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(Be sure to read this update: “Target Tidbits: Two-Print Coupon Limit Restored, and More”)

We’re only talking four coupons so far. But if it holds, it could represent the beginning of a troubling trend – Target is tightening up its printable coupon offerings yet again.

Target generally releases new printable store coupons on Sunday mornings. This past Sunday’s offerings were sparse, but notable:

Notable, because if you printed them, you may have noticed that you couldn’t print them again. Target’s traditional print limit of two per coupon, on these coupons at least, has been reduced to one.

Occasionally, a manufacturer might impose a one-print limit, even on store coupons. But these four coupons are for products from four different manufacturers. So it would appear that the change is Target’s own doing.

One Target coupon print per computer is a far cry from the original limit of, well, infinity. When Target introduced printable store coupons way back in late 2004/early 2005, you could print as many as you’d like. And many people did. Some blogs and message boards even offered what became known as “Target coupon generators” – select a coupon you liked, how many you’d like to print, and the “coupon generator” would conveniently combine them all onto one (or more) pages in order to save paper.

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It took until 2009 for Target to decide this wasn’t such a great idea. So after some cordial cease-and-desist letters from Target’s friendly cadre of lawyers, the coupon generators disappeared and Target installed new printing software on its site, limiting users to the general industry standard of two prints per computer. The coupons still came out looking identical, though, so there was little to stop the ethically-challenged from creating PDF files or simply photocopying them.

But that was all in the innocent, pre-“Extreme Couponing” era. Changes since then have become more frequent, and even more restrictive. In mid-2012, Target added the wording “limit one coupon or offer per guest” to its printable coupons. So even if you managed to print multiples, you’d only be able to use one per shopping trip anyway, unless you brought along some extra “guests”. Earlier this year, Target coupons began printing out with unique ID codes, to thwart the photocopiers (which could only have come as welcome news to some of Target’s competitors as well).

And now this – one print per computer. So is this the new standard, for all Target printable coupons to come? Hard to say just yet. Target spokespeople are happy to discuss things like Cartwheel (they love it) and SnipSnap (they hate it), but they tend to clam up when it comes to questions about their printable coupons. Target representatives did not respond to requests for comment about the “one print per computer” change, just as they had earlier declined comment about the addition of the unique ID codes, and the “one coupon or offer per guest” wording.

Very few stores offer printable store coupons at all, and Target’s can still be combined with manufacturer’s coupons, Cartwheel’s percentage-off offers, and even the 5% REDCard discount. So it could be worse. Unfortunately, if you haven’t quite gotten the hang of Cartwheel, and still remember the heyday of Target printable coupons, there’s little comfort in hearing that “it could be worse” – because, sadly, it already is.

UPDATE: Target has responded, with a denial. “There have not been any changes,” a spokesperson told Coupons in the News. But the rest of the denial simply quotes the last answer in the Target printable coupon FAQ, word for word: “Given that coupons are valuable, some offers have a limit as to how many times a coupon may be printed by the same guest/household, or total number of offers available in a promotion campaign. If you get an error message such as ‘you have exceeded your household limit’ or ‘this coupon is no longer available’, it’s likely you’ve encountered such limit(s).”

The spokesperson would not elaborate on the meaning of “there have not been any changes,” considering that the print limit on the latest crop of Target coupons clearly has changed. Whether it means the limit is just part of this week’s “promotion campaign”, and not a permanent change, remains to be seen. New Target printable coupons are likely to show up this Sunday. So stay tuned…

(NEW UPDATE: “Target Tidbits: Two-Print Coupon Limit Restored, and More”)

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