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Possible TI-99/4 and 4a history book - thoughts?

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#1 Bill Loguidice OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Jul 24, 2014 1:13 PM

I've been thinking on and off about what my next series of projects will involve, and one thought that came to me as an offshoot of a related idea was doing a definitive TI-99/4 and 4a history book. I'd like it to be similar to one of the more recent books I did, CoCo: The Colorful History of Tandy's Underdog Computer, with Boisy Pitre. One of the advantages we had with that book was that Boisy had a good headstart of key contacts to interview for the book (which in turn led to others over time) and had considerable and very specific subject matter expertise (I brought the writing and publishing expertise, as well as my overall perspective on the industry over the years--it helps to have both a superfan and casual fan working on a subject such as that). My original idea after that CoCo book was to write either a ColecoVision or Intellivision history book, but both of those have since been spoken for. I didn't really think there was anything else worth covering that hasn't already been covered, but like I said, based on some other ideas I was working on, I think Texas Instruments's personal computing ambitions would make for a nifty story. As I stated in another thread, it's long overdue for the TI-99/4a to get some more exposure, and this is a potentially great way of doing it.
 
Anyway, the main reason why I'm writing about just a germ of an idea is I'd like to get some feedback. Like I said, one of the reasons why the CoCo book turned out so good was that we had access to many of the individuals who made that computer series what it was. Without that same type of access, this book wouldn't be as good, and I really wouldn't accept such a scenario. I'd like to get a sense of how potentially available key individuals would be for interviews, and if anyone has good archives available (outside of what has already been generously made available online, of course). As with the CoCo book, I think it would be a good idea for me to partner with (as co-author) a true TI-99/4a expert, which I can balance out with my more casual, but still extensive collection/knowledge of the computer series.
 
I would target this book to a traditional publisher. With that said, there's always a chance that a publisher won't be interested, and, in that case, self publishing would have to be pursued. I haven't had to self publish yet, but there's always a first time, so that's something to keep in mind. As with most books of this type, there is little monetary reward either. If written well, this could certainly move at least 1000 copies over a few year span, which is not much, but would be acceptable for a niche product like this.
 
Anyway, thoughts, comments, suggestions, etc., are all welcome and appreciated. Thanks!


#2 Ed in SoDak OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Jul 24, 2014 4:32 PM

Stan Veit who published Computer Shopper supported many systems in his large-format and thick magazine. He serialized the story of his own involvement in the early years in the industry and I think he covered the TI as well as the beginnings of Apple Computer. That was republished as a book and is still being sold last time I checked. Unless you have the original Computer Shopper issues, you'd have to acquire the book, as it's no longer online that I've found.

 

Then there's Bill Gaskill's Timeline written in 1993, found on www.99er.net: http://www.99er.net/hist1.html

 

Both of the above histories would make good reference material if you chose to pursue the idea further or give you a bar to aim for with fleshing out the subject.

 

I think many of TI's employees from that era always carried a torch for the TI99. I believe a few of them are members here.

 

My own recollection was seeing a 99/4 in a Sears store, thinking "This is really neat but no way can I afford it" I had to wait until they hit the flea market tables a few years later in the mid-1980's.

-Ed



#3 save2600 OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Jul 24, 2014 5:02 PM

A history book on the TI computer? Hell yes please!

The very first home computer I bought with my hard earned money in the early 80's and still love to this day. :love:

#4 John_L OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Jul 24, 2014 5:06 PM

Just don't type it on a TI-99 and you're golden... ;)

 

Realistically, it sounds like a good project.  



#5 --- Ω --- OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Jul 24, 2014 6:34 PM

It would be fun a read, but I question the financial viability of such a venture.  The time you'd invest in the project, against the probable financial return, gives doubt you would break minimum wage for your efforts.   If it's a hobby based labor of love, well that's something else.  If you have the time to devote, by all means go for it.   I have no clue how receptive or large your prospective market is, but I suspect it's not as large as the CoCo's.   Honestly, I doubt I'd pop $32.95 (like the CoCo book) though, my price point for a book that I'll read once and then stick on a shelf for the next 20 years is about $20.00.  Those are my thoughts FWIW.



#6 save2600 OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Jul 24, 2014 6:50 PM

I bet it would sell well. TI crowd is not only large, most of us would love to read all about our beloved system. I prefer hardcover books still, but even if it were Kindle or eBook only, I'd be fine with that. :)

#7 Subby OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Jul 24, 2014 6:54 PM

As with many of these companies, corporate politics played a huge part in the process, and with TI apparently doubly so.
According to an old article in Texas(?) magazine just after the 99 was killed, there was quite a story behind that machine.
I'd like to hear your version Bill.

