Amiga and Commodore news and topics not covered in the other forums
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intric8
Seattle, WA, USA

The mysterious sales numbers of Commodore computers

by intric8 Wed Apr 06, 2016 9:19 pm

ars1.png
Source: Ars Tecnica (US). 1980-1984
For Commodore fans there has always been a love fest for all things C64, the beloved breadbox 8-bit computer released in 1982. Let’s be honest. The C64 was the darling child of the early 80s and supported by the company and its partners long after the lifespan of the technology seemed warranted. In the eyes of the Commodore user, the company could do no wrong since the computer and its fans were stuck in time together.

When it comes to the Amiga (released in mid-1985), however, the relationship with Commodore was and is much more complicated.

Within a couple of years after Commodore acquired Amiga in its infancy, many Amigans became bitter over how the “machine from the future” was so mis-handled.

We love the original computer scientists and engineering geniuses who created the 8-bit Commodore computer as well as the team who created the Amiga. Of course.

But the repeating record on many Amigan's turntables plays something like this:
Inept lack of marketing or strategy; No R&D; Executive incompetence; Corporate mismanagement; Mangled sales tactics; No leadership. Lack of vision. No coherent strategy for business customers needs. Originally years ahead of the competition, yet left to wither on the vine and die.
And on and on.

And yet, from our collective memories, we all believe there was some sort of Commodore product in nearly half of US households that owned a home computer, not to mention sales worldwide. The "other people" had various Atari computers or green monochrome Apple II or II+, Tandy or, ultimately DOS Frankensteins. We'll be nice and not mention the sad Coleco Adam, since most everyone has forgotten this lonely child.

But are our memories real? Was what we saw around us true, or were we living in a bubble?

We aren’t entirely senile. In 1983, US-based Time magazine went so far as to name the personal computer to be the “Machine of the Year” for 1982 instead of what had been the “Man of the year” in years past. Something big definitely was going on. This was about a U.S. cultural phenomenon that was taking place, and the rest of the world was joining the parade as well.

The only way to dig into this history would be by simply looking at the numbers. Let's take a hard look at the worldwide sales figures for Commodore and Amiga computers and go from there.

Unfortunately, it isn’t that easy.

There are no official company numbers. They are cobbled together by computer historians, fans, magazines (fed by marketing departments) and past employees.

But since that's all we have left, we'll do our best.

What was Commodore’s sales reach?

Well that's a loaded question. Worldwide? By country? Which computer?

Over the decades Commodore created many products. Launched in 1980, the VIC 20 sold 2.5 million units [1] before it was discontinued in 1985 and had the distinction of being the first home computer to sell over 1M units. For the sake of this post, however, I will focus on the Commodore 64 and Amiga line of computers.

C64
It is believed (I say believed because there is no online source with explicit numbers to link to) that Commodore sold “somewhere around 22M C64s - making it the best selling computer of all time.” [2] Some other sources guess the numbers to be somewhere between 10-17M. One could argue the iPhone has blown that record away in modern times, but in the 80s and 90s these numbers would have been beyond staggering, hence the Time cover story.

Wikipedia claims, “At one point the company was selling as many computers as the rest of the industry combined.”

In 2005, Ars Technica did a nice job of demonstrating market share of the various platforms from 1980-1984 as seen in this chart.
ars1.png
Source: Ars Tecnica (US). 1980-1984
After 1984, the C64 continued to climb to incredible heights even amongst far superior machines in the marketplace, and in particular during the immense growth of the emerging PC/clone market.
ars2.png
Source: Ars Tecnica (US). 1984-1987
Getting reliable numbers by-country is nearly impossible, which is unfortunate as it would have quieted a lot of sniping and chest beating in forums for decades to come. Anecdotally, I can personally say that the C64 was very popular in U.S. urban areas. The California market alone probably dwarfed most European countries in terms of pure sales. All combined the C64 market in the U.S. was massive, and the cracking scene seemed as popular as playing the games themselves. Over time the demo scene, however, often seemed to be shared more from our European brothers. Germany and the UK definitely had strong showings, and still do to this day.

Amiga

Amiga struggled to separate itself from Commodore’s legacy of being perceived as a cost-cutting budget computer brand. As a result Amiga was unable to achieve a dominating foothold even though its elegant design and power was obviously superior for those that ever saw it in person.

Finding reliable numbers for the Amiga prove harder than the C64, although several sources (many of which have gone dark in recent years) have tried. Some look to magazines (mostly published in Europe, so the focus might be partial), others looked to serial numbers stamped on cases, while others looked to past employee recollections, which are also prone to error or being myopic to region.

