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Electronic gadgets in the consumers price index

This article looks at the different gadgets people in households have used for entertainment over the past 60 years.

And Electronic gadgets in the CPI gives a pictorial summary of the gadgets added to the consumers price index (CPI) basket over the past 60 years, and how much each cost at the time. 

Entertainment options in the home have come a long way from sing-alongs in the 19th century, and radios, records, and radiograms in the early to mid-20th century. Today we have flat-panel TV sets, home theatre systems, and tablet computers.

Once we gathered round the radio

Radio was an early entertainment gadget in the home. Radio broadcasting by private stations began in the 1920s (The Broadcast Archive, nd) but its popularity became widespread in the 1930s. By the 1940s, four out of five New Zealand households were tuning-in (Ministry for Culture and Heritage, 2012).

In these early years, to tune-in to radio, households did not only need to own radio-receiving sets but also had to pay annual fees for radio-receiving licences. In 1924, there were 2,830 licensed receiving stations (Census and Statistics Office, 1930).

Twenty-five years later, in 1949, about 432,000 radio-receiving licences were issued (including free licences to institutions such as public hospitals) (Census and Statistics Department, 1950). 

Radio was first included in New Zealand’s CPI basket of goods and services in 1949. At that time, tuning-in was not cheap. The average price of a radio-receiving set was about £21, or about $1,460 in today’s terms (September 2012 quarter) after allowing for general inflation. The cost of radio licensing was £1 and 5 shillings annually (about $87 in today’s terms).

 

Over the next 15 years, radio-receiving sets became slightly cheaper with the introduction of updated models, including transistor radios. By 1965, the average price of a portable transistor radio was £30 ($1,110 in today’s terms). At that time, the cost of radio licensing was £1 and 10 shillings a year ($56 today).

Radio licensing was abolished in 1971 (Department of Statistics, 1972).

Entertainment makes a move

Transistor radios became very popular in the 1960s and 1970s. Their smaller size and portability began to change the way people listened to music, sports, or news – allowing them to listen anywhere they went. In the 1970s, new forms of portable media players, such as portable radio-cassette players, became popular. 1965 Transistor radio
The radio-cassette player started as a simple radio device with tape recorder and mono speaker. We introduced radio-cassette players into the CPI basket of goods and services in 1980. The average price at that time was $255 (about $1,080 in today’s terms). 1980 Radio-cassette player 

Before the time of radio-cassette players and tape recorders, music was played at home using a radiogram. The radiogram combined a radio and a record player. Typically, it was styled in polished wood to blend with the furniture styles of the time. We added radiograms to the CPI basket in 1965, with an average price of £90 ($3,310 today), quite a hefty amount for many households.

However, the record itself had been in the CPI basket for about a decade before we tracked prices for radiograms. In 1955, the 45 rpm (revolutions per minute) single record, which typically had a song on each side, had an average price of 5 shillings and 6 pence ($13 today).

The 33⅓ rpm long-playing (LP) record, which stored a whole album of songs, was added to the CPI basket in 1965, the same year we added radiograms. At that time, one LP record was £2 ($73).

We removed single records from the basket after the 1977 CPI review. LP records were removed in 1993.  

Radio-cassette players remained in the CPI basket for over two decades, with changes in size and style that included tracking prices for portable cassette players like the Walkman.

Listeners hear better quality music and more songs

The emergence of the compact disc (CD) in the 1980s brought a change to the music recording industry. The demand for music on CDs gradually overtook the demand for music on records and cassette tapes. CDs were added to the CPI basket in 1988, with an average price of $30 (about $50 today). The price of a top-10 pre-recorded CD in the September 2012 quarter was $22 on average.  1988 CDs

The portable cassette players of the 1970s evolved into portable CD players in the 1980s. The CD players offered superior sound quality and the ability to skip tracks instantly, which cassette players did not have.

Then in the late 1990s, MP3 players were introduced into the market. These were pocket-sized, lighter, and more compact than CD players. MP3 technology compresses music into smaller audible digital formats, which enabled music downloads from the Internet. The first MP3 players had 32MB of storage, enough for approximately eight songs (Technabob, 2007). Over time, newer products entered the market and MP3 players now have many gigabytes of storage – holding thousands of songs, plus videos and photos. We added MP3 players to the CPI basket in 2006. At that time, a 2GB MP3 player had an average price of $380. In the September 2012 quarter, this would have bought a 160GB MP3 player. 2006 MP3 player

We began to track prices for music downloads from 2008.

Television emerges as an instant hit

Television broadcasting began in New Zealand in 1960, firstly in Auckland, then a year later in Christchurch and Wellington (Television New Zealand, 2012). Like radio, TV became an instant hit with households. Five years after its introduction, in 1965, nearly 315,000 TV sets were licensed in New Zealand (Department of Statistics, 1965).

Like radio, households paid an annual fee for a TV licence in order to receive TV broadcasts. In 1961, about 5,000 TV licences were issued. In 1965, this was up to nearly 315,000 (including free licences issued to institutions) (Department of Statistics, 1965).

