Saturday 23 November 2013

If You Build It, Will They Come?- Could A Modern Typewriter Company Succeed?


I'm sure that there are issues that I haven't covered. After all, I'm no engineer, businessman or entrepreneur. I just thought this would make for an interesting discussion. At the very least, it's a pleasant example of wishful thinking for those of us who'd love to see something like this become a reality.
Actually, this is what I wrote this typecast with.


  1. I'm assuming you're refering to manual typewriters, since I believe Brother-brand daisy-wheels electrics are still available at some of the "big-box" office supply stores, at least within the last year.

    The problem with manuals always comes down to precision of design and manufacture. The one company I can think of who does good business on boutique mechanical devices is Leica Camera AG. They can't make enough, and they ask a premium price on their cameras.

    Perhaps such a newly manufactured typewriter needs to be marketed with the affluent customer in mind, that way it can be made with quality materials to an exacting standard. I'd hate to see the end product be no better than some of the late-model Asian brands of late.

  2. You know what could be interesting? Using the most modern of modern technologies, 3D printing, and the current trend in book selling: printing on demand. That way you can have a small shop produce small quantities of products at a relatively small cost because you don't have to amortize all the overhead inherent to a "proper" factory.

    I think there IS a growing interest on typewriters, based on my personal experience: in the last two weeks I've sold six typewriters online. The main attractive of my ads was that the machines had been refurbished and were ready to use. So a brand-new machine, complete with case, ribbon and user manual, and a warranty, would be very tempting, particularly in the e-Marketplace.

    I would assume it should be relatively inexpensive, copyright-wise, to dig the patents and designs of some old models made by now-defunct brands, update them a bit, and use them as a basis to design the current models. If this is so, perhaps you could include a 1917 model, based on the Corona 3 folding but with modern 4-bank keyboard.

    And this brings me to another feature a modern typewriter would definitely need: all the characters to represent modern Internet parlance. Sure, things like hashtags, slashes and the like were included in most machines; but the at sign was a novelty to me the first time I saw it in a typewriter. Think of the characters you need to represent a URL, and they should be included in the character set.

    As for the color schemes, being a "build on demand" scheme gives you some liberties that you couldn't afford if you were running a traditional assembly line: you can make each product as personalized as your customer. So maybe you could include a few standard shades in the catalogue, but could accomodate any customer who wanted his/her machine painted in, say, neon pink... for a small extra fee.

    Finally, it might be worth looking at the traditional business model of specialty-car makers like Rolls Royce, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Bentley and the likes: they do not mass-produce their products, and yet are (mostly) profitable.

    I like this idea!

  3. I would be all in with my make-believe-money-growing-fingers!
    I would probably invest in ribbons manufacture first though to sustain the existing pool of typers...

  4. Ah, thanks for taking up my suggestion of this topic -- one of my favorite fantasies.

    As Joe and Miguel suggest, I think these would have to be expensive machines. The only way that the Chinese can manage to put a $100 typewriter on the market is because they still have cheap labor, and they make the typewriters as cheaply as possible. It shows, of course. Making typewriters to classic Olympia standards of fit and finish, quality and design, would have to cost more. One would have to convince the Rolex and Rolls Royce crowd that a new typewriter is desirable.

    Then, of course, there is the initial large investment of capital to get the equipment to make these things. Could 3D printers substitute for traditional machine tools? Possibly. Some of the better 3D printers can use metallic substances, and they are getting better and cheaper every day.

    A somewhat more plausible idea is that a company may decide to design some new shells for existing typewriters. There are thousands and thousands of good SM9's out there, for instance, with boring bodies. Whoever can design a "Marilyn Monroe body" for an SM9 could make a business of it.

    One last thought for now: the USB Typewriter technology, or something like it, could be built into a new typewriter to give it an easy connection to the digital world.

  5. Yeah it would be hard to match the quality of the originals - like your Royal for example.

  6. I'm going to expand on Richard's comments here. As someone who has been involved in both manufacturing, marketing and retailing products, I think I have a few ideas on how this could be possible - and viable.

    Firstly, You essentially need two mechanical designs - a quality constructed Mid-size typewriter, and a traveller portable. From there, you can achieve the objectives that you have with your variety of models. The externals - i.e. the shell and the carriage, can all be varied around a basic quality frame. Ideally the quality of construction to Olympia's standards would be ideal.

    3D printing technology, or more accurately rapid prototyping technology would be a viable way to keep some costs down. A production partner for the iPhone 4 had to bring in a bunch of rapid prototyping machines to use for constructing parts that they couldn't manufacture fast enough. As such, a lot of this technology has been used for such manufacturing since. These aren't machines like the 3D printers we talk about. This is what is called selective sintering - which is a way to basically hew complex shapes out of metal with a laser to a very high degree of accuracy.