In any case, I shall lump all Amiga models together even though I know this is painful for some to bear. The more powerful boxes sold well in the US for those deep in video production. The 500 was huge worldwide. The 1200 seemed to rule the UK in the early 90s, etc. But let’s look at the numbers we do have (with a grain of salt).

According to C64-wiki.com, which includes a mishmash of numbers from a collection of magazines (presumably all European magazines) and an email from a past Commodore employee named Dr. Peter Kittel, some numbers for the Amiga might be gleaned, if they are to be accepted.

Dr. Kittel claimed sales of the Amiga (in general, not by model) were as such:
kittel.gif
Dr. Kittel's recollection of sales figures. Note how remarkably explicit the Germany numbers are - perhaps those alone are at least close (up to 1993).

It is worth explaining that Dr. Kittel was an employee of Commodore in Germany. He eventually was laid off and rehired by Escom after they won the auction of the Amiga brand and intellectual properties in 1995.

One site, which is now dark, claimed to have some sales figures by-country. These numbers were captured by a user of the forum Amiga.org in 2004, and represent all Amiga sales, by year:
1985 100,000
1986 200,000
1987 300,000
1988 400,000
1989 600,000**
1990 750,000
1991 1,035,000**
1992 390,000
1993 155,000
1994 50,000
** totals inline with public C= sales statement

That all being said, from the lowest estimate to the highest, the Amiga computer line seems to fall, worldwide, between 4M and 7M units total. Each country will likely think their own to have been the largest. In reality, it likely falls somewhere between the U.S., UK and Germany.

It is tragic that in today's era of data we don't have a more complete picture of a beloved tech company and its fortunes. Considering the impact on culture the C64 and Amiga computers had, it really boggles the mind to discover such a gap in history.

In a completely anecdotal poll taken by Amiga Love on Twitter, the 500 and 1200 are still today's favorites amongst various fans.


Footnotes:
1. Bagnall, Brian (2006). On the Edge: The Spectacular Rise and Fall of Commodore, Variant Press. Page 221. ISBN 0-9738649-0-7

2. Wikipedia

Brilliantly detailed chronology of Amiga Computers by Ken Polsson.
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Shot97
Detroit, MI, USA

Re: The mysterious sales numbers of Commodore computers

by Shot97 Thu Apr 07, 2016 4:14 am

Oh good, I'm happy my many years of piecing it all together more or less lined up with your numbers. I think my overall sales was a lot lower, thinking it more like 4.5 million total Amiga's period where you put it a little over 7 million. But my country numbers were very accurate to what you turned up, in fact I even had the U.S. with lower sales of about 1 million. But my thoughts on Germany and Europe in general were dead on. I don't care who wants to fight who over sales dominance, I just want to state the fact is the U.S. meant a world more than anybody online is giving it credit for. With those numbers, not to mention the big box Amiga sales, not only was the U.S. super important for Commodore, it was a driving force in the games and software industry. What is being spewed on YouTube these days with the notion that the Amiga meant nothing in America, dead wrong, and it needs to stop. I'm sure everyone would have liked more sales, but what was had was not terrible, especially when compared to other single model computer of that era. I don't want to start wars with any countries, I just want some respect given to America... Because I was there... I know what it meant, and I know the people talking about it from Europe and DOS users from America simply do not have a clue and they need to either research up on this stuff, or they need to shut up about it. Nice write up.
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zzap64

Re: The mysterious sales numbers of Commodore computers

by zzap64 Tue Apr 12, 2016 1:40 am

Great article and I appreciate the printing of sources.

1990 750,000
1991 1,035,000**
1992 390,000
1993 155,000
That's quite a fall in sales numbers if true.

I would say that 1990 / 1991 was the peak for the Amiga, certainly going by thickness of magazines etc. I remember Amiga Format being quite a weight around then and was at one stage the biggest selling male interest magazine in the UK, which was quite an achievement but I'm surprised by the sudden fall to 390K in 1992 and even less in 1993 especially as this is when the A1200 came out.

Obvious those 16-bit console were eating into the Amiga market quite a lot at that stage (amongst other things) but I would have thought sales of the A1200 alone in 1993 would have been higher than 155K.

e.g. from one source.
Apr 1993 A1200 breaks all records, 100,00 sold since release.
and (if true) that was only in April, so plenty of months in the year to go.
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intric8
Seattle, WA, USA

Re: The mysterious sales numbers of Commodore computers

by intric8 Tue Apr 12, 2016 8:16 am

@zzap64 yes you're right about that 404. I'm on vacation for the next week but will fix that immediately upon my return.

