Why Hermès Birkin bags are so expensive, according to a handbag expert

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: Hermès Birkin bags are some of the most expensive bags in the world, ranging anywhere from $9,000 to half a million dollars. The bags embody absolute luxury.

– A Birkin bag?

– You’ve heard of it?

– Of course. That’s a very nice purse.

Narrator: The exclusive accessory’s even considered by some to be a better investment than gold or the stock market. And the world’s most expensive bag is an Hermès Himalaya Birkin bag that sold for $500,000. So what is it that makes Birkin bags so expensive? The story of the bag begins with its namesake: Jane Birkin. On a flight from Paris to London, the English actress happened to be seated next to the chief executive of Hermès, Jean-Louis Dumas.

Pilot: Flight attendants, please prepare for takeoff.

Narrator: Jane was known for carrying a wicker basket wherever she went and used it for everything from groceries to diapers. When she tried to fit her famous basket in the overhead compartment, the lid came off, spilling the contents everywhere. Jane complained to her seatmate that it was impossible to find a weekend bag she liked. Dumas introduced himself as the head of Hermès, and the pair spent the flight sketching possible handbag designs on the back of an airplane sick bag. A year later, Dumas presented Jane with the Birkin bag, a spacious yet sophisticated leather design perfect for everyday use. The Birkin’s pockets made it highly functional, and the bag seals to prevent anything from spilling. Hermès makes the bags in France using premium materials like calf skin, alligator skin, and even ostrich skin. Each bag is made entirely by hand.

Although Birkins are one of the most exclusive and sought-after bags today, they actually weren’t all that popular when they first launched. It wasn’t until the ’90s that the Birkin became one of the it-bags of the era. Now they’re the ultimate status symbol. Victoria Beckham reportedly has a collection of over 100 Birkins, estimated to be worth over $2 million, and Singaporean socialite and entrepreneur Jamie Chua is considered to have the world’s largest Birkin collection with over 200 bags.

But you can’t just walk into Hermès and get one. While there used to be a wait list, nowadays all you can do is hope to be important enough or spend enough to be offered a Birkin bag. And if you’re offered one, don’t expect to be able to choose the color or size.

Hermès also places limits on how many Birkin bags a client can purchase per year. This dedication to preserving the exclusivity of the bag has certainly paid off, and the disparity in demand and access has created a thriving resale market.

A 2017 study revealed that the value of Hermès Birkin bags has increased 500% in the last 35 years, an increase of 14% per year. One of the most coveted models comes from Hermès’ Himalaya collection, which comes in three sizes. Often referred to as the holy grail of handbags, the white Himalaya Birkin bag features 18-karat white gold hardware and more than 200 diamonds. The 35-centimeter model in particular is very rare and has sold at record prices year after year. Most recently in 2019, it sold for over half a million dollars. Professional sports betting consultant David Oancea, also known as Vegas Dave, made the record-breaking purchase.

David Oancea: The reason I bought the Birkin bag is I love breaking records. I broke all the sports betting records, I wanted to break the most-expensive-bag record. I’m all about raising the bar. Also, it’s about supply and demand. The only other one in the world is by Steve Harvey’s wife, so there’s only two in the world. Not even Kim Kardashian has this, so I actually bought it for content, believe it or not, so I could take videos with it, pictures of it, getting people to talk about me.

Narrator: The record-breaking sale actually took place over social media.

Oancea: Sale was pretty easy. I posted on social media, I have about a million followers, that I’m looking for a bag. This lady hit me up, Privé Porter. She messaged me, said she’d get me the bag. I realized it was the most expensive bag. She said it would break the record. And this is for sure the record, $500,000?

– Absolutely, most expensive bag ever sold.

Oancea: We closed this deal in about three to four days, really, really fast. I actually do use the bag. Most people think I’m crazy. They put it away like in a safe, and they never touch it again. I’ve taken it out twice, once to a night club in Vegas as a great piece of content. It’s definitely worth the cost ’cause you could offer me a million dollars cash, and I wouldn’t sell it. My asking price is $2 million. If not, I’ll just keep the d— thing.

