How many c64 (and c128) were actually sold?
As of January 16, 2022 I revisited this topic, took a closer look at the data and created a YouTube video to describe my findings. I’m going to leave this page intact because it contains useful links to the data if anyone else wants to dive into it.
You can view the video here:
My original blog post on this topic follows:
This is a topic that has received a lot of attention over the years with estimates ranging anywhere from 12 million to 30 million c64s sold by Commodore.
A quick Internet search yields this page as the first result:
It’s clear that significant effort went into that page. I’ll make no attempt to disparage the results on that page but I do think it’s important to correct one major source of misinformation that is mentioned on that page. The section about “Commodore’s numbers” says that the 1993 annual report lists total sales numbers of 17 million c64 and 4.5 million c128. Linked here is a full copy (pulled from microfiche, so the quality isn’t great) of the 1993 annual report. You will not find any mention of 17 million c64 or 4.5 million c128 anywhere in this annual report to shareholders:
Commodore’s actual numbers
Any conclusions derived from the incorrect citation from the ’93 annual report of 17 million c64 and 4.5 million c128 must be deemed inaccurate. So what do Commodore’s numbers say?
Because of generous contributions in the form of internal reports that I’ve received from Don Greenbaum, the former Treasurer of Commodore International Limited, we now have detailed unit sales numbers that were never previously available when prior estimates were generated. These are actual, internally generated, confidential sales reports created by Commodore. None of the sales numbers are estimates or speculative. Unfortunately, the detailed reports are limited to a few years of data so we still can’t pin down a total number with 100% accuracy. However, if we combine these numbers with the actual numbers taken directly from Commodore’s annual reports and other public sources we should be able to get pretty close. The goal of this article will be to do exactly that.
Presenting Commodore’s numbers
I struggled with how to best represent the numbers in this post. In Commodore’s annual reports, they lump c64 and c128 sales together as “the c64 family”. Some reports are based on fiscal year and some are based on calendar year. Some numbers were provided in bar graphs where the specific figures weren’t shown. I chose to add documentation by year. In cases where fiscal year vs. calendar year matters, I’ll note that. In each case where possible I’ll provide a link to the actual source of content. In cases where both the c64 and c128 were on the market simultaneously, I’ll combine their unit sales totals, since that’s what Commodore did in their annual reports.
Commodore released the Commodore 64 to market in either July or August of 1982. Commodore officially said July but Anders Carlsson put together a slew of different sources of information and derived the actual date to be August, 1982. This seems like a great topic for a future blog post, but I digress.
Commodore produced a presentation for their lenders on June 7, 1984 in which they don’t provide detailed unit sales numbers, but they do list a rough cumulative total of unit sales from July 1982 through June 1984 of “just under 3 million 64’s have been sold worldwide”.
Linked above here is Commodore’s supporting work papers for their 1986 financial plan in which we are provided with exceptional unit sales details for calendar year 1984. For the curious among you, total units sold in calendar year 1984 was 2,448,700, but that’s not really what we’re after. Ideally we’d like to pick up where we left off above in June 1984. These supporting work papers allow us to start at July 1, 1984. We’re going to have to miss a partial month. If we add up all the numbers for Q3 and Q4 of calendar year 1984 from the above report, we’ll see that Commodore sold 1,226,500 units from July 1, 1984 – December 31, 1984.
Our total thus far from July 1982 through December 31, 1984 is 4,226,500.
Yet again in the supporting work papers for their 1986 financial plan, we get unit sales details for calendar year 1985. For the curious among us, there were a total of 1,511,800 c64/c128 units sold in calendar year 1985. However, that’s not the number we’re looking for.
How do our own numbers compare to this cumulative total so far? Well, we determined that Commodore sold 4,226,500 c64/c128 through December 31, 1984. We have the detailed quarterly unit sales numbers in the above-linked report and that shows us that Commodore sold 662,300 total c64/c128 units from January 1, 1985 through June 30, 1985. Our total combined now sits at 4,888,900 total units sold from July 1982 through June 30, 1985. Also recall that we’re missing the month of data from June, 1984. Not exactly 5 million, but close enough for an annual report estimate. I’d say things are looking pretty accurate for us so far.
We left off at the end of June, 1985 so let’s start back up in July 1985 – the start of Commodore’s 1986 fiscal year.
Yet again, we refer to the 1986 financial plan supporting work papers. They tell us that Q3 of calendar year 1985 (July, August and September 1985) resulted in 340,800 c64/c128 units sold worldwide.
