This web page contains the text of an article published in UK weekly magazine Home Computing Weekly on 6th September 1983 about TI99/4a supplier Stainless Software, proprietor Stephen Shaw. Please note that the later software house Stainless Software Ltd had absolutely no connection with this first use of the trade name.
Stainless Software Catalogue (historic- no longer trading).
Stephen Shaw is a great fan of the TI, whose solution to the software shortage was to set up his own company to get hold of some. Stainless Software, the UK's largest independent supplier of TI programs, was the result.
Stainless's current catalogue lists 71 programs. Of these, 26 are written by UK programmers under the Stainless label. The other 45 are imported from a selection of North American TI software companies. There's something in there for all tastes: arcade games, mind games, utilities, adventures, even a typing tutor.
Stephen and his wife Cathy run the software business from a corner of the dining room in their 1920s semi at Stockport. From this modest base they deal with orders, do some duplicating, and produce the Stainless catalogue - which also acts as a kind of newsletter, with information on cassette care, and details of the TI User Group.
During the day, they both work as bank clerks - Stephen at Williams and Glyns, and Cathy at Barclays.
But though they both work in banks, they aren't exactly laughing all the way to one on the proceeds from Stainless. Their turnover is "big enough to register for VAT" -- more than GBP 18,000 - but in the first quarter of 1983, Stephen says Stainless made a small loss.
"With only 20,000 TI-99/4A owners in the UK, even my most popular game won't sell more than a couple of thousand copies," he explained. "Fortunately, my interest is in the TI -- the sales are really just to support the user. I'm not in it for the money, so I sell at the best price I can - I deliberately keep my profit margins low." Thus speaks a true enthusiast.
Stephen's interest in computing was first awakened 10 years ago when Commodore announced the PET. He said: "I've a fascination for science and maths, and though I'm not an academic sort, I like to apply logical principles. I saw computing as a way to do that."
He sent off for details of the PET - and was "decisively ignored" by Commodore. But Texas Instruments had a store in Manchester where Stephen saw a forerunner of the present TI-99/4A. He borrowed the machine at weekends, and wrote to TI to find out more. "Unlike everyone else, TI did respond to letters", he recalls.
He was attracted to the TI machine on several counts. "It's easy to program it - the BASIC's well arranged. It's easy to hook it up to peripherals. For example, other computers have a difficult disc filing command. It's very easy to use on the TI. And the computer itself is neat and attractive. It sits in the dining room very nicely." In October 1981, he finally got his hands on a TI of his own.
But despite being a charter member of the 99er, an American magazine for TI owners, and a founder member of the TI User Group, Stephen found there was "a lot of information but no software" for the TI.
After sending off to the US for programs for his own use, he decided to try and distribute US software in the UK himself.
When he signed his first contract in June last year, with Not Polyoptics, there were a mere 100 TIs in this country.
With numbers like that, large software stocks just weren't on. So Stephen arranged to produce copies from a master tape supplied by the software company, and pay them a fixed percentage of the US price per copy - an arrangement which he still uses today.
But he finds that "the price difference is a problem" in selling software from the US, where consumers are used to paying $26-27 per program. Sometimes Stephen ends up selling programs for less than their selling price in the US.
Though he's sticking to his existing US suppliers, Stephen is now trying to get hold of more material from UK software writers. He currently has two regular programmers and about 10 or l1 others, most of which he got in contact with through the appeal for programs in his catalogue.
Stephen has one regular dealer, Galaxy Software, but he's wary of retailers on the whole because he says: "They want huge discounts. Whereas in the US they'll take 30 per cent of the selling price, over here 50-60 per cent is the norm. In order to keep prices down, I can't afford to give much discount.
"And I think the TI-99/4A itself is oversold by dealers -- they don't warn customers that you can't run arcade-type games in TI BASIC. Whereas in my mail-order catalogue, I can warn people that TI BASIC games will be slow.
"My biggest problem is the TI itself. lt's very good at what it does, but the unexpanded machine won't do what people often buy it for - playing arcade games."
To help people see the light about this much misunderstood computer, Stephen is currently writing a book for Phoenix Publishing describing the TI.
Though he's only written about 60,000 words so far, he plans to have it finished for Christmas, and says it will contain "a lot of information which isn't available elsewhere."
This image was taken for the magazine and appeared in the copy:
The Epson FX-80 printer in the image is sitting in the same place 28 years later, and still works beautifully. The joystick is from Arcade Hardware.
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