Narrator: It’s also made with white or albino crocodile skin, which is extremely rare. The costly skin is painstakingly dyed to emulate the snowy appearance of the Himalayan mountains.

Mason Howell: The high retail value and resale value is because these are pieces of artwork. These artisans train years and years to make one of these bags, and they may even train 10 years before even they’re allowed to make a Birkin.

Narrator: Another reason for the bag’s high price of course is the limited availability. The total number of Birkin bags Hermès produces each year is a well-guarded secret, but it’s estimated that there may be around 200,000 in circulation. And for the luxury resale market, Birkin bags are a hot commodity. Online retailer Privé Porter uses Instagram and WhatsApp to sell the bags online, and luxury reseller The RealReal has hundreds of Birkins available at any given time, many of which are priced well above the original retail cost.

Howell: The Birkin bag does retain and sometimes exceeds its value. It really does depend on the leather, the color, the size of the bag, you know, the hardware. There are so many factors that go into pricing a Birkin that it could really vary. However, if you do buy a Birkin, let’s say in 2004, and maybe the retail at that time was $5,000, you most likely will be able to sell it, even if you have worn it so many times, for $5,000, $6,000.

Narrator: Even as resellers like The RealReal and Privé Porter have made more Birkins available than ever, the prices haven’t gone down.

Howell: If you go to Hermès, you may not always get the exact color, size, that you want. Here, we have almost every single option, and if that means you have to pay a small premium, people and our clients are willing to do so. Even though that there has been such a saturation of these bags, not one bag is the same. So let’s say an Etain Birkin 35 with gold hardware, we only have one right now, and if it’s sold, we may not get another for a while, so someone’s looking for that, and they’d be willing to pay an extra maybe $10,000 to get that bag as soon as possible, and all these bags are handmade, artisan craftsmanship. It’s a piece of artwork. Not one is the same, not even one stitch.

Narrator: So if you have an extra $10,000 lying around, it could be worthwhile to invest it in a Birkin. Just make sure that you’re not falling for a fake. From Canal Street in New York City to websites like eBay, the counterfeit market is full of luxury knockoffs, and Birkins are no exception. Back in 2012, Hermès sued several websites for selling fake products and won $100 million in damages.

That same year, French police cracked down on an international crime ring that was manufacturing counterfeit Birkin bags. The crime ring reportedly included actual Hermès employees. Only two employees were arrested, but Hermès believed that several other employees could have been involved. And despite all their efforts, fake products continue to flood the market. The quality of counterfeit bags has also vastly improved over the years, making it difficult to tell whether a bag is real or fake. However, there are a few tricks to spotting a fake Birkin.

Howell: The handle should never be too long. If they look too long, longer than the bag, then it is most likely inauthentic. The hardware shouldn’t be too shiny or protrude out, and the feet, another big thing, it’s one of the best things I always check, is that the feet should never screw off. They are hammered in. The leather itself should feel very supple, very luxurious.

Narrator: And if the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. While many other handbag styles have come and gone, it looks like the Birkin is here to stay. And the bag has become synonymous with status in a way that many other luxury goods have yet to.

Despite its popularity, the bag features no prominent logos and is only recognizable to people who already know what it is. In Birkin, Hermès has created something that feels inaccessible unless highly exclusive. As for whether the Birkin will always be so expensive, only time will tell.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in June 2019.

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Caterpillar fungus, the world’s most valuable parasite, can cost up to $63,000 per pound

  • Caterpillar fungus is a hybrid of a fungus that kills and lives in caterpillars.
  • It can sell for up to three times its weight in gold and can cost as much as about $63,000 per pound.
  • Some towns in the Himalayas rely on collecting and selling this fungus for a living.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: What would you do if a fungus invaded your body, and started consuming you from the inside? It sounds like something out of a horror film, but that’s actually what happens to a certain type of baby moth.