In the 1966 Census, 63.3 percent of households had a TV set. TV coverage was not nationwide and ownership varied by location, based on availability of reception. The highest density of ownership was in the Auckland and Wellington regions (Department of Statistics, 1966).

We added TV sets to the CPI basket after a scheduled basket review in 1965. In 1965, the average price of a 23-inch black-and-white consolette TV set was about £138 ($5,120 in today’s terms) – five times as expensive to own as a portable transistor radio at that time. 1965 TV set 

In 1965, the cost of a TV licence was £6 and 10 shillings a year ($240 today).

Advertisements started screening within a year of television broadcasts starting, which provided additional funding for TV broadcasting. Over the years, advertising gradually increased and became the main funding source for ‘free-to-air’ channels. TV licensing was abolished in 1999 (Horrocks, 2009).

TV sets have evolved over the years and this has been reflected in the CPI basket. The following key changes have occurred since we first tracked prices for TV sets in the CPI:

  • 1965 – hiring a TV was added to the CPI basket. Because it was expensive to own one, hiring was an option that many households chose, although it was still expensive. In 1965, the average charge for hiring a TV for two years was about £119 ($4,400 today).
  • 1975 – colour TV sets were added to the basket. In February 1975, the average price of a 26-inch colour set was about $840 ($7,950 in today’s terms), a very significant amount for many households. In spite of this, TV ownership (colour and/or black and white) reached 93.8 percent of households, based on the 1976 Census (Department of Statistics, 1980).
  • 1979 – black-and-white TV sets were removed from the CPI basket as colour had become increasingly popular.
  • 1994 – pay TV was added to the basket. Sky, the first pay television service, began broadcasting in 1990 using an ultra-high frequency network. This progressively spread across the country until 1996. In 1997, Sky introduced a nationwide satellite service (Statistics New Zealand, 2010).
  • 2006 – flat-panel TV sets with LCD and plasma displays were added to the CPI basket. In 2006, a 32-inch LCD-display TV cost about $2,750. By comparison, the same size TV in the September 2012 quarter would have cost about $680.
  • 2008 – the era of cathode ray tube TV sets was coming to an end and we removed them from the CPI basket. Free-to-air digital television receivers were added to the basket, reflecting the introduction of Freeview.
  • 2011 – the CPI pricing specifications for LCD and plasma-display TV sets were expanded to include 3D-display TVs.

For more information on TV sets, see Fifty years of television in New Zealand.

Video recording shifts from tape to disc

The viewing experience has also changed over the years. In the 1970s, video recording became popular, which made it possible to record favourite television programmes and watch them later. Viewers could also hire movies and watch them at home. We added video-cassette recorders to the CPI basket in 1983. In 1986, the average price of video-cassette recorders was about $1,450 (about $3,470 in today’s terms). 1983 Video-cassette 

In the 1990s, DVDs arrived. They had more storage space than video-cassette tapes and higher quality video. Pre-recorded DVD discs were added to the CPI basket in 2006. The average price for a new-release feature movie on DVD was $33 in 2006, much the same as in the September 2012 quarter.

The Blu-ray disc is a newer media technology that offers five to ten times the storage capacity of a DVD. In 2011, we started to collect prices for Blu-ray discs.

To play digital video formats, households needed digital video players or recorders. These quickly became part of the entertainment options in homes. We added DVD players to the CPI basket in 2002, and DVD recorders in 2006. In 2008, Blu-ray players were added. Subsequently, we added prices for Blu-ray recorders.

As with music downloads, movie downloads from the Internet have become popular. Households now have the option to either rent or buy digital movies from the Internet. Movie downloads were added to the CPI basket in 2011.

Cinema experience brought into the home

The TV-viewing experience was further enhanced as equipment for sound reproduction became more sophisticated. With access to digital movies, households were able to simulate the sound effects and feel of the cinema in the home. In 2006, we added home theatre systems to the CPI basket. At that time, the average price of a system with five speakers plus a subwoofer was about $920. By the September 2012 quarter, prices had fallen about 30 percent. 2006 Home theatre 

Capturing those special moments moves from film to digital

The earliest possible use of photography in New Zealand was in 1841, a year after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. In 1900, the Kodak Brownie was introduced, making photography much more accessible to the general public (Ministry for Culture and Heritage, 2012). However, it was not until 1955 that items related to photography were added to the CPI basket. We added camera film, and photo developing and printing in 1955.

In 1955, the average price of a camera film with eight exposures was 2 shillings and 6 pence (about $6 in today’s terms), while the average price of developing and printing a film was 3 shillings and 10 pence (about $9).

We added cameras to the CPI basket in 1974. By this time, colour film and Instamatic cameras had been in the market for nearly a decade. Instamatic cameras were low-cost cameras in which films were easy to load (Jose, nd). By 1980, both Instamatic-type cameras and 35mm cameras were being tracked in the CPI. In 1980, the average price of Instamatic-type cameras tracked in the CPI was $39 ($165 today).

Thirty-five mm cameras remained in the basket until being replaced by digital still cameras in the mid-2000s.

