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As far as I know, the popular low-end home computers in the UK around the mid-1980s were the Sinclair ZX-Spectrum ("Speccy") and the Commodore C64. I know the BBC micro also had a following, but my assumption is it was too expensive to compete, whereas the Speccy and C64 were not so far apart on price.

Was the Speccy mainly a less costly alternative to the C64? Or, were they priced so close that consumer preference was more important than price difference?

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    The CPC also did really well from a late start, in case you're curious. Also sort of a budget option, its big cost economy was coming with the monitor and tape deck built in for less than the cost of another machine plus those things thanks to cost savings through integration — only one PSU in the entire system, no RF modulator or demodulator anywhere, etc. – Tommy Jul 29 at 16:22
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Sinclair certainly competed vigorously on price, and designed their machines to achieve as low a price as possible. The ability to sell a computer for less than £100 was one of Clive Sinclair's goals with his earlier ZX machines, for example. One example of this influence on the Spectrum line was their membrane keyboard, another was the fact that they were sold in variants with less RAM (which was one of the more expensive parts of a microcomputer.) Price was a key area of competition between manufacturers throughout the 1980s, with manufacturers trying to meet and beat each others' prices and specifications.

A dig through the August 1983 issue of the UK's Your Computer Magazine (found on archive.org) includes advertisements from several retailers of microcomputers, and a full-page spread advertising a price drop for the Spectrum.

  • The 16K Spectrum was newly reduced from £125 to £99.95, and the 48K Spectrum was reduced from £175 to £129.95.

  • A nationwide dealership (confusingly named Spectrum) advertises the Commodore 64 at the much higher price of £345, as well as a clearance deal on Commodore's VIC-20 at £139.99. They offer the ZX Spectrum at the reduced prices mentioned above.

Other manufacturers' machines (with RAM sizes) offered by this retailer are priced as follows:

  • TI-99/4A: £149.95
  • Atari 400 (16K): £149.95, 800 (48K) £299.95
  • Oric 1 (48K): £169.95
  • Dragon (32K): £175
  • Colour Genie (16K): £194
  • Lynx: 48K £225, 96K £299
  • BBC Micro Model B (32K): £399
  • Sharp MZ-80A (48K): £546.25

As you can see, the price drops on the ZX Spectrum placed the machine cheaper than any of these competitors.

The BBC Micro was expensive compared to the competition, but it was very highly specified, with all sorts of expansion interfaces. It was more popular in the education and technical markets. Acorn introduced the Electron to try to compete at a lower price point, but it was late to market and had limited success.

One year later...

By November 1984, the same retailer is advertising the Commodore 64 with joystick, cassette recorder, and 4 games at £249. The new Commodore 16 (with only 16K RAM) is sold with a cassette recorder for £139.99.

Other machines haven't dropped much in price, but have bundled extras. The 48K Spectrum is still £129.95, but has 6 pieces of software thrown in for free. The BBC Model B is still £399, but now includes a cassette recorder and 5 pieces of software. Acorn's Electron is priced at £199.95 for the machine only.

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    With the introductary price of GBP 175, the ZX Spectrum certainly was produced with quite some margin - prices were dropped only when competitors came close (like the Oric 1, for example, which showed up in 1983). So, "were priced as cheap as possible" was not based on production and development cost, but rather on competitors' prices. – tofro Jul 29 at 16:25
  • @tofro The ability to sell a micro for less than £100 was a key price point for consumers too. – Kaz Jul 29 at 16:29
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    Good for pointing out that prices changed over time and manufacturers remained competitive. – Mark Williams Jul 29 at 18:46
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    Following up on my CPC comment to the main question; in 1984 you'd get the 64kb machine with the built-in tape deck with a green screen monitor for £249. £359 would get you a colour screen instead. Cf. regmedia.co.uk/2014/01/28/acpc464_5a.jpg . So compare that at the same price as the C64 and £40 cheaper than the BBC, even with the colour monitor. It did well enough that it achieved a place in the 1980s pantheon: the standard five supported platforms for games circa 1988 were the Spectrum, C64, CPC, Amiga and ST. – Tommy Jul 29 at 18:55
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    For US reader, the GBP/USD exchange rate was around 1.49 in August 1983, so the £129.95 48k Spectrum was ~$195 and the C64 was ~$515. The 1541 floppy drive was about the same price as the C64, so was rather rare in the UK. Floppies were around £2-3 each, so roughly $3.75 a pop. – scruss Jul 29 at 20:25

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