How many floppy disks do you have in stock at the moment?
Not as many as I'd like, something in the order of half a million. We carry all the different flavors: 3.5-inch, 5.25-inch, 8-inch, and some rather rare diskettes. Another thing that happened organically was the start of our floppy disk recycling service. We give people the opportunity to send us floppy disks and we recycle them, rather than put them into a landfill. The sheer volume of floppy disks we get in has really surprised me, it's sometimes a 1,000 disks a day. [...]
Are there still any companies left that produce them?
I would say my last buy from a manufacturer was about ten or twelve years ago. Back then I made the decision to buy a large quantity, a couple of million disks, and we've basically been living off of that inventory ever since. [...]
Who are your main customers at the moment?
The customers that are the easiest to provide for are the hobbyists -- people who want to buy ten, 20, or maybe 50 floppy disks. However, my biggest customers -- and the place where most of the money comes from -- are the industrial users. These are people who use floppy disks as a way to get information in and out of a machine. Imagine it's 1990, and you're building a big industrial machine of one kind or another. You design it to last 50 years and you'd want to use the best technology available. At the time this was a 3.5-inch floppy disk. Take the airline industry for example. Probably half of the air fleet in the world today is more than 20 years old and still uses floppy disks in some of the avionics. That's a huge consumer. There's also medical equipment, which requires floppy disks to get the information in and out of medical devices. The biggest customer of all is probably the embroidery business though. Thousands and thousands of machines that use floppy disks were made for this, and they still use these.
If there is still a demand for floppy disks in the industrial world, why would the manufacturers stop producing them?
People tend to think about floppy disks in the same way as CDs and DVDs. To produce these, you only have to pour plastic in one end of a large machine, and you're getting CDs or DVDs out at the other end. Even though this might already look like a complex process, it's nothing compared to the manufacturing of a floppy disk. A floppy disk has perhaps nine unique components. There's the plastic moulding, the cookie, a shutter, a spring, etc. [...] The amount of effort it would take to recreate a manufacturing line for all of the pieces that go into a floppy would be virtually impossible. [...] People have been living off of inventory for five or ten years now. [...]
When you think about a manufacturing process that's getting to the end of its life, you have to consider that the testing equipment falls out of calibration. [...] In the end the quality was so bad that people didn't even test the disks anymore. Rather, they just tried to format the disk and if it didn't work, they knew it was bad. They started spitting out as many disks as possible to burn through the remaining stock.
Tom Persky is the time-honored founder of floppydisk.com, a US-based company dedicated to the selling and recycling of floppy disks.
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