Monday, April 28, 2014

Hang onto your wallet!

That swanky brand new camera you fancy will be your pride and joy but are you going to be fool enough to pay the new price for it? Today there was an advertisement for one of the new mirror-less interchangeable lens cameras visible on my screen. The price was an astounding $1,100. That's enough to pay for fuel to drive to work and back for a year. In six months time, that same camera will be knocking about on the shelves for probably $800 and probably 12 months later just before it's discontinued for $600. Why throw money away? Buy older and proven technology that's at the end of its production run. Last year's model works just as well purchased a year later as it did when it was first off the production line. The only reason why anybody would want to buy the flashiest, newest camera would be to show off to people in camera clubs etc. To me, going around showing off the latest technology doesn't scream affluence nor does it scream hip. It screams "I'm a moron and I've just been fleeced".

Generally, all new technology is pretty much of a scam. If you recall the very popular article here (The digital camera scam) and this article here (Camera batteries - the scam continues) it should be immediately apparent just how much criminality revolves around technology. One wonders whether shortly after the wheel was developed, criminals got in on the act producing cheap wheels that weren't quite circular. When the mugs had stopped paying a years worth of wages per wheel, eventually wheels dropped to realistic prices and were made by a multitude of competitors. Throughout the ages, early adopters have been scammed. It doesn't matter whether the technology is wheels, cameras, plowshares, steam engines or rockets.

The way prices work is the highest possible price the public is likely to pay for something is charged at first then as demand drops and market saturation is reached, the price slowly reduces until such a point as the profit from an item is less than 50%. I've worked in import-export. I've seen the costs of goods on the Bill of Lading. The cost per unit ex-works is a tiny fraction of the price in the stores. If we take a typical camera box which takes up maybe 12" x 12" x 12" or 1728 cubic inches and then see how many will pack into a 40 foot shipping container. Now the size has been exaggerated so that leaves room for palates etc. A 40 foot container will hold 2260 cubic feet of product and costs just $2,000 to ship from the factory door to the purchaser's door and that includes ocean freight, rail freight, road freight. That container will hold 2260 camera boxes. In other words it costs just $1 to ship a camera box from China to the United States. Ex works, a typical digital SLR costs about $50 to $100. They're made in China because labor is cheap and parts are cheap. As the US makes no cameras, there's not even any anti-dumping duty. Thus, after import to the company warehouse, the rest is all internal overheads and profit. At the end of a production run, when prices have dropped as low as they can, any leftover stock is usually quietly removed from the warehouse and crushed rather than set a precedent of very low priced cameras.

Thus rather than buying new technology, save yourself 50% and get technology that's a bit older. I don't recommend buying electronics secondhand. If they're purchased new, there's a year's guarantee and the knowledge that it hasn't been badly handled by a previous owner. Repairs can be expensive and in some cases cost more than buying a new camera.

Possibly the best recommendation one can give is never to buy too much stuff. Get the minimum and learn to use and enjoy it. If your interest is birdwatching then a wider angle lens is of no interest. If it's people then a longer lens is of no interest. If it's macro then only a macro lens is of interest. The more you buy, the more you have to cart around. Either that or you have to leave a lot of it at home every time. The new mirror-less cameras should provide adequate quality for minimum bulk and weight for the new buyers.

There will be a point at which you will want to sell your equipment. Oh say it's not so! No - sadly there is a point at which you will look at that much loved equipment and wonder what on earth possessed you to buy it. I'm at that point right now, some expert con-artist had convinced me that I should go into professional photography at exactly the point where a dying profession dropped dead. I remember now - "There's lots of money in wedding photography and you're really good. You need to do this". Thus I'm selling equipment.

The killer for selling equipment is the price you paid and the price people are willing to pay to buy your junk. This is why it's so important NOT to get fleeced at the buying stage. A 30D back when I purchased mine was $1100. Over the intervening 7 years my 30D has had maybe 1,500 exposures made on it and it is now worth possibly $150. That's a massive loss of about $900 or to put it another way, each exposure cost $0.90 which in terms of film would represent 42 rolls of 36 exposure film. Each roll would cost $6 and developing/printing would cost various amounts depending on whether you had prints made or whether you did it yourself. Just the film cost would be $252. Even if developing was double that then the total would still be less expensive than my 30D.

