Price guide for vintage computers (long)

From: Michael Nadeau <>
Date: Mon Oct 29 15:39:49 2001

Since the cat's out of the bag, I should respond to the comments about the
vintage computer book I recently completed.

First, it is not just a price guide. I call it a field guide that primarily
helps you identify a computer and tells you what its key components and
options were when new. It does give a value range. This was at the
insistence of the publisher. My original proposal was for a 500-600-page
vintage microcomputer encyclopedia, like the Catalog of American Cars
(actually, I modeled the original proposal on The Complete Encyclopedia of
Motorcars by G.N, Georgano and first published in 1968). The publisher
thought that it would be a hard sell to the bookstores and distributors. The
book would be too expensive for them to take a chance on what would be
considered a new genre.

For the record, I wrote this book out of an appreciation of computing
history and because of the misinformation being distributed about old
computers on eBay and elsewhere. I don't buy and sell vintage computers and
have no intention of doing so for a living in the future. The book speaks to
the enthusiast, not the dealer or speculator. Someone doubted whether a such
guide could be successful. I don't expect to sell a lot of copies for now,
but this is the type of project that could be sold for years with periodic
updates. In the long run, the considerable amount of work that went into it
will be rewarded.

The book covers microcomputers and portable computers only. It's what I know
best. It include more than 700 systems and 350 photos (numbers subject to
change). The latest word from my publisher is that is will be available in
June next year. I expected publication for late this year, but I was a bit
late and their production is backed up. I haven't even had an initial
reaction from the editor, so I'm uncomfortable saying any more about the
book for now.

However, I will reply to a few comments made on the value and wisdom of
price guides.

--eBay: Using eBay as a price guide works only for common items where you
can look at selling prices for, say, 15 Osborne 1's in similar condition and
figure an average. It is not good for rare systems where you can't factor
out buyer over-exuberance, inaccurate descriptions, deceptive sellers, etc.
In fact, there is no good pricing benchmark for most collectible computers
where no public record of sales exists. This makes creating a price guide a
dicey proposition, and I'm careful to spell out all the dangers of relying
too heavily on any guide. And there is no copyright issue with using selling
prices from eBay for a pricing guide (I didn't--just one of several data
points I used) as long as you don't copy the format in which eBay presents
them. The prices are facts, and you can't copyright a fact.

--Price guides as evil: If people try to make a living from buying and
selling old computers, or purchasing them as an investment, it won't be
because of a price guide. From a dealer perspective, price guides work best
for frequently bought-and-sold items. In this hobby, that means the C64s,
Atari 800s, TRS-80 CoCos, etc.--the perennial low-buck items that dealers
can't make any money on. As I said above, there is no data for what people
are paying for most vintage computer models, and I expect this to stay the
case for the foreseeable future. Dealers and speculators will have to rely
on their own observations and gut feelings, as the successful ones tend to
do. As for thrift shops, I expect that they will choose to remain ignorant
about old computers and I don't see them spending money on price guides.

--On dealers and speculators ruining the hobby: You could probably count
using the fingers on one hand the number of dealers making a living buying
and selling vintage computers exclusively. Old computers are high-overhead
in terms of storage, testing, handling, and prepping for sale. It requires a
great deal of knowledge and a network of buyers/collectors willing to spend
high prices on rare systems. The hobby is too small for more than a few
dealers to remain viable. I expect the hobby to grow slowly (price guide or
no price guide) for similar reasons. Not everyone has the knowledge or
storage capability to fully appreciate vintage computers. I could be wrong,
but I don't see the old computer hobby turning into what the old car hobby
is today. To me, it's more like the old radio hobby--large but still
accessible to the person of average financial means.

--On the true value of price guides: Someone mentioned that it was to the
collector's advantage if the seller didn't know what a given system was
worth. True, but how do you know what that computer is worth? If it's
something you're familiar with, then you probably know its value as well as
any price guide author, but what if you run across an unfamiliar but
interesting system? How do you know then if you're the one taking advantage
of someone's ignorance or vice-versa? The buyer is always the final arbiter
of value, but a price guide can help keep you from getting burned or clue
you in on a great deal.

I'll keep everyone on this list posted on the book's progress.


Michael Nadeau
Editorial Services
Received on Mon Oct 29 2001 - 15:39:49 GMT

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.0 : Fri Oct 10 2014 - 23:34:22 BST