I’m still on the road and currently visiting relatives who have some photos I need to scan. I have my laptop computer with me, but had to reason to bring a printer. These folks have no computer equipment, so I went shopping for a scanner. I looked at flatbed scanners, but the cheapest one cost twice as much as a low-end color printer/scanner/copier combo. After seeing what was available at a local Circuit City, I picked up a Lexmark X2500 at Wal-Mart for $46.97 plus tax. I might have bought a Hewlett-Packard, but none of their equipment is Windows Vista certified, so the brand choice was in part made for me, by Microsoft.
Interestingly, the printer came with everything except the black ink cartridge. The color cartridge was supplied, but a note on the box stated, "Black cartridge sold separately." This reminds me of the King C. Gillette marketing trick of selling shavers at little or no profit in order to create a repeat market for profitable double-edge razor blades. (If you check, you’ll find that the shavers weren’t all that inexpensive, but they did create a market.) The cartridge cost $17.97, so in reality I paid about $66 for the printer/scanner.
This is the first time I’ve encountered this situation, though I have seen printers sold without cables--sort of a variation on the "monitor sold separately" gag. Is Lexmark selling printers cheap, giving retailers the lion’s share of the profit in order to make money on ink cartridges? No doubt they’re making money on the carts at the selling price, and it may well be that, as with other Lexmark printers I’ve owned, they won’t last as long as the carts for the HP printer I have at home. Time will tell. At least I’ll have an emergency backup on hand when the HP gives out. Plus, the X2500 really is small enough to be called portable. Maybe I’ll pack it next time I travel by car, just to have it available.
(Update, Oct. 22: I've since read reviews that say this printer really eats up cartridges. Still, the price is worth it to get a portable copier and scanner--cheap.)