How much is that Amiga in the window?

Our deputy editor, Ben Vost, decided to go into the big wide world and see whether anyone would sell him an Amiga

It was a wet Thursday morning in November when I went out searching for an Amiga in the shops local to Macclesfield, ones that should be familiar to people the country over as sources for technological equipment. I donned my trenchcoat and hat, checked the batteries and tape in my hidden tape recorder, loaded my SLR camera with film and slung it out of sight under my coat, then I walked out my door. I proceeded (presumably in an orderly fashion) into Manchester.

The first shop I came to was no help at all. I walked in and boldly stated my purpose; "I want to buy an Amiga. Have you got any?", to which the man behind the counter replied, "No.". When I asked him why in a shocked tone of voice, he merely replied, "This is a fishmongers, sir." Alright, alright, I know it's a crap joke and one of the oldest in the book, but unfortunately, I may as well have been in fishmongers in Manchester for all the luck I had trying to get an Amiga.

My first, and best, port of call was the Silica Shop in Debenhams in Manchester's Arndale Centre. After wandering around the shop for a bit admiring the jerky scrolling on the Windows machines I discovered the Amiga 1200, accompanied by a Microvitec 1438 monitor. The monitor was switched off, but in turning it back on I found the Amiga was on and running a demo of Virtual Karting. When the sales assistant had finished dealing with the other customers in the shop I approached him and gave the same story I used at every other shop, namely that I was a poor, starving student engaged in a graphic arts course at university and I needed a computer to do 2D graphics and hopefully output to video and 3D graphics later on. I explained that I only had a budget of 500 and that what I really wanted was a machine that I could buy that would do what I needed and which I could expand at a later date when I got some more money. I also stated that I didn't care about the make or compatibility of the machine. Without fail every one of the shops I went into started by offering me a 486 for around the 900 mark (including VAT). Obviously, they all needed a slight nudge in the right direction, so in each case I mentioned the fact that one of my friends had an Amiga and it looked quite good. In Silica Shop, as soon as I mentioned the Amiga, the sales assistant (who was their PC bod) realised that the Amiga would actually be quite a good choice and told me that the graphics for Babylon 5 and seaQuest DSV were all produced on Amigas. I kept up my act of wide-eyed innocence and said that that was quite an impressive track record at which point the sales assistant said that he didn't know very much about Amigas apart from the fact that they were very easy to use and could be hooked directly up to a video, etc. He suggested I wait for his colleague, the Amiga expert, to return to get the full gen, but he was himself far more enthusiastic about the Amiga's capabilities than his erstwhile comrade.

My next visit was to the Dixons in the Arndale Centre. I waited to see the computer expert, rather than deal with someone who only knew about stereos and, once he was free, he came over and started to sell me a PC. Unfortunately, once more, the budget that I had fabricated of 500 was again exceeded, this time by about 150 in the form of a PC that wasn't going to be able to do what I wanted out of the box. I pushed in the direction of the Amiga (Dixons don't actually sell Amigas at the moment), but the salesman seemed uncertain as to the availability of the machine and suggested that they were no longer in production.

Thus discouraged, I decided to cheer myself up by going to visit the Escom shop in John Dalton Street in Manchester. 'After all', I told myself, 'Petro Tyschtchenko said that Amiga Technologies were going to place the Amiga in Escom shops after all because of the high rate of Amiga experience in the staff running the shops.' I wasn't lucky enough to get one of those shops though. I walked around the showroom for a bit taking in the mini-towers, desktops and full-size towers that littered the workbenches (no pun intended!) around the room. The only sign of an A1200 was a stack of three empty boxes in the window. I told my tale to the nearest salesman and he suggested I buy a... PC. His cheapest PC was about 620 and came with practically nothing by way of sweeteners. When I asked about a suitable paint package the Man from Escom told me I could use Windows' Paintbrush. I shunted the conversation towards the Amiga in what was by now becoming a slightly desperate attempt for somebody, anybody to recommend Escom's new baby to me, but to no avail. The salesman's eyes just glazed over when I mentioned the Amiga and he frantically tried to cover up the complete lack of knowledge that he had about the machine. When asked if the Amiga ran Windows, the salesman didn't think so, and when I asked him about the specification of the machine he tried to look on the box, a job I could have done (the Amiga Magic bundle makes no mention of the machine's specification on the box). He couldn't even tell me the price of an Amiga without having to consult another employee. I said that the PC was too expensive to start with and I just wanted a machine which I could expand at a later date, to which the man from Escom said that the Amiga was categorically not expandible. I turned on my heel and walked out.