So glad to have you on board here! My quest for quality content about the Amiga and thoughtful discussion by passionate fans is slowly happening, I feel. It's going to take a long time but it'll be worth it.

But first I'm off to snorkel at Molokini crater! :) Cheers everyone.
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Shot97
Detroit, MI, USA

Re: The mysterious sales numbers of Commodore computers

by Shot97 Tue Apr 12, 2016 6:26 pm

I've always been skeptical of the Amiga 1200's popularity. It was fairly cheap at launch at $600 but Europe was not known for upgrading machines. The only official numbers are from Germany, which claim 95,000 sold. When it was launched Commodore didn't have enough to meet demand and by the time they did I'm sure plenty of people lost interest. Comes out late 1992 without proper supply, it probably had an okay 1993 but you've got to remember AGA was nothing too special at that time... You had to be a die hard Amiga fan to go for those machines. then Commodore was dead and Escom raised the price for the thing when they got control. I wouldn't be surprised if the claims of the 1200 being the 2nd most popular are untrue, and that the 2000 sold more units. That would be very impressive considering how much more the 2000 cost, but it was quite popular in America. It may be what a lot of people want now, considering it's faster and plays most of the earlier games as well as its own, but those numbers don't surprise me at the time.

I remember my dad being very hyped for the 4000's release, he was considering buying it... Amiga World had a very big issue dedicated to it when it came out. But he kept reading in the next months and readers were sending in letters bitching about "yeah, I've got this great new machine, where's the software?!"

Of course fantastic games were still coming out on the older systems at that point... With the proper choice of colors a 32 color Amiga game proved many times that it could look every bit as good (and still sometimes better) than the DOS version. When a game did come out for AGA it was often a straight DOS port. There was still more "love" being put into the OCS games converting them than there was for AGA stuff. People wanted that killer app... It never came.
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PhilsComputerLab

Re: The mysterious sales numbers of Commodore computers

by PhilsComputerLab Thu Apr 14, 2016 5:11 pm

I grew up in Europe, when I was in primary school quite a few of my classmates had an Amiga 500. I was stuck with the C64 and my dad got a 286, so I was on the PC pathway, but yea, out of the class I'm sure at least 5 kids had an Amiga 500.

Once the 386 was common with VGA and Sound Blaster and I went to high school, it was just PC. I don't think any of my classmates had an Amiga 600 or 1200, at that point it was already quite a niche product to go with an Amiga.

This might not mean anything, just what I saw back in the day :)
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Shot97
Detroit, MI, USA

Re: The mysterious sales numbers of Commodore computers

by Shot97 Fri Apr 15, 2016 8:57 am

I like to think in bigger terms when discussing such issues as popularity. In Europe, considering they were very budget minded, I feel the thought of them maybe not wanting to upgrade because of the money situation is something to consider. I certainly use that argument when discussing the Amiga in America, and how we had far less of a need to pirate software where some companies were saying by 1989 they didn't want to sell anything to Europe because they kept stealing everything.

But I don't don't like to use too many personal stories when discussing these issues because those stories can easily represent false truths when others pick up on them. For example, the common belief these days is that the NES meant nothing in Europe. They did not care one bit about the NES according to almost everything I see on YouTube. But the NES sold 8 million in Europe... Much more than the Amiga did. It was not even put out until like 1989 in Europe, and it still beat it by at least double!

So one guys story about how he never saw an NES but he saw a whole bunch of Amiga's means nothing to me. In the same thought process, plenty of American's like to say the Amiga meant nothing here because they never saw one... Yeah? Well how many computers did you see? I saw about one DOS machines, a few Apple IIs in school, one Apple II GS, 2 C64s... Lesson? You had a DOS machine and thus you happened to see a couple DOS machines in your life, wow... In reality computers were not big, there were a hell of a lot more consoles out there...

When talking about what I saw back then having an Amiga in America, I like to talk about things that I can back up with proof. For example, in Detroit, just one major city, there were two Amiga only computer stores within 10 miles of me. Upon getting a hold of an Amiga dealers list I found there were 4 in the Detroit area, and every single major city had at least 4. Traveling a little further outside of Detroit? There were two in Grand Rapids, the 2nd largest city in Michigan and several scattered across the state.