The fungus eats its way through the helpless moth larvae and then sprouts out of their heads like a spring daisy. But this rare hybrid, the caterpillar fungus, isn’t just totally fascinating, it’s also expensive. Sometimes selling for more than 3 times its weight in gold!

Caterpillar fungus grows in the remote Tibetan Plateau and Himalayan Mountains but that’s not the only place you can find it. Here we are in New York City’s Chinatown. And nestled among countless drawers of dried mugwort leaves and hibiscus flowers,

There it is a small pile of 50 or so pieces of dried caterpillar fungus. Here, 1 gram of it costs about $30. But even that might be considered a good deal. Vendors on eBay, for example, list a gram for up to $125. The price is so high because this hybrid creature is incredibly rare.

It shows up for only a few weeks each year in remote regions of Nepal, Tibet, India and Bhutan. And even then, the fungus can be tricky for collectors to find, hidden amidst a sea of grass. For centuries, it’s been a staple of traditional Tibetan and Chinese medicine.

Kelly Hopping: “Traditionally, it was used as a general tonic, for immune support.”

For instance, a family might add half of this to a chicken soup. And it’s even rumored that it can be used as a sort of Himalayan viagra though there’s little evidence to back it up. People also buy the fungus as a gift or use it for bribes or as a status symbol. As a result, better looking pieces fetch a higher price.

Kelly Hopping: “It’s all dependent on exactly the color of the caterpillar fungus, even the shape of its body when it died, all of these things that don’t necessarily have anything to do with medicinal value make all the difference for the economic value.”

In 2017, for example, high quality pieces sold for as much as $140,000 per kg, or about $63,000 per pound. Now, caterpillar fungus has always been pricey. But experts say its value really skyrocketed in the 1990s and 2000s because of a growing Chinese economy, and the resulting increase in disposable income. Which ultimately, helped drive a massive boom in harvest.

In the Tibet Autonomous Region, for example, collectors reportedly hauled out more than three times as much caterpillar fungus in the early 2000s, than they did in the 1980s. And now, many families depend on the cash it brings in.

In fact, experts say that up to 80% of household income in the Tibetan Plateau and Himalayas can come from selling caterpillar fungus. One district in Nepal reported collecting $4.7 million worth of caterpillar fungus in 2016. That’s 12% more than the district’s annual budget! But those profits are at risk.

Surveys indicate that annual harvests have recently declined.

Kelly Hopping: “The collectors themselves mostly attributed this to overharvesting, acknowledging that their own collection pressure was driving these declines.”

And it doesn’t help that it’s difficult to regulate the harvest.

Daniel Winkler: “All these different political units have different policy. In the end, it is really down to county level, how it’s implemented.”

Climate change is also causing problems. You see, the fungus is more abundant in areas with long, cold winters, which are increasingly hard to come by.

Daniel Winkler: “For the rural economy, if there’s a lot of loss, that would be devastating.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in March 2019.

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Why wasabi is so expensive

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: Wasabi is a small green plant in the brassica family, that means it’s related to many cheap and easy to find plants like horseradish, cabbage, or broccoli. But unlike these it’s incredibly expensive, a kilogram of fresh wasabi can cost you 25 times as much as fresh horseradish.

Because of its price the “wasabi” you’re used to is probably just a mixture of horseradish, coloring, and sweetener. These products often only have 1-5% of the real thing in.

Wasabi is known for being the hardest plant to grow commercially in the world. It can be found naturally growing alongside Japanese mountain streams has a strict set of conditions it needs to thrive.

Wasabi needs a constant supply of running spring water, it likes a shady area and rocky soil or gravel, and can only tolerate a temperature of around 8-20 degrees centigrade all year round. Too much humidity, or the wrong minerals can also cause problems for the plant and on top of all that it’s susceptible to pests and disease.

