Thursday, April 23, 2009

DITCH your FAX MACHINE!

In this era or Internet communications, the fax machine seems almost like a quaint anachronism. In the next 5 to 10 years, you will see the fax machine go the way of the floppy disc, the LP album, and the 8-track tape.

However, in the meantime, there may be occasions where you may need to send or receive a fax, particularly if you run a business. Some people still refuse to go online, and others, out of habit, prefer to send faxes, as opposed to attaching a .pdf file to an e-mail.

For some folks, the inexpensive "all in one" printer serves as a useful fax machine. These printers, typically made by Hewlett-Packard, combine an inkjet printer, scanner, and fax interface. They can be used to scan in documents (which can then be stored as jpeg or pdf files). They can also be used as primitive photocopiers, printers, and also as a fax machine.

However, while such devices may be useful for the occasional fax or copy, they are horribly expensive as printers, due to the high cost of the printer cartridges and the low quantity produced by each cartridge. As a result, each page printed can cost 25 to 50 cents or more. This may sound fairly inexpensive at first, until you come back into your office and find a 30-page "junk" fax in your machine from some helpful fellow selling fax cartridges.

I kid you not in this last regard. When I had my Office in Alexandria, a local fellow decided to SPAM FAX all of Northern Virginia with his 20-page price list for fax paper and tonor. I guess his strategy was to run everyone's machine out of paper and then sell them more. Such faxes are illegal, and the remedy authorized by Congress allows individual victims to sue the perpetrators for up to $250 to $500 per fax. I sued this fellow and won $1000 (after the third fax. I warned him twice, and he told me to fuck off both times).

Of course, that didn't put an end to junk faxes - they just moved overseas. So I continued to get faxes from unknown numbers advertising "$100 DISNEY CRUISES!" or "LOW COST HEALTH INSURANCE!". As set forth in my "SCAMS" article, anything that is sent in such a manner is not a good deal, and often an outright fraud.

Now of course, today, the volume of junk faxes has died way down, as the fax machine has lurched toward the junkyard. Junk e-mails are cheaper and easier to send. Actually, they cost nothing to send and can be sent to millions of addresses in a nanosecond. A junk fax, on the other hand, requires the cost of a phone call and can take minutes to transmit. So the "junk fax" business is nearly dead at this point.

Even without the problem of junk faxes, however, the fax machine has other difficulties. These devices require that they be connected to your phone line. Some of the more advanced units will monitor the line when your answering machine picks up and if an incoming fax is detected, pick up and accept the fax. However, this may mean you have to give out your main number as your fax number, resulting an a lot of ear-splitting calls from fax machines, when you pick up the phone.

Adding a second phone line for faxes is very expensive, and can cost $18 to $50 a month in added fees to your phone bill. Since few people actually use faxes anymore, why bother?

But since the fax is not totally dead yet, many small businesses are stuck between a rock and a hard place. They cannot get rid of their fax line, as they still get occasional orders and documents from it. On the other hand, they are paying $50 a month for the fax line and maintaining an aging machine that sits idle most of the time. How can this cost be reduced or eliminated?

The Virtual Fax is the answer for more and more people. The idea behind the virtual fax is simple: You pay the virtual fax company a fee, and in return, they assign you a fax number. when faxes are send to this fax number, they are converted to .pdf files and e-mailed to your e-mail address. You can save the pdf files on your hard drive for later use. For things like sketches and drawings, this works out well, as I can often take these faxes and incorporate them right into a Patent Application, for example.

In this manner, you can receive faxes from anywhere you receive an e-mail. I have received and read faxes on my laptop at the airport. It works well. To send a fax, it is a little more complicated. You can either create a WORD document or a PDF file and then upload these through their website. You then select a recipient, either by entering their fax number, or selecting their name from your address book. Then you hit "send" and it goes. You can also add a cover page and cover page text from the website.

When virtual faxing started out, there were a number of players in the field, and some of them were not very nice to their customers. One of the most aggressively marketed was efax. And as I noted on my SCAMS page, anything that is aggressively marketed is usually a bad deal, and it was in this case.

I was all set to sign up for efax when I decided to type in "efax sucks" in my GOOGLE search box. I'm glad I didn't sign up. For what efax wanted a month, other services charged per year. Moreover, efax charged pretty onerous fees for sending and receiving faxes. They also reserved the right to charge unspecified extra fees if I had "excessive" faxes, but failed to state what this limit was, in terms of pages or number of faxes. Worst of all,they used a negative option signup, which made it hard to quit the service, and a number of complaints on the various sites related to credit card charges made long after people said "I quit".

At the time, too, efax was using a proprietary format for the faxes, so when you got a fax, you had to use their viewer to view it. This meant that it was hard to import faxes into other programs, such as adobe. My understanding is that they have switched away from that model, due to customer demand. But even then, their pricing is onerous:

"eFax Plus costs only $16.95 (USD) per month, with a one-time $10.00 (USD) fee to activate your number. You get 130 pages of incoming faxes free each month. Outgoing faxes cost $0.10 (USD) a page to numbers in the U.S. Incoming faxes cost $0.15 (USD) a page."

$16.95 per month? What's the savings in that?

After searching around, I found a better service, maxemail (http://www.maxemail.com/). They charge $14.95 a year (as opposed to $16.95 per month) and charge minor fees for sending faxes as well. Maxemail is about 1/13th as much as efax!

I have had the maxemail service for 5 years now, and it has worked out well. I sold my fax machine at a garage sale, and got rid of a phone line ($50 a month) and the need to buy all that fax paper and tonor (which I sold on eBay).

Of course, as time progresses, my need for maxemail will decline. I have one client who refuses to use the Internet, and prefers to send everything by fax. He's 78 years old. When he dies, probably my need for maxemail will die with him. But, as a stop-gap solution to keep a "legacy application" going, maxemail works out well. I have a dedicated fax line for only $14.95 a year.

Sometimes a company delivers its promises on a product or service, and when that happens, all too often, we take it for granted. I am very happy with maxemail because they simply did what they said they would - delivered a product as specified. Kudos to them.

Note that there are other virtual fax sites out there and I am told that some are even cheaper than maxemail. Since I am happy with my service and the cost is reasonable, I do not plan to switch. But if you are in the market, you might consider shopping such a service around. There is no reason to be overcharged for virtual fax service!

Isn't it interesting that two competing companies can coexist, where one charges over THIRTEEN times for the same service as the other? It just goes to show you, you can save a BUNDLE if you are willing to shop around!

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