(I just hope it doesn't make me want my TI-99/4a collection back, I pretty much had to pay Rcade to take it away!)

#8 --- Ω --- OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Jul 24, 2014 6:56 PM

(I just hope it doesn't make me want my TI-99/4a collection back, I pretty much had to pay Rcade to take it away!)

 

 It probably will!  When the TI bug bites, it bites HARD!  Might as well start looking on eBay now!



#9 Bill Loguidice OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Jul 24, 2014 7:58 PM

It would be fun a read, but I question the financial viability of such a venture.  The time you'd invest in the project, against the probable financial return, gives doubt you would break minimum wage for your efforts.   If it's a hobby based labor of love, well that's something else.  If you have the time to devote, by all means go for it.   I have no clue how receptive or large your prospective market is, but I suspect it's not as large as the CoCo's.   Honestly, I doubt I'd pop $32.95 (like the CoCo book) though, my price point for a book that I'll read once and then stick on a shelf for the next 20 years is about $20.00.  Those are my thoughts FWIW.

 

"Financial viability" is not a concern. I've written many books and it's never been a case of making enough money to justify the effort (somewhere in the 90s, the business changed dramatically to the point where it's almost impossible to make decent money at it). I write books because I like to write them.

 

As for the cost of the CoCo book, it was a miracle getting a major publisher to bite on the concept. It costs what it costs because it's a niche book with a modest print run. This would be similar. I too was disappointed with the retail price, but I still consider it a victory because it was (overall) done right and well received (just look at the reviews). The cost in that case is irrelevant since I think a potential reader will be satisfied with the end product. If I were to proceed with this idea (that's still a big "if"), I would expect the same high standard, and, if the price were indeed in the same range, so be it. No one is forced to buy it, but if they do and they enjoy it, that's good enough for me.



#10 roberto OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Jul 24, 2014 9:10 PM

Personally, I'd definitely be interested in such a book if you write it: the TI99/4A was the first computer I ever saw as a kid!

As a fellow author I am also interested in your views and thoughts about the self publish or publisher options, as I have the same dilemma. I'd definitely like to have more control on the final price of my books which, so far, has always been set much higher than competing titles released by smaller publishing houses or self published. 

 

I'm actually currently working on a new computer history book as well (but on the C64, not the TI) and, in the end, I decided once again to work with a well known publisher (Springer in this case). Major reason for not self publishing, though, was that I work for a University in a kind of "publish or die" situation and if I self publish.... well, let's just say it wouldn't count, academically speaking, and I could be in trouble if I use my allocated research time for such a project  ;) ! Also, the publisher agreed to let me keep the rights for an edition in my original country/language (Italy) and I may actually try to self publish over there and see what happens.

 

Anyway, keep us up-to-date with this: a good book on the TI is surely overdue!  


Edited by roberto, Thu Jul 24, 2014 9:14 PM.


#11 carlsson OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Jul 25, 2014 2:05 AM

If possible, might the book cover Texas Instruments' aims in the home computing/gaming sector as a whole? I'm talking about how the custom chips in the TI-99/4 eventually became available to others: VDP and PSG, how the TMS9995 found its way into DIY projects, Tomy Tutor etc. Not just technical detail, but also business strategy, whether TI resorted to become a chip supplier due to their own computer(s) didn't get as large market as they might have wanted, or if it was the other way around that TI released the 99 series just to showcase some of their custom chips. There could even be a few short chapters on the other systems using TI chips.



#12 RobertLM78 OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Jul 25, 2014 2:12 AM

Just don't type it on a TI-99 and you're golden... ;) ...

:lol:

 

On a serious note though, there are a few ways to get 80-columns text on the TI, making that prospect a little less nightmarish.  (Of course there's the keyboard's limitations as well to consider).



#13 am1933 OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Jul 25, 2014 6:01 AM

If the Tandy CoCo can support the need for a book then the 4a could easily do so as well. I would go as far as saying that the TI home computing story would probably be more interesting than it's Tandy counterpart.

All those "juicy"-questionable corporate decisions such as the use of a 16 bit processor, the use of Grom, the closed hardware, the impossibly slow basic, the extortionate prices, the eventual cost cutting, the battle with Commodore, the cost reduced 4a(with 3rd party lockout), the departure from the home computing scene and the trashing of the 4a's replacement (ti99/8) when it was almost ready to go to market.