What about other stuff - well the flash I bought - a 580EX2 has plummeted from $550 new to $350 secondhand despite the fact it has been used maybe half a dozen times. Between the flash and the camera this is an outright loss of $1,200. You need deep pockets to buy new. Trust me - selling this stuff is painful when the price of what it cost is known.

When selling stuff, scammers abound. eBay and Amazon will charge a fee based on the amount that the goods sell for. My experience of both is that people won't pay anything like the going rate. Thus, if you get anywhere near half the going rate, you're onto a good thing. I regard the 30D as a total loss of $1100 as it'd be unlikely ever to achieve the market value of $150. I'd more likely get $75 and have to pay $10 fees to sell it then find as normal that Amazon/eBay's postage has been chronically underestimated which means most of the postage as well as the packaging has to come out of the already pitiful $65 remaining from an $1100 purchase. Thus, I'm stuck with my 30D as it's just not worth selling.

So, avoiding eBay and Amazon is generally a good thing. What about Craigslist? Well, that's a possibility. There, of course, you will get a lot more scammers. Fortunately they're easy to spot. I had one today. 
Clearly this is one of our friends in Nigeria just about to send a fake check. Paypal is just so dodgy that it's not worth serious consideration. It's possible to pay somebody and then claim the money back. I had a suspicious transaction and that's what the guy at Paypal told me when he reversed the transaction. Of course the problem with craigslist isn't just with clearly obvious scammers like this. There was the Craigslist killer who murdered women he met from Craigslist and then the people that rob and mug people who meet to sell stuff. Just for grins I gave this fellow my PO Box address to send the check to. If it arrives I will frame it and hang it on the wall.

Treat each purchase very carefully. You may well end up having to keep that purchase for all eternity being unable to sell it because 9 out of 10 Craigslist respondents turn out to be scammers.
Today I was looking at Craigslist and saw an awful lot of camera gear for sale. Most of it was for the going rate - some higher, some lower. Most of it was described as hardly used. 
It's possible to feel the guy's pain, trying to sell a camera just like mine - hardly ever used. I've used my Canon XT a lot more than my 30D. In fact when I bought my 30D I had been convinced I needed a second body in case one failed when I was doing one of the mythical weddings that never turned up. Heck, I couldn't even get anybody to look at my portfolio to even decide whether my photos were good or bad. I couldn't get anybody to visit my professionally put together website either. It was a total loss from start to finish. Over the 6 years I tried to run a photography business, I think I spent about $11,000 on the myth that there are people out there looking for photographers before I finally stopped throwing money away on a myth. Now I'm just trying to scrabble back as much as I can.

Oh I did all the right things - vehicle signage, Yellow Pages, websites, turned up at events, had a flea market stall, networked, joined the chamber of commerce. A few crumbs came my way but none that ever made a profit for the business. I didn't resist strongly enough pressure toward starting a photography business that I had doubts about.

Hang onto your wallet. Don't buy a thing until you can answer these questions:
  • Can I afford this item as a disposable luxury
  • What happens when I want to get rid of it
  • Will I be able to sell it or will it end up an annoying white elephant in the attic
  • Do I really, truly need this
  • What else, more beneficial could I do with the money
  • Has this reached the end of its run yet or is the price the lowest it can be
  • How much money am I going to lose when I sell this
  • Will I feel like a sucker when it's time to move on from this
I would not be surprised that I won't be able to get the going rate for my flashes. I think they're probably going to hang around as a millstone around my neck while the value plummets and they're eventually going to end up in the trashcan like the studio stuff did. I advertised that for 8 or 9 months in various places and had no inquiries, no calls - nothing. Thank Heavens it wasn't more than $500 of stuff that I had to throw in the trash. It was taking up space and nobody was willing to buy it.

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