There’s one other reason you probably don’t see real wasabi products in your local supermarket or restaurant. Wasabi’s spice comes from a chemical reaction that occurs when you break down the cells, but this reaction is short lived. After 5 minutes the spicy flavour peaks but leave it for 30 minutes and almost all the flavour is gone.

All of these factors mean fake wasabi isn’t going away any time soon.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in January 2019.

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Why avocados are so expensive

  • Avocado has become one of the world’s trendiest foods, but they require an extraordinary amount of costly resources and labor in order to grow.
  • Avocado prices have rocketed in recent years by up to 129%, with the average national price of a single Hass avocado reaching $2.10 in 2019, almost doubling in just one year.
  • We break down what makes avocados so expensive.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: Avocado has become one of the world’s trendiest foods. As the poster child of millennial healthy eating, this superfood is now a mainstay for foodies everywhere. But have you noticed your avo on toast is costing more and more? Avocado prices have rocketed in recent years by up to 129%, with the average national price of a single Hass avocado reaching $2.10 in 2019, almost doubling in just one year. So, why are avocados so expensive?

Archaeologists in Peru have found domesticated avocado seeds buried with Incan mummies dating back to 750 BC. But it was the Aztecs in 500 BC who named it āhuacatl, which translates to “testicle.” When Spanish conquistadors swept through Mexico and Central America in the 16th century, they renamed it aguacate. The farming of aguacate developed over the next few hundred years, predominantly in Central America and South America. But consumption of the “alligator pear” outside of these regions before the late 19th century was almost nonexistent.

The commercialization of aguacate began in the early 1900s but was focused on branding avocados as a delicacy for the wealthy, like this advert in The New Yorker from 1920, which declared them as “The aristocrat of salad fruit.” But a selection of Californian growers realized that the hard-to-pronounce aguacate was off-putting for the mass market, so they formed the California Avocado Association. By the 1950s, production scale grew, and avocado prices fell to about 25 cents each. Popularity increased further with the wave of inter-American immigration in the ’60s, as Latin Americans brought their love of avocados with them to the US. But as demand increased, supply had to keep up, and the true difficulties of yielding large-scale avocado crops began to show. Avocado orchards require an extraordinary amount of costly resources in order to flourish.

Gus Gunderson: There are multiple inputs that avocados require, whether it’s water, fertilizer, pruning, pest control, the sunburn protection of trees. All those go into making your chances better of having a very good-quality crop. When we decide to plant an avocado orchard, we’ll plant trees that come from certified nurseries. We have to place our orders years in advance. On average, if we’re producing 100,000 pounds per acre, that takes about a million gallons of water, so 100 gallons per pound, so it’d be about 50 gallons per 8-ounce fruit. But that’s dependent on what mother nature will throw at you, you know, we have wind, we have intense sun. It’s really hard for a grower to manage the unmanageable things that will affect a crop.

Narrator: The surge in popularity of avocados stalled during the fat-fighting frenzy of the 1980s, with an average of only 1 pound per capita being consumed in America by 1989. The decade’s low-fat obsession drove consumers away from avocado because of its high fat content, without really understanding the nutritional truth hidden within.

Hazel Wallace: When it comes to fat in food in general, people tend to get a little bit concerned because we often hear in the media that fat isn’t good for us. But the type of fat that’s in avocados is monounsaturated fat, which is actually often deemed healthy fat or heart-healthy fat, so while there is a lot of fat in avocados, it’s actually quite good fat.

Narrator: Avocado started its meteoric comeback at the turn of the millennium, and it was helped by an unlikely political decision. In 2005, the US Department of Agriculture lifted a 90-year-old ban to allow the importation of Mexican avocados to all 50 states. Initially, this decision angered Californian growers, who feared the move could slash local growers’ sales by as much as 20%.

Harold Edwards: What actually had transpired and took place was, as that Mexican supply became much more prevalent and available, retailers got behind marketing and selling avocados, food service providers, restaurants started putting it as permanent parts of their menus, and demand started to boom because the inconsistent supply chains before were now consistent, and consumers were allowed to enjoy avocados every day of the year.