I'd had my fill of Manchester. I trudged back along Market Street despairing of any of Manchester's citizens being persuaded to buy an Amiga in these PC-dominated days. Maybe my luck would be better nearer to home, in Stockport.

So into the shopping centre I went, hoping for a better performance. I went into the Dixons and approached the first guy I saw in the computer department. "I'm looking for a computer.", "What specification do you want?", "I want it to be cheap. I only have about 500." At this point in the exchange one of the Dixons staff sniggered to his colleague, "He's hoping! A computer for 500!". At this point I was tempted to just walk out, but I persevered. I explained my situation and gave all the cues for them to suggest I try Tandy who do stock Amigas. But no, I was told that I should come back when I had the requisite, and by now familiar, figure of 650 to spend on a PC. As I left the shop I could hear the salesman and his cronies laughing behind me.

My last hope. Tandy, not a name to inspire confidence. I walked downstairs to the computer showroom where, notwithstanding the Amiga box on display in the window, there were only PCs to be seen. It was in Tandy that I suffered most at the hands of the evil PC bigots. Unfortunately, my cover story as a starving art student was spoilt somewhat by the fact that the guy trying to sell me a machine had just finished a course similar to the one I described and so he was at pains to try and show me some solidarity. He told me of the joys of owning a PC and showed me a machine that was 250 over budget, adding that it could do everything I wanted it to do. While he demonstrated the amazing benefits of PaintShopPro, a shareware image processing and paint package, he told me that a PC was the machine I needed. I told him I had seen an Amiga at work and was quite impressed and he said "The Amiga is nothing like this whatsoever". The guy at Tandy has to be congratulated though for pointing out some of the more serious deficits of the Amiga. He said that there wasn't much transportability of files (yes you can write to a PC disk on the Amiga, but you can't save out a document in Word format), you might not be able to get a suitable printer driver (actually he said that you can't even get a cable for a printer to connect to an Amiga) and you can't buy what software there is anywhere. He also advised me that I could upgrade my PC a bit at a time as I could afford it and end up with a far superior machine than the one I bought, relatively cheaply.

Unfortunately, things don't look too hopeful from what I've written, but the staff in the shops weren't entirely to blame. For a start, the Amiga doesn't appear to offer all that much for 399 compared to what the PCs offered for 650. It might seem like a huge jump in cash terms but remember when you buy a PC you are also getting a monitor, 4MB RAM (at least) and a sizeable hard drive. It's no wonder that shops that do carry Amigas don't try to sell you them, when selling a PC system is so much easier to justify to a potential punter.

Some of the blame must also rest on Amiga Technologies' shoulders, particularly the fiasco in their own shop. Not enough people are aware of the fact that the Amiga is back in production and by a company who are supposed to be different to bad ol' Commodore. In the death, people will only go into shops asking for an Amiga if they know about it and see its benefits. Unless Escom are willing to put some time into promotion (it doesn't have to mean expensive advertising campaigns) the Amiga is still going to sink into a bottomless pit. Shops won't carry it because they don't sell, they don't sell because the shop staff persuade people to buy PCs, then people who want to buy an Amiga can't find anywhere to buy one from so they buy a PC too, and so it goes on.

The solution to all the above comments is of course to make friends with your local independant retailer. He is in a position to be able to sell you an Amiga and support it too and much of the Amiga's massive success (along with its future success) has been thanks to the small computer shop owner.

Quote from Silica: "Babylon 5, [seaQuest] DSV, they're all done on the Amiga..."

Quote from Dixons, Manchester: "It would suit your needs down to the ground. It's a 486DX..."

Quote from Escom: "You won't be able to upgrade that [the Amiga]..."

Quote from Dixons, Stockport: "I know Escom took over the repairs and such, but I don't know if they still make the machines."

Quote from Tandy's: "As soon as you mention video work, it's not within the budget you're spending."

mail me!back last updated: 4th November 1996