    The biggest cost to a typewriter is the assembly and 'tuning'. Those cheap typewriters coming from china use a lot of labor, and they keep they costs down by using cheaply manufactured parts. You could produce a better quality machine, but you would have to ask more for it. The Chinese only seem to make bad constructed stuff because the western world looks for the cheapest way that they can use the Chinese to make something.

    Marketing the product is the crucial part. You could produce something that sells for $300, and sell it - if your marketing was right. And in this case, I think it is a huge up-hill battle. I personally think it could be done, but you would really need the product to be of a high-grade quality, because your target audience is going to be looking for a product that is worth the money they throw at it.

    PS. Crinkle paint is quite easy to achieve. You can even buy spray cans of black crinkle paint. Naturally, a workshop finish would be better.

  7. I like Joe V's concept of an expensive status symbol for people who want to be thought of as having discerning taste; of standing out from the crowd. Although it would be marketed as an elegant alternative to writing on a computer, it would also need to have USB output in order to sell. It would need to be expensive, and therefor marketed as a status item, because I can't believe that something with as many finely machined parts equaling the quality of an SM3 or a Studio 44 could be made now for less than $1,000.

  8. ahh, a wonderful dream, but your product would compete with a century's worth of production of a machine that was built to last, for a market that might be growing, but is still well south of tens of thousands. This market is weighed towards the budget-minded as well. It would be tough to invest in such a product, for someone who actually likes money. (:

  9. You would be competing with all of the antique machines already out there, and there are thousands upon thousands in basements, garages, attics... I have thought about this myself quite a bit. The biggest advantage in it would be that you could offer warranties and people who don't trust used products would benefit from the choice of a new typewriter, an option virtually unavailable right now (the Chinese things don't count, I own two of them). That would be the market, and I don't think it's a big one.

  10. Thanks to Scott for introducing me to sintering.

    Now I am envisioning a little cooperative factory, a makers' workshop and club, where typewriter enthusiasts get together to print, sinter, tinker, and assemble. Labor is volunteered -- it's paid for by the pleasure of the work and the chance to take home a brand-new, hand-assembled typewriter. It's not impossible.

  11. The talk about including USB capabilities gave me an idea. Perhaps you could turn the typewriter into an input-output peripheral for electronic devices like, say, iPads or tablets in general. After all, those things lack a proper keyboard and do not have a way to print anything...

    you could use the typewriter in stand alone mode, or, using a USB cable, transform it into a full keyboard for the ipad (a new use for that stencil setting in the color selector!)

    Then you could install a simple app in the iPad based in the old-style word processors of the early computers, and use the typewriter as a printer. It would only print text, of course; but thats a lot more than any iPad can print as far as I know...

  12. First, there needs to be an Olivetti-based design among your options. I think an improved Valentine has the coolness factor that appeals to the younger set.

    I'd also explore the educational market, perhaps targeting literacy programs in the mold of WordPlay.

    I really like this dream; I hope it comes to fruition. Otherwise, our best bet is for the Chinese to pay attention to improving the quality of the Scrittore.

  13. I like Polt's idea, but I'll take it one step further, so we don't geographically isolate people. A mail in typewriter club. Every week, you get a new set of parts, and instruction manual and video, and we assemble them as a group... Corresponding along the way, of course... What better way to learn about a machine than building it from the ground up?

    1. Now this idea is grand (:

      rope in the hardcore model builders as well :D

    2. Exactly. Get the maker crowd in on it, the steamounks, everyone--because once you have built the base, you can do whatever you want to customize it!

  14. I'm not sure about the exclusive 'high end' route. It is possible that a model such as Aprilia motorcycles might work with all the componentry outsourced and supplied as either individual parts or sub-assemblies. Then the brand owner assembles - or not - the whole machine. Self-build might harm quality perceptions. It would be interesting to see a Kolibri clone with carbon fibre shell etc and titanium used to reduce weight. In the cold light of daythough, it would cost more than anyone (outside the millionaire bracket that is) would be happy to pay - especially if they could get a vintage typer for much less. I'm not sure the pre-apocalyptic world is ready for a new typewriter just yet.

  15. I know I'm late to the conversation, but no matter. I think it's a great idea. Today, most companies are content to rip each other off. Look at the blatant similarities between the cars on the road, the computers in the office, and the phones in our pockets. It's been decades since manufacturers were encouraged to really push the envelope, to put feeling into their work.

    Would there be obstacles? Sure. Competition? Of course. Tough market? Probably. The company might want to test the waters first, advertising to people they know are likely to buy one. Say, you could advertise to governments or corporations, going with the NSA-proof approach. Russian and Germany are buying them by the hundreds.

    But imagine, the pride of being able to hold a brand new Made in U.S.A. typewriter. If I ever come into a large sum of money, I'd give it serious consideration.

    1. It would indeed be cool. To build something designed NOT to break down and be irreparable within five or ten years. I think that's the main reason why no company has gone ahead and built one.
      Thanks for stopping by!