Narrator: The biggest day of the avocado calendar became Super Bowl Sunday, when it’s now estimated that almost 200 million pounds of avocados are eaten during the big game in America. But if you take a moment to consider the resources needed to produce that amount, you can start to understand avocados’ elevated prices. According to experts, it takes roughly 270 liters of water to grow a pound of avocados. So 200 million pounds could require as much as 54 billion liters of water, which means droughts or heat waves can have devastating consequences on the avocado industry. In fact, that’s exactly what’s been happening in California for the last seven years, with the Sunshine State only recently being declared drought-free in 2019, which goes a long way to explaining record avocado prices. In some countries, like Chile, avocado cultivation is being blamed for exacerbating droughts, as lush green orchards overlook dry riverbeds.

Perhaps the biggest reason for avocados’ rise to dominance is the emergence of the clean-eating lifestyle. No longer just a chip dip for special occasions, this superfood can be found in a plethora of recipes in cafés and restaurants everywhere around the world. And those who are eating them are really keen for you to know about it. Just type #avocado into Instagram, and you’ll be hit with over 10 million search results. But is the glorification of avocado justified?

Wallace: There’s quite a big hype around avocados, but it actually is quite justified when it comes to how nutrient-dense this food is. There’s not many foods that actually replicate it in terms of a nutritional profile. When it comes to calling something a superfood, I’m not really for that label. Avocados are definitely a good food to include in your diet, but like I said, you’re not really missing out if you don’t like them or if you can’t eat them for any reason. Monounsaturated fats, we can find that in things like olive oil and olive, nuts, and seeds. The vitamins and minerals, we can find that in other green vegetables, so spinach and broccoli and things like that. So there’s ways of getting those nutrients in without having avocado.

Narrator: All of this produce requires an astonishing amount of labor. Even once grown, pruned, and picked, avocados need costly distribution methods in order to be delivered fresh and ripe to far-flung corners of the world.

Gunderson: If you’re living in Philadelphia, right? You wanna buy a ripe avocado in Philadelphia? What they do is they ship green avocados from California to Philadelphia, they send them to the ripening center, they warm them up and get ethylene in them, so they all ripen, and then, when they’re moved out to the retail stores, you’re actually buying something that’s almost ready to eat or ready to eat. ‘Cause if you were to buy a green avocado that’s shipped straight from California to your market, you would have to ripen it yourself over a seven- to 10-day period, and most consumers are a little more anxious for their avocado toast than waiting 10 days. [laughs]

Narrator: With prices so high, the commodity of avocados has attracted a spate of thefts from orchards and delivery trucks worldwide. In New Zealand, armed night patrols and electric fences have been introduced after a grower in Northland had 70% of his orchard stolen. There’s even further grim reading for avocado lovers. In Michoacán, where 80% of Mexico’s avocados originate, cartels run a so-called “blood avocado” trade, violently enforcing a nonnegotiable extortion fee from farmers based on the size of their land and the weight of their crop.

Some restaurants have begun an avocado boycott, as we all weigh the ethics behind our eating habits. Experts suggest that water shortages could affect 5 billion people by 2050, and rainfall in the so-called drought belt, which includes Mexico and South America, is predicted to decline. But whilst evidence of environmental degradation is mounting, the avocado industry is still growing along with consumer demand. In certain places, the sustainability of avocado production will become untenable.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in October 2019.

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We talked with Beeple about how NFT mania led to his $69 million art sale

  • A piece of digital artwork by Mike Winkelmann, known as Beeple, sold for nearly $70 million last week.
  • Digital art backed by non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, are exploding in popularity and value, and Beeple is riding the wave.
  • In an exclusive interview, Beeple told Insider about his unexpected fortune and the future of NFTs.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Mike Winkelmann, better known as Beeple, has sold the most expensive work of digital art in history.