Yes-there is a book in there somewhere ;-)

 

Might even buy a copy if it comes to fruition.



#14 Bill Loguidice OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Jul 25, 2014 7:45 AM

Yes, I would think the book would have to cover all of that. My main concern at this point is getting access to a sufficient number of people who were involved in the development of the computer and key executive decision makers, with a secondary focus on other "supporters," like magazine publishers, game publishers, etc. If I can't establish a minimum number of contacts to help augment the usual types of research, there's really no reason to do the book. While I think it can still be entertaining to consolidate the research and recap the history, without any first-hand accounts, that's not really the type of book I want to write at this point (I've done enough of those types of books). The CoCo book worked so well only because we had access to a sufficient number of movers and shakers to provide first-hand accounts.

 

To supplement this general posting here, I'm going to put out a query on the TI-99/4a mailing list. 



#15 am1933 OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Jul 25, 2014 10:50 AM

You might want to talk to Jack Tramiel about the price war-oh....wait a minute.



#16 John_L OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Jul 25, 2014 12:23 PM

If the Tandy CoCo can support the need for a book then the 4a could easily do so as well.

 

I don't really see your logic.  The Tandy Color Computer outlived and outsold the TI by leaps and bounds.  Yes, the TI did ok in sales, but The Color Computer line did better, and continued to be manufactured for an addition 7 years, long after the death of the TI.  Your post seems to imply that the TI was more relevant and prevalent than the CoCo, which is entirely untrue.  Millions more units (thus users) existed and still exist for the Color Computers, and while the TI lives on in the retro scene, so does the CoCo and the community is larger.  Glennside Computer Club decided to throw one last CoCofest after the Rainbow CoCofests ended in 1991, and this year they held their 23rd "last CoCofest".  Not that I don't think that a TI book shouldn't be done, but I highly doubt that one could say "If you can do a CoCo book, a TI book would surely do better".



#17 Bill Loguidice OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Jul 25, 2014 12:34 PM

 

I don't really see your logic.  The Tandy Color Computer outlived and outsold the TI by leaps and bounds.  Yes, the TI did ok in sales, but The Color Computer line did better, and continued to be manufactured for an addition 7 years, long after the death of the TI.  Your post seems to imply that the TI was more relevant and prevalent than the CoCo, which is entirely untrue.  Millions more units (thus users) existed and still exist for the Color Computers, and while the TI lives on in the retro scene, so does the CoCo and the community is larger.  Glennside Computer Club decided to throw one last CoCofest after the Rainbow CoCofests ended in 1991, and this year they held their 23rd "last CoCofest".  Not that I don't think that a TI book shouldn't be done, but I highly doubt that one could say "If you can do a CoCo book, a TI book would surely do better".

 

Here's the thing... I'm not sure if the CoCo actually sold more than the TI-99/4 and 4a, which sold around 3 million units combined. Since we have no hard figures for the CoCo line (despite the best efforts of my co-author, Boisy), we can only *assume* that it sold more in its time on the market from 1980 to roughly 1990, but it could very well have been less. Either way, to their credit, even taking the fire sale into consideration, TI moved many more units from 1979 to 1984 (its last year on the market) than Tandy did in that same period. In fact, for a short time, the TI-99/4a was probably the best selling computer, something none of the three Color Computers could ever lay claim to. So, to put it simply, it's not quite so cut and dry one way or the other. Neither was a raging success in comparison to the usual mindshare (Apple II, Atari 8-bit) or sales (C-64) juggernauts, but each was historically significant (and an interesting story) in some way.

 

In any case, all things being equal, I think the CoCo and the TI series are more closely aligned than we may think, including the same modest audiences who would like to read about it. In the end, we're all after the same goals here.



#18 am1933 OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Jul 25, 2014 1:24 PM

 

I don't really see your logic.  The Tandy Color Computer outlived and outsold the TI by leaps and bounds.  Yes, the TI did ok in sales, but The Color Computer line did better, and continued to be manufactured for an addition 7 years, long after the death of the TI.  Your post seems to imply that the TI was more relevant and prevalent than the CoCo, which is entirely untrue.  Millions more units (thus users) existed and still exist for the Color Computers, and while the TI lives on in the retro scene, so does the CoCo and the community is larger.  Glennside Computer Club decided to throw one last CoCofest after the Rainbow CoCofests ended in 1991, and this year they held their 23rd "last CoCofest".  Not that I don't think that a TI book shouldn't be done, but I highly doubt that one could say "If you can do a CoCo book, a TI book would surely do better".