So when people say they never saw a store show an Amiga... I like to slap them and say not only did I see those stores first hand but I have proof they existed. How many stores sold DOS computers? There was no Comp USA or Best Buy selling that crap back then, they were all independent dealers, and there were only a handful of them... My belief is the Amiga and DOS, we were all in the same boat. IFFFFF you were interested in computers you would find several options, but you're not just going to walk across the street and find a store like that. No matter what you had. These people that never saw an Amiga had DOS machines, so of course they saw plenty of DOS machines when their parents took them to the store... Just like I saw plenty of Amiga's!

Personal memories are only good if you act upon them and try to validate the claims. So while I wouldn't doubt people were heading toward the PC end when you were in high school, I wouldn't say just because you knew a bunch of people with PCs that it meant much.
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PhilsComputerLab

Re: The mysterious sales numbers of Commodore computers

by PhilsComputerLab Fri Apr 15, 2016 5:44 pm

It might not mean much to you, that's fine. I couldn't care less for statistics and figures, in the end of they day I saw it first hand. And Europe is made up of many countries, so you can't lump them together like Americans like to do.

The NES was everywhere. It was pretty huge. Every toy store had one for sale and on display. We would sometimes skip school and play on the Nintendo in the shopping mall. Good times. Many friends and friends of friends had one.

Money certainly wasn't an issue at the time. No recession or anything like that. So a 386 PC was certainly much more expensive than an Amiga 1200. We did have dedicated computer stores for PCs, but the Amiga was mostly sold through retail outlets similar to Media Markt now. They sold PCs, consoles, Amiga, Cameras, TVs everything.

I got a 386 in 1993, the Amiga 1200 was just not competitive at that time. Magazines would report the same, games with 11 floppy disks, slow loading times, limited colours, cut down animation and music.
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intric8
Seattle, WA, USA

Re: The mysterious sales numbers of Commodore computers

by intric8 Fri Apr 15, 2016 6:54 pm

Indeed many blame two things in particular from that time: Myst and Doom. This pointed directly at (1) the Amiga's closed architecture and (2) Commodore's baffling decision to never ship a computer with a CD-ROM.

The ultimate irony was the Amiga ushered In the era of the multimedia PC, but never took the logical step toward multimedia mass storage - not really. The closed architecture killed the chance for true interactive Doom experiences. Loading 9 floppies onto a HDD counts as a fail.

I recently read that Miner had designed an incredible Amiga upgrade as early as 1988 - something that would have catapulted the Amiga ahead many years again. It was called the Ranger project (AAA).

But Commodore dropped the ball big time and only ever released dog-paddle incremental upgrades before drowning entirely.

It is kind of telling that that you could find the Amiga at Toys R Us (a huge US toy chain store)... C= really didn't understand the computing market at all.
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Shot97
Detroit, MI, USA

Re: The mysterious sales numbers of Commodore computers

by Shot97 Sat Apr 16, 2016 4:44 am

I disagree with the Toys R Us implication. A lot of people like to point at the fact that the Amiga was available in Toys R Us or other general stores in Europe as a reason for their success there VS "failure" in America. On the contrary, I believe Commodore did understand the Amiga was not the same thing as the C64. You see this discussion time and time again from magazines. In fact, when that first CD-ROM console came out, readers of Amiga World tore it apart! How dare Commodore go the toy route! You know how hard it was to get serious computer people to consider Commodore? And now you're to throw it all in the trash for this crap?!

Commodore had built themselves an affluent base of users with the Amiga. The NES ruled in America. If anyone thinks for one second Commodore could have sold the Amiga at Toys R Us and that was the answer they are deluding themselves. Not only would Nintendo have crushed them, kiss ANY success of the Amiga in America goodbye... Think the toaster would have ever been made if that machine was in Toys R Us? Not a chance in hell. I believe Commodore messed up in many areas... But I also believe Commodore was doing much better than Apple was at the time, and guess who's still around?

I always say be careful what you wish for... Many people have "what if" scenarios considering the Amiga... You change one or two things about how it all started and it might not even be around at all... That's how I look at it. Put that machine in Toys R Us in America and it would not have survived in any country past the 1980's. I think Commodore did understand the markets. Much better than people today understand them. They branched of into a Commodore UK and they let them do their own thing. I do not believe any Amiga was every sold as a serious computer in any European country. Big box Amiga's did not sell in Europe, it was just the 500's and 1200's, maybe 600 to a lesser extent. There are things you can gather from those facts considering economics.

But Commodore let them do their own thing. And here they took control. There are things to criticize about them, but not understanding the computer market I do not believe was one of them. They did their best to separate their name from the C64 and give the Amiga a shot as a real computer, which is what it was. I'm sure more and better commercials would have helped, lots of things would have helped... Toys R Us would not have helped, it would have killed them in my opinion.

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