Chapter 7

Optimism confounded


The Oric Modem


It is from this point in time that we can trace the beginning of the end. Oric Owner failed to appear in August or September. Scanning the newsstands in October, there was no sign of it.

Probably the first indication of trouble was a report in P.C.N. on the 4th August, 1984. Under the heading 'Pan claim shocks Oric', it reported that Pan Books, owed 120,000 by Oric for the Atmos manual, intended to serve a writ if payment was not made that week. They had talked to Allan Castle two weeks before, and had been told that Oric owed 2 million to 12 major suppliers. P.C.N. spoke to Mr. Castle:

"The debt position is broadly correct. We generally owe 25 suppliers some 2.5 million at the end of any given month. We are ploughing money into production for the Christmas rush, and this time of year is usually tough on cashflow. Pan have been kind enough to allow us more credit than one would normally expect, and Oric will be paying them shortly. Our current position is by no means unusual in the micro business."
P.C.N. followed up the story on the 25th August:

"In the past week Oric's debts have been put as high as 4 million, and it has even been suggested the company might pull out of the UK market. Oric has helped things along by cutting 15 staff at its Ascot HQ... To allay fears about its liquidity Oric is claiming $2.75 million worth of orders for its new German keyboard for the Atmos. These have gone to Germany, Austria and Switzerland, with $2 million made up by two major German retail chains... The company is still on the receiving end of discounting in the major retail chains. Just a few weeks ago Oric increased the price of the Atmos by 20, but prices in the shops are still around the 150 mark rather than the 190 Oric would like."
And again on the 8th September:

"Major creditors of cash-starved Oric Products were due to get together this week to work out ways of seeing the company through its current problems. The current cash problems were made worse last week when Oric went to court to answer a writ from KMP, its advertising agency, claiming 200,000 in unpaid bills. The court threw out a counterclaim from Oric that KMP had provided it with wrongful advice and ordered the company to pay the money it owes along with KMP s legal costs... Assembly and Automation Electronics, the company that manufactures the Atmos, is taking a sympathetic view of Oric's difficulties... Also involved in the discussions is Hitachi, which supplies disc drives and other components to Oric... A likely outcome is that Oric's creditors will agree to reschedule the debts so that the money will not have to be paid until pre-Christmas sales start to take off."
That indeed was the result of the creditors' discussions in mid-September that year.

Then came Oric Owner issue 9, October/November 1984. Not surprisingly, we learned that plans to go on the newsstands had been abandoned. Instead the 'Oric Club' was launched, with a club magazine called 'Oricall'. And it was confirmed that the Modem was now available - 18 months after it was first announced - for 100. And:

"Oric are to take a substantial number of pages on Prestel to create an Oric database."
In reality, of course, they did nothing of the sort. Indeed, nothing but a dummy issue of Oricall was, so far as is known, ever prepared.

It is interesting to compare the selling prices of the competitors in the home computer market at Christmas 1984 - Atmos 179, Spectrum 48k 129, Electron 199, Vic 20 129, and CPC464 349.

Published at this time was the 'Advanced User Guide' by Leycester Whewell, probably the most used book after the manual by those who possess it.

The French meanwhile were making hay while the sun shone. October, 1984 saw No Man's Land at one fell swoop release a 23 title range of Oric software in the U.K. We began to realise what we had been missing. Not to be outdone, Cardiff dealers Butex were advertising Oric goodies in French magazines - 'au prix anglais'. And there were new peripherals - both the Protek programmable joystick and DK'Tronic dual port joystick interfaces were launched that October.

But events in France now confirmed the first hints of trouble. The boss of the importers A.S.N., Denis Taieb, resigned on the 1st October. The French newspaper Hebdogiciel collared him:

"I remain with Oric International in a consultative capacity. But this is affected by the difficulties facing Oric U.K. They have financial problems with Pan Books, publishers of the Atmos manual. They created a storm in a teacup, but Oric have now agreed a debt moratorium with them... Last April our retailers in France refused to make payment with their orders (as Oric U.K. demanded of ourselves), and insisted on monthly credit terms. We imposed the same terms on Oric U.K., and really from that moment they had problems... I was unable to reconcile the views of Oric France and Oric U.K."
There were indeed problems in May 1984. A stock of twenty thousand machines had been sequestered by the bank. A.S.N. stepped in and purchased the stock in return for a five year contract, the rights to the names Atmos and Stratos in France, and the right to manufacture machines in France should they wish to - according to A.S.N.

Monsieur Taieb also revealed a further dispute about the Oric name. Having tried to stop Théoric using the letters oric in its title, he then tried to stop third-party disc drive manufacturer Jasmin from using for your Oric in their adverts!

So Hebdo turned its attention to the new boss, Claude Taieb (Denis brother!):

"Oric International has negotiated assistance from the British government so its finances have returned to normal. [Note: the only reference I have ever seen to such a move - JH] Six months ago Amstrad asked us to distribute their machine, but we refused because we were faithful to the Oric, because we believe in the machine... I hope to arrange a new form of collaboration with Oric U.K. - when the personalities change, the politics change."

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