It’s part of an explosion in the market for NFTs, or non-fungible tokens – digital tokens that prove ownership of things like Beeple’s image that you can’t even touch.

“I honestly, like, I never thought I could sell my work,” Beeple said in an interview at his home in South Carolina. “Kind of late September, early October, people kept hitting me on being like, ‘Oh, you got to look at this NFT thing.'”

Two months later, in December, he netted $3.5 million selling art backed by NFTs.

In March, Christie’s, a 225-year-old auction house that previously only sold physical art, auctioned an entirely digital piece by Beeple. It sold for $69,346,250.

“If everybody wants it, well, then it has value,” Beeple said.

The speculation in this market is so wild that when a $95,000 Banksy piece was recently burned and turned into an NFT, the NFT was sold for nearly $400,000. A cat meme recently sold for $600,000. To understand who’s paying these prices, it’s important to understand NFTs.

“I really look at NFTs as like a blank slate,” he said. “And so it’s sort of like saying, do you think a webpage is valuable? Well, I don’t know. It could be, or it could be totally worthless.”

NFT stands for non-fungible token, essentially a digital signature backed by blockchain technology that proves ownership of something.

Unlike Bitcoin, which are all identical by design, NFTs are unique. To some degree, what NFTs offer for sale is the idea of scarcity. It’s possible to buy a token that represents art in the physical world, but NFTs also back digital assets like an image or a tweet.

“So May 1, 2007, I started doing a sketch a day, every single day, start to finish, and uploading it online,” Winkelmann said. “And after a year of that, I learned a lot about drawing. Like, I got much better at drawing. I was still very, very bad, as you can see from the Christie’s piece. But I learned a lot.”

Beeple_THUMB_V1
Mike Winkelmann, better known as Beeple.

Beeple’s popularity caught the attention of Christie’s in December. They decided on a collage of his first 5,000 days of work that forms a square of 21,069 x 21,069 pixels. To help make his digital art more accessible, back in December, Beeple provided a physical product along with the NFT for his digital art. But for Christie’s, being completely digital is what made Beeple’s work unique – and all the more valuable.

“It’s really a radical gesture to offer for sale something without any object, and we might as well lean into that,” said Noah Davis, specialist in Post-War & Contemporary Art at Christie’s.

In the media, Beeple has been compared to artists like Banksy and Warhol, though his paid work has been as a graphic designer, with clients like Louis Vuitton, Nike and Apple.

“So I don’t really like the term artist because it sounds very pretentious and douche-y,” Beeple said.

“There’s an interesting parallel between Mike and Andy Warhol in the way that their careers developed,” Davis said. “Andy also started as an illustrator working in, basically, a gig economy.”

Critics have compared him with artists like Warhol, Banksy, and the Italian artist who taped a banana to the wall of a Paris art gallery.

“I’ve been thinking about the banana a lot, talking a lot about the banana,” Davis said. “It’s the dumbest idea, and you are basically celebrating a lack of creativity, like the bare minimum of creativity, but with Mike, it’s a ritual assignment of value that is celebrating 13 years of hard work of him doing this for no financial gain.”

For Beeple, the pace of change has been mind blowing. Back in the olden days of 2020, Beeple’s NFT-backed “Crossroads” sold for $66,666.

“At the time it was like, oh my God, I sold a piece for 66,000,” Beeple said. “It was just, like, insane.”

In December, he sold $3.5 million worth of art in one day. Then, on February 26, Crossroads was resold on a secondary NFT market for $6.6 million, of which Beeple got a 10% cut.

Then in March, Christie’s sold the 5,000 image montage by Beeple for $69.3 million.

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Why printer ink is so expensive

  • Printer ink can often be more expensive than the printer itself.
  • Using an outdated “razor-and-blades” business model, printer companies sell printers at a loss and make up for it in ink sales.
  • Printer companies do whatever they can to squash competition from more economical and sustainable third party options by frequently updating the firmware in the cartridges.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories. 