I implied nothing in my post about sales or popularity, in my neck of the woods both machines turned out to be as popular as a cup of cold vomit, I was trying to convey the ludicrous business decisions that were made by TI would probably make for a more interesting story given the impact-directly or indirectly that TI's attempts to get into the home market had on both themselves and their competitors.

Afterall-it was the price war between Ti and Commodore that forced TI out of the market place, the same price war had a major effect on Jack Tramiel being kicked out of Commodore, Jack Tramiel being kicked out of Commodre indirectly resulted in the rebirth of Atari etc.

There was also the effect that TI had across the industry in terms of component supply, practically every home micro had TI chips of some description inside them, Sord M5, Memotech MTX, Spectravideo, MSX, Colecovision, Sega, Tatung Einstein, Sinclair Spectrum, BBC Micro, C64, Vic20, Atari 800XL,Apple IIe etc.

 

Would a TI book fare better than a Tandy book?-I really have no idea, only potential sales figure of a book that does not exist yet will tell us that, do I care about sales figure or who sold what?-not really..

 

The price of a TI book compared to the Tandy book does concern me though, the TI book would invariably have higher production costs due to the use of colours other than green :-D



#19 save2600 OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Jul 25, 2014 1:27 PM

"The price of a TI book compared to the Tandy book does concern me though, the TI book would invariably have higher production costs due to the use of colours other than green".

:lol: :rolling:

Good one!

#20 Bill Loguidice OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Jul 25, 2014 1:48 PM

It would be a better joke if the comparison was with the TRS-80 rather than the CoCo. In any case, the final cost of the book is really irrelevant. The final cost is going to be what it is.

#21 Ransom OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Jul 25, 2014 3:29 PM

I would definitely buy it. I'm not a member of the TI 99/4a community, but I'm always interested in well-researched and well-written books about classic computers and the people who made them.

 

(I really enjoyed the CoCo book, by the way.  I've never owned a CoCo, but it was still a great read.)



#22 John_L OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Jul 25, 2014 7:50 PM

Well since hard numbers have never been available for the CoCo it's a bit of a moot point to argue who sold more, my only point was that I believe that the color computer having been actively manufacture for about 7 years more than the TI combined with Tandy's distribution capabilities and good technical support from Tandy that the CoCo line likely outsold the TI by leaps and bounds.

 

I still think though that a TI book would be interesting though because it would be interesting to understand the thinking behind TI (the company) in terms of their tight controls over software development and the sharing of technical data.  During that time, The IBM PC was still a newer, young computer, and the public viewed it as a business machine, and viewed $200 boxes you connected to your TV as "home computers" or hobbyist units.  The struggle for king of the hill was still yet to be determined, and I think Companies like Tandy, Commodore, TI, etc were still vying for the top slot.  I think TI viewed things that way, and I think they wanted the TI to be considered more of a business machine and less of a home machine, hence their decision to tightly control software development.  It would be an interesting read to find out who was thinking what, and when, to determine why they made the decisions they did.



#23 Britishcar OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Jul 25, 2014 11:29 PM

A cassette-driven TI-99/4A was my first computer, which I still own. I agree that the "TI" story has *really* never been written. I would definitely purchase your book/research. Good luck and keep us updated if you move forward.



#24 Bill Loguidice OFFLINE  

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Posted Sat Jul 26, 2014 7:24 AM

I'm 99% moving forward. As mentioned, I cross-posted this on the TI99/4a Yahoo mailing list, and got a lot of great leads after doing so. It seems like the CoCo community, the TI-99/4a community is also quite supportive and enthusiastic (as I anticipated). I also have a co-author lined up to help with the research load. So far there's only been one minor disappointment in regards to access to reference material, but I'll sort that out later on in the project. -

 

At this point the most helpful thing would be if anyone knows of any former (or present - you never know) TI executives and engineers I could contact who were involved in the development of any of that computer series or prototypes. I received a lot of great names to follow up on, but I think I'm still lacking any of those.



#25 Bill Loguidice OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Aug 21, 2014 10:20 AM

Just a quick update on the status of this book project. I've decided to officially proceed with this and will do so in conjunction with Randy Kindig (from FloppyDays Vintage Computing Podcast and others). This is meant as a long-term project, so I would expect this (for now) targeting a release for some time in early 2016.

 

Any further tips/suggestions/interview leads are always appreciated. Thanks.







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