) justified as "closed" -- as well as
    how well it has *remained* "closed"!

    I've also tried to identify cases where vendors *could*
    have closed their supplies off and didn't -- was that
    because they felt no need to do so? Or, had more business
    than they could handle (and risked losing their primary
    product market if they couldn't keep up with demand for
    Yup. I interviewed with a company decades ago whose
    business model was blatantly copying other products
    ("work-alikes"). Didn't seem like a very rewarding way
    to base a career! :<
    Don Y, Apr 17, 2012
  17. Don Y

    Joel Koltner Guest

    Gee, sounds like SodaStream: They "lease" you a CO2 cartridge, and
    there's a very strongly-worded contract you have to sign stipulating
    that you won't refill the cartridge... since of course they charge
    something like 10x per refill as a regular gas vendor would.

    They have a custom nozzle, but you can find adapters to standard nozzles
    on the Internet. One company selling them was sued out of business by
    SodaStream, so now the guy(s?) left selling them have these big
    disclaimers about how to purchase their products you're agreeing that
    you own the CO2 cartridges and are in no way attempting to violate
    SodaStream's contract with you. :)

    It is pretty ridiculous overall and this sort of marketing really turns
    me off, but there's so much choice in soda pop (and printers) that I
    just choose to shop for other models. I do wish more people would
    realize the artificial costs of choosing such proprietary vendors, though...

    You do see an occasional vendor trying to gain business by bucking the
    trend as well, which is good -- Kodak was betting its printer business
    largely on a "cheap ink" campaign, it seemed, and I've seen ads on TV
    for mops that have washable/re-usable pads and refillable (with any
    detergent you want) reservoirs to compete with the one where these items
    are single use and proprietary.

    Joel Koltner, Apr 17, 2012
  18. Don Y

    josephkk Guest

    You are kidding yourself. The very concept applies ONLY to a "market" in
    which "full knowledge" is readily available.
    Primarily a con job.
    josephkk, Apr 17, 2012
  19. Don Y

    josephkk Guest

    Let me throw a curve ball into the mix:
    Suppose that we are dealing with a medical device that _must_ function
    safely and the same way, not only in America, but in Europe, Mexico, South
    America, Austrailia, India and Asia. The prepackaged distilled water
    makes a lot more sense in this scenario. The ethics gets a whole lot more
    mixed in this case. Not at all the same as inkjet or laser printer

    Just an alternate line of thought.
    josephkk, Apr 17, 2012
  20. Don Y

    josephkk Guest

    I have someone to ask. I'll let you know.
    josephkk, Apr 17, 2012
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