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: A gallon of printer ink can cost you $12,000. When in cartridge form, it’s more expensive than vintage Champagne and even human blood. In fact, it can be cheaper to buy an entire printer than it is to purchase new ink cartridges. So why is printer ink so expensive?

Let’s start with the first printers. No, not that far. No. Come on. There we go. Inkjet printers were first developed in the 1960s, and early computer inks were made from food dye and water. Because of this, they would fade after a few months, so companies had to develop a dye that gave permanent photographic quality. In 1988, Hewlett-Packard achieved just that, with the first mass-market inkjet printer, which sold for about $1,000. But a lot has changed since then.

Today, you can buy a brand-new printer for around $35. But there’s a catch. When the ink runs out in one of these printers, you need to buy specific cartridges, and these cartridges are expensive. So why are the cartridges so pricey?

David Connett: Oh that’s simple: greed. And an outdated razor-and-blades model.

Narrator:  This is David Connett. He’s the former editor of The Recycler and has been lobbying for change in the printer-ink industry for years.

Connett: They sell the printers cheap. They sell the consumables at a very expensive price. And basically it’s a formula: The cheaper the printer, the more expensive the consumables.

Narrator:  Once you’ve bought a printer that uses cartridges you’re trapped in a cycle. You have no choice but to buy them, or throw away your printer. As a printer is typically a one-time purchase, companies don’t mind selling them at a loss and making the money back through cartridge sales. The HP Envy 4520 all-in-one printer, for example, sells for $70 but is estimated to cost $120 to manufacture. The loss they make on printers means that companies need to sell ink cartridges to make a profit, and this model has led to a battleground between printer manufacturers and third-party ink suppliers. The companies do everything they can to keep you buying official ink cartridges. Manufacturers install microchips into their cartridges and frequently issue firmware updates to prevent the use of third-party ink, which can be more affordable.

Connett: Last year, almost 900 firmware upgrades were issued by just nine printer manufacturers, so that’s almost three a day. I mean, that’s just, like, either absolute incompetence, ’cause you’ve got to do it so much, or it is a definite stealth tactic to control the market.

Narrator: Printer companies attribute the high costs to the research and development that goes into perfecting printer ink. The materials they use, however, cost very little.

Connett: The manufacturing cost of ink is between €20 and €40 a liter.

Narrator: And a lot of the ink you buy never even gets used for printing. According to a 2018 test by Consumer Reports, more than half the ink you buy could end up lost in maintenance cycles for cleaning the printheads. And printers that use multiple-color ink cartridges also stop working as soon as one color runs out, even if the other colors are still full. These days, you’re getting even less for your money. While the cartridges themselves are the same size and price, they often contain far less ink inside than they used to. The ink in many manufacturers’ cartridges has shrunk from 20 mil to around 5 mil over the past few years, without any reduction in price. The original-size 20 mil cartridges are often still on sale but are often sold as extra-large cartridges for even more money. And some new cartridges can have as little as 3 milliliters of ink inside. Some companies have now even started ink subscriptions, deactivating your cartridges remotely if you print more than your allocated pages. Laser printers offer a lower-cost alternative to inkjet but produce a lower-quality printed image. The real solution for many, though, would be to offer more-efficient ink cartridges.

Connett: This product, you know, can be better engineered. They could liaise with the aftermarket to actually, you know, find a solution that works for everybody because, you know, this, ultimately, this is bad for the consumer, because it’s overpriced and expensive, and it’s bad for the environment, because it doesn’t need to be made that way.

Narrator: We reached out to Canon and HP for comment. HP replied with this statement:

“Original HP ink and toner cartridges deliver the best possible printing experience for customers. We make significant investments in R&D each year to provide the highest levels of print quality, safety and environmental sustainability. When customers purchase HP, they are reducing plastic waste and contributing to a circular economy. And we work tirelessly to maximize value for our customers, including Instant Ink, our “ink delivery” subscription service which includes ink, shipping and recycling.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published on August 19, 2019. 

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