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Friday 10 December 2021

Stock Answer - No Typewriter Ribbon Today, the Supply Has Gone Away

Looking to buy typewriter ribbons in an Australian office supplies store? Forget it! Contacting typewriter collector Richard Amery in Sydney (richarda5171 on eBay) is by far the best bet. Supplies of Fullmark ribbon stopped coming into the country from Malaysia at the time the novel coronavirus broke out in Wuhan, and by February 2020 they had completely dried up. The question is: Can this dire situation be blamed entirely on the pandemic, as being just one of the world’s many supply-chain issues, or is Covid-19 merely masking the real cause of the ribbon shortage? Are our outfits like Office Essentials simply not bothering to try to import typewriter ribbon, and using Covid-19 as an excuse for bad business practice?

These were among many thoughts that popped into my head while reading a fascinating comment piece by Amy Davidson Sorkin - about supply-chain issues - in The New Yorker last month. Under the heading “Stock Answers” in ‘The Talk of the Town’ column, Davidson Sorkin explained why a range of things are in short supply, from hire cars in America to a semi-conductors worldwide, and links them together. The main thrust is that the real reasons for such shortages aren’t always, strictly speaking, related to the pandemic. Davidson Sorkin is right to suggest that, while the pandemic has led to a new and possibly permanently changed way of life for most of us, it’s not necessarily to blame for all the changes we are experiencing.

Davidson Sorkin says, “supply-chain trouble suggests that something is off with the way we’re operating in the world. And that we don’t yet know the extent of our vulnerabilities. The issues can also be a serious impediment to a broader economic recovery.” She goes on to add that “What’s often at the heart of a supply-chain issue is a labor issue … Labor shortages are the reason that so many things just seem to be in the wrong place – the prime symptom of a supply-chain squeeze.”

In Australia the minimum wage is almost three times higher than the US, there is childcare support and paid leave. Yet we’re finding here that not only are people reluctant to return to offices, having worked from home for so long, but some are reluctant to return to work at all, at least to their former place and form of employment. People supporting government policies point to job ads and say there is plenty of paid work available - if you want it. The truth is, however, that there are far fewer people in full-time employment now than there were at the start of 2020. The situation is so crazy that desperate restaurants are paying $90 an hour and $3500 as a sign-on bonus for dishwashers - and still can't find workers! The pandemic goes nowhere near fully explaining that sort of stupidity.

Davidson Sorkins says such situations are “not so much caused by the pandemic as exposed by it”, that supply-chain issues are a useful if insufficient shorthand when problems arise, and that pinning the supply-chain meltdown on the pandemic could be an evasion.  She points out that in Britain, multiple supply-chain breakdowns created by Brexit have been “masked by Covid”.

I agree with her on all counts. Davidson Sorkin’s broad sweep takes in pasta, chicken wings, plumbing fixtures, construction materials, salad dressing and even some new books. Reading her piece, I couldn’t help thinking about some of the small yet significant ways it related to me, in my little world. (For one thing, I can no longer get The New Yorker as often and as fresh off the press as I’d like.)

As for typewriter ribbons – and in no way as a slight to Richard Amery’s reliable service – I undertook an experiment, paying $30.38 (including $2.76 GST and $6.69 shipping) to get two lots of spools through Amazon. It turned out that while Richard gets his ribbon from China, or so I believe, my Amazon order went to the US. One of the packages of two spools had a sticker on it saying, “Proudly made in the USA. We are US combat veteran owned and operated.” I haven’t tried the ribbon yet so can’t comment on its quality. What I’m more concerned about for the time being is that the package took 12 days to reach me. I won’t be going down that track again!

Putting aside Covid-19 problems and supply-chain issues for the moment, surely one of the first tasks for the Typewriter Insurgency when it takes control of the world will be to restore ribbon stocks around the globe. In the meantime, I do have a good supply of carbon paper, and if push comes to shove can use my typewriters to print documents without the use of ribbons. But I do wish getting ribbons was as easy as it once was.


Richard P said...

Only 12 days and only $6.69 shipping from US to Australia? That's very good!

Bill M said...

Seems to be a decent ribbon supply here in the USA. I agree with Richard on the time and price for shipping to Australia.

J.A.Young said...

The saboteur who Donald Trump appointed Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy, may soon be replaced and regular mail service to Australia could return to normal.
As The Sydney Morning Herald reported on Oct. 1, "The United States Postal Service has suspended most of its deliveries to Australia, infuriating consumers waiting for mail and businesses relying on overseas sales."
DeJoy's management decisions were widely seen as part of a long-term Republican party attack on the U.S. Postal Service and also an effort by Trump to disrupt delivery of mail-in ballots, widely used due to the pandemic, for the 2020 election.
As for ribbons, I've gone with bulk reels from Baco Ribbon and Supply in Ballwin, Missouri, and roll my own with a power drill.

Robert Messenger said...

I perhaps should have explained that until February 2020, I could walk a mile from my house to a store and buy as many typewriter ribbons as I wanted, at $9 each. The cost of postage and the time the ribbons take to get here are minor considerations against the loss of the convenience I once enjoyed. And that's what my gripe is about.