Although the first professional digital camera system was introduced in 1991 (Ministry for Culture and Heritage, 2012), it was the early 2000s before prices were affordable to the general consumer. In 2005, we began to track prices for digital cameras. A 4-megapixel digital camera cost about $460 in 2005. Today this amount could buy two 14-megapixel digital cameras, based on September 2012 quarter prices.

In 2006, we dropped photographic film from the CPI basket and added camera memory cards. The average price for a 512MB memory card at that time was $117. The average price of a 4GB memory card in the September 2012 quarter was $29.

Tablets silence typewriters

In recent decades, leisure activities at home have evolved to include browsing the Internet, sending emails, and playing computer games.

Before computers, households used typewriters for writing letters and reports. We added typewriters to the CPI basket in 1977, when the average price was $175 (about $1,030 today).  1977 Typewriter 
The era of typewriters ended with the increasing popularity of personal computers. Personal computers provided many functions, including word processing. We added home computers to the CPI basket in 1988. At that time, the average price of a basic home computer was about $1,290. Five years later, after the 1993 CPI review, the average price of the personal computers being tracked in the CPI was $2,560. These were more highly featured than the home computers of the 1980s. By 1993, what had previously been regarded as ‘business’ computers had become more affordable for households (Classic Computers, 2009). Newer technologies have improved the speed and capacity of personal computers – desktop computers tracked in the CPI with 4GB RAM (random access memory) and a 1TB hard drive were $1,450, on average, in the September 2012 quarter. 1988 Home computer 
Once they owned a computer, it became common for households to also own a computer printer. Unlike typewriters, which produced hard-copy documents, a personal computer needed to be connected to a separate printer. The computer printer was added to the CPI basket in 1993, when it cost an average of about $550.  1993 Printer 

The flat-bed scanner became popular among households in the 1990s. We added it to the CPI basket in 1999 at an average price of about $350.

Nowadays, computer printers are typically multi-function devices, which include scanning and copying functions. Newer printers allow households to print text and produce high-quality images and photos. The average price of the multi-function devices tracked in the September 2012 quarter was $170.  2005 Multi-function device 

Laptop computers appeared on the market in the 1980s. As with the introduction of personal computers, laptops were initially adopted by businesses, particularly those whose employees worked on the move. Laptops have grown in popularity and they are now more popular than desktop computers. We added laptop computers to the CPI basket in 2006, when the average price was $1,600.

More recently, tablet computers and electronic book (e-book) readers have gained popularity. At the 2011 CPI review, tablet computers and e-book readers were added to the CPI basket. We also added e-books themselves in 2011.  2011 Tablet/ebook reader 

Electronic games diversify from arcade to Internet

Electronic gaming has become a very popular entertainment pastime. In the 1970s, coin-operated video games in arcades and takeaways were popular among young people. Also in the 1970s, home console systems were developed, which allowed games to be played using a TV as a monitor. In the 1980s, hand-held consoles, powered by batteries, became common and more recently, online gaming has grown.

We added electronic games and console systems, and video game hire, to the CPI basket in 1999. The consoles tracked in the CPI have changed since then, to reflect the availability of new generation consoles.

Electronic video game downloads were added to the CPI basket in 2011.

Summary

Entertainment gadgets have been in New Zealand homes for many decades. Since 1949, the CPI has tracked these items, and ongoing changes to the basket reflect how gadget technology continues to evolve. Options were once limited to radios, records, radiograms, and black-and-white TV sets – and they were quite expensive in today’s terms. Now, we’re spoilt for choice, with an array of audio-visual and computing gadgets available to keep us entertained in the home and on the move.

A fresh look at patterns in gadget sales, published in April 2012, examines information on consumer electronic goods – using retail transaction data.

References

Census and Statistics Office (1930). The New Zealand Official Year-Book, 1930. Available from www.stats.govt.nz

Census and Statistics Department (1950). The New Zealand Official Year-Book, 1947-49. Available from www.stats.govt.nz

Classic Computers (2009). The Plummeting Price of Home Computers in the early-mid 1980s. Available from www.classic-computers.org.nz

Department of Statistics (1965). The New Zealand Official Year-Book, 1965. Available from www.stats.govt.nz

Department of Statistics (1968). Census of Population and Dwellings, 1966.

Department of Statistics (1972). The New Zealand Official Year-Book, 1972. Available from www.stats.govt.nz

Department of Statistics (1980). Census of Population and Dwellings, 1976.

Horrocks, R (2009). History of TV. Available from www.nzonscreen.com

Jose (nd). The Kodak Instamatic Camera History. Available from www.articledashboard.com

Ministry for Culture and Heritage (2012). Radio and TV – Election Days. Available from www.nzhistory.net.nz

Ministry for Culture and Heritage (2012). Photography timeline. Available from www.nzhistory.net.nz

Statistics New Zealand (2010). Fifty years of television in New Zealand. Available from www.stats.govt.nz

Technabob (2007). History of Music Players. Available from http://technabob.com

Television New Zealand (2012). The Early Years. Available from http://tvnz.co.nz

The Broadcast Archive (nd). New Zealand Radio History. Available from www.oldradio.com

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Back to Price Index News: January 2013 

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