Even better, we can double check this because there’s another report that covers the same time period:
The trend analysis report linked above gives us total worldwide c64/c128 unit sales numbers for July, August and September 1985: 351,447
Uh oh. There’s a discrepancy of 10,647 units between two different reports for the same time period. For our purposes I’m going to trust the former report and use 340,800.
Our total combined worldwide sales of c64/c128 now sits at 5,229,700 total units sold from July 1982 through September 30, 1985.
To finish out calendar year 1985, we’ll go back to the 1986 supporting work papers report and note that units sold from October 1, 1985 through December 31, 1985 were 508,700 which brings our cumulative total to 5,738,400.
We pick up the second half of fiscal year 1986 beginning in January 1986 with another report:
This is Commodore’s revised financial plan for 1986 and it tells us that from January 1, 1986 through March 31, 1986 Commodore sold a total of 407,000 c64/c128 units, which brings our cumulative total up to 6,145,400 from July 1982 through March 31, 1986.
We’ll close out fiscal year 1986 with one more report:
This is a sales and inventory report that was faxed from CEL in Hong Kong to various Commodore executives on June 7, 1986. Unfortunately, it only extends to May 31, 1986 so we are missing the month of June to close out FY1986.
This report shows combined c64/c128 units sold from April 1, 1986 – May 31, 1986 were 229,046 which brings our total through May 31, 1986 to 6,374,446.
Sadly, our detailed internal reports run out by 1987 and we’re left to trust what the annual reports tell us. However, I believe I’ve made a convincing case from 1982 to 1986 that what Commodore was providing for their cumulative c64 family (i.e. c64 and c128 sales combined) unit sales were accurate. Here you can see that as of the FY1987 annual report (year ending June 30, 1987) the user base was listed as 7 million, meaning 625,554 units would have been sold from May 31, 1986 through June 30, 1987.
This citation was extracted from Commodore’s 1988 annual report to shareholders. Something isn’t adding up here. If we ended 1987 with 7 million units and we sold approximately 1 million more in 1988 we should end the 1988 fiscal year with an installed base of 8 million. Commodore, however, reported an installed user base of over 9 million units as of June 30, 1988.
As of fiscal year 1989 things are tracking a little more normally. Once again Commodore claims to have sold over 1 million c64/c128 units during the fiscal year, which brings the cumulative total to 10 million units as of June 30, 1989.
By fiscal year 1990 Commodore is still reporting around a million units sold per year with the cumulative total now at 11 million units as of June 30, 1990. Contrary to earlier reports, Commodore is back to only reporting on c64 sales, leaving out the c128 from the data. The c128 had been discontinued, but the c64 marched onward.
This excerpt from Commodore’s 1991 annual report to shareholders shows us that yet again Commodore sold about 1 million units during the fiscal year. The total for c64/c128 units now sits at 12 million units as of June 30, 1991.
“…total sales of the C64 now exceed 12 million units” as of December 31, 1991.
I have to end with this snippet from Commodore’s 1993 annual report to shareholders, year ending June 30, 1993. Commodore’s 1994 fiscal year would have ended on June 30, 1994 but as we all know, Commodore didn’t survive to see that date. As such, 1993 was to be Commodore’s final annual report to shareholders.
In this report, Commodore tells us that c64 sales from July 1, 1992 through June 30, 1993 were under 200,000 units. It also tells us that total units sold in 1992 were 650,000. With our last data in 1992 being 12,000,000 as a cumulative total and the numbers of this report totaling 850,000, we conclude that from July, 1982 through June 30, 1993 Commodore sold 12,850,000 c64 and c128 combined.
We have no insight into what sales might have been between June 30, 1993 and April 29, 1994 but given FY1993 sales of 200,000 we must assume they would have been negligible.
We can conclude that the Guinness Book of Records estimate of something like “up to 30 million c64s sold” is wildly inaccurate. There’s nothing to support anywhere close to those numbers.
Until we receive more data in the form of detailed sales reports, I’m comfortable listing the combined total of c64/c128 unit sales to be 12,850,000. Even this number might be high, given that in 1988 an extra million was added to the running total that can’t be accounted for. If there’s more data to be found, I’ll update this post or create a new one.
- does this include the SX-64, Drean, refurbs?
- I don’t know. I didn’t dive into the data deep enough to flesh out answers to those questions. It’s possible the answers don’t reside in the reports that are available to us, but I encourage you to examine the reports on your own and let me know your findings.