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HP plans to charge a subscription fee for printing on their printers

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  • 4 min read

HP is looking to transition the printing experience into a subscription model, igniting a storm of controversy and raising questions about the true motivations behind the move.

In a recent interview with CNBC, HP CEO Enrique Lores explained the plan. The revelation comes amidst a class-action lawsuit against the tech giant, alleging that printer firmware updates, marketed as security fixes, were later discovered to introduce printer blocking when using third-party cartridges.

Lores defended the company’s actions, citing the need to protect HP’s intellectual property embedded in inks and printers while hinting at extending the subscription model to other products, including PCs.

The financial motivation behind this shift is evident, with Lores acknowledging that one-time purchases of printers are not profitable for the company, and HP incurs losses on many models. The real profit, he asserts, comes from Instant Ink subscriptions, a subscription service for printer ink.

Subscription models have proven successful in enhancing customer loyalty and driving revenue, but HP’s strategy raises concerns about potentially alienating customers who prefer not to subscribe. Lores even hinted at a desire to rid the company of unprofitable customers who do not subscribe.

However, the move triggered scepticism and backlash. The ongoing lawsuit highlights the significantly higher cost of genuine HP ink than third-party alternatives, prompting concerns about potential complexities and customer dissatisfaction if the subscription model extends to other products.

The alleged security risks associated with third-party ink cartridges, as asserted by Lores, are also facing scrutiny. In a conversation with Ars Technica, cybersecurity professionals expressed scepticism about the feasibility of using ink cartridges to infect printers, with some dismissing it as wildly implausible.

The subscription-based printing model has generated controversies among users.

“I’ve seen and done some truly wacky hardware stuff in my life, including hiding data in SPD EEPROMs on memory DIMMs (and replacing them with microcontrollers for similar shenanigans), so believe me when I say that his claim is wildly implausible even in a lab setting, let alone in the wild, and let alone at any scale that impacts businesses or individuals rather than selected political actors,” said Graham Sutherland, a security researcher.

HP’s claims about the security vulnerabilities in third-party ink cartridges are based on research conducted through its bug bounty program. The company argues that reprogrammable ships in third-party cartridges pose a potential cyber threat, citing a researcher who hacked a printer via a third-party ink cartridge but couldn’t replicate the hack with an HP cartridge.

“We have seen that you can embed viruses in the cartridges. Through the cartridge, [the virus can] go to the printer, [and then] from the printer, go to the network,” said Enrique Lores in the interview.

Despite the theoretical nature of the threat, HP has implemented Dynamic Security, a feature that inconveniences customers rather than fortifies printers against potential cyber threats. Critics argue that HP should focus on bolstering printer security rather than inconveniencing users.

Another question behind this contentious move toward a subscription model also raises questions about HP’s commitment to customer satisfaction. Lores’ emphasis on protecting intellectual property and categorising non-subscribers as ‘unprofitable customers’ suggests a shift in priorities from providing the best consumer experience to safeguarding the company’s bottom line.

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Kumar Hemant

Kumar Hemant

Deputy Editor at Candid.Technology. Hemant writes at the intersection of tech and culture and has a keen interest in science, social issues and international relations. You can contact him here: kumarhemant@pm.me

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