Commodore Advert - 17th November 1982
From Just Seventeen
"Your starter for £150 - the Commodore VIC-20"
Commodore was fairly revolutionary in its approach to selling computers: rather than just using the traditional tech outlets like Radio Shack, or electronics and nerd magazines, they elected to also sell their computers through high-street retail channels. In the US, this included Wall Mart, whereas in the UK it was possible to buy a VIC-20 off the shelf at high-street chains like Woolworth's and Boots the Chemist or supermarkets like Fine Fair and Tesco. This wasn't especially popular with their dealer network, but did enable the VIC to become the first-ever computer to sell over 1 million units and to be one of the most significant early factors in making computers popular in the home. This was also helped because Commodore, at least in the UK, was also a profligate advertiser, with much of its early UK output overseen by Kit Spencer. This contrasted with Commodore in the US where it was generally left to dealers to provide advertising, a situation which left Commodore in third place in the US compared to number one in the UK. Spencer was eventually moved over to the US in order to sort the advertising situation out and by 1982 the company was reported to have spent close to $14 million dollars, just behind the $19.7 million spent by the mighty IBM and way ahead of TI's $8.8 million and Tandy's $5 million.
The VIC-20 advertised at Byteshop/Computerland, © Popular Computing Weekly, 6th May 1982The VIC-20 broke through the million barrier at the end of 1982, at about the same time as Commodore announced that its sales had risen 63% on the previous year to £189 million (around £650 million in 2021), with profits up to £25.2 million. Microcomputers - including the PET - accounted for some 75% of the company's revenue. The UK was one of the largest divisions, accounting for 25% of world sales, but it was still in the US where the biggest growth had been seen, with an increase of 190% - 800,000 of the 1-million VICs sold so far were in the US. The UK wasn't doing too badly either, where sales had increased 120% in the first quarter of 1982/83 over the previous year.
This advert, as if to demonstrate the completely different target audience compared to conventional computer marketing, was placed in the teenage girls' magazine "Just Seventeen". When the VIC was launched in the UK at the end of 1981, its retail price was £199 plus another £45 for the tape drive, and so it had already dropped by over 40% in real terms 11 months later.
VIC-20s, along with 1540 disk drives and 8023 printers, were manufactured or designed in one of three Commodore plants: Braunschweig in West Germany, Santa Clara in California and Tokyo, Japan. Meanwhile, ICs were shipped from MOS Technology's US plants to Hong Kong, where they were assembled and tested. These were then, either in Tokyo or Hong Kong, inserted in to PCBs (main boards) and shipped to the three manufacturing sites. Even in 1982, electronics manufacture was a truly global endeavour.
In the same month as this advert, another international supplier of add-ons for the VIC-20, Computer World of the Netherlands, launched a plug-in card that provided a 40- or 80-column display (the VIC's standard display was famously only 22 characters across - the fewest of any home computer that used a television or a monitor). This plug-in, however, cost around £150 (the same again as the VIC itself), so it was worth wondering why anyone would buy one instead of just getting the newly-released Commodore 64. It was swiftly announced that the launch of the 64 in the UK was being delayed to the middle of December or even later into 1983, which gave the VIC-20 a reprieve as Commodore had originally planned to withdraw it upon the launch of its more-advanced sibling. As it happened, the VIC would remain in production for several years more as it became the machine that Commodore just couldn't kill off, no doubt helped by ongoing offers like one from high-street TV rental specialist and retailer Rumbelows, which in an agressive move was offering the VIC for only £140, in part exchange for an old TV game or a Sinclair computer.
The VIC-20, with its limited characters-per-line and miniscule 3.5K available memory was never considered as a serious business machine - Personal Computer World saying that "the VIC home computer from Commodore and the idea of serious business use don't obviously go together". Despite that, software company Stage One announced a database package for the "friendly computer" in the spring of 1982. All it required to run was an extra 16K memory cartridge, a disk drive and a printer. Stage One of Poole, Dorset, was claiming that this was "the first serious business-type program on the VIC".
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