Camera Life Cycles

A recent post on a forum can help you understand how to think about cameras a bit better:

“The competitive life-cycle of a modern hybrid camera is two years, tops. This is different than the camera’s useable life.”

We can argue about the “two years” bit—I believe that was the competitive cycle in DSLRs, but it’s been stretching longer as the market size has collapsed—but that’s not really the important thing to argue about. 

  • Competitive life-cycle: how long a product will remain competitive against other new products in the market.
  • Usefulness cycle: how long a product will remain useful to the person that bought it.

The difference is a marketing game. 

For example, your automobile doesn’t wear out in two years, but by significantly changing and adding things to the models that are currently available, the auto makers hope to get you to buy a new one with some regularity. 

Leases made changing cars frequently a very popular thing for awhile, as lease payments appeared to lower the average monthly cost of owning a car—probably not; “appeared to” is a marketing construct ;~)—while forcing you to make a new decision every couple of years. 

Fundamentally, though, any 21st century new car probably has at least a 10-year useful life before it starts to become more costly to maintain (and even then, that cost should be far less than purchasing something new). Auto makers can’t function profitably if they only sell you a car every 10 to 15 years. 

According to Kelley Blue Book, the average US ownership of a new vehicle in 2002 was a mere 38 months (~3 years), but grew to 71.4 months (~6 years) by 2012. By 2022 the average ownership had grown to 100.8 months (~8.5 years). However, note that about three-quarters of cars bought using loans in 2022 were financed with loans of 60 months or more, with 72 months being the most common. If the car depreciated too fast, you were underwater on the loan for most of its length, thus people holding onto cars longer.

If I were an automaker, I’d want some sort of “reset” to happen, so that I could shorten the period before all those folk had to buy a new car. I’d want to introduce something new and different. Hmm, EV anyone?

All of this is completely relevant to the camera market. Specifically: (1) the camera makers are cycling new product faster than the useful life of the product; and (2) mirrorless was essentially that “new thing” that tried to reset the market into buying again. Heck, we even have retailers, particularly online, peddling “pay later” plans. Anything to get you to buy today, just like the auto market.

Much of the online discussion about cameras is about buying, not using. A lot of folk benefit from you buying (as opposed to the number that benefit from you using): camera maker, distributor, camera store, sales people (spiffs), online sources with ads from same, and many more. 

Back in the Days of Film, camera stores could benefit from your using your camera: you had to buy film and get it processed. Today, not so much, though the smartest dealers all have training, social interaction, and printing available. 

As a long-time participant in the media, one of the things I’ve observed over many decades is that media that gets too caught up in the buying of something goes away. That’s because the buying either becomes commodity like (which doesn’t require media), or the particular product fad dies (which also doesn’t require media, just morticians ;~). Media that helps with the using of something does far better, though it may have to be done on a smaller scale. Moreover, you can’t get too locked into the type of media you use. Print has pretty much gone away, now replaced by online, for example. That means you have to understand new media really well. 

Aside: if I weren’t 71 years old and mostly doing this for fun, I’d have long ago transitioned to other media.

You might have noticed that I’ve brought back Teaching Points (first a hint via the front page photo, then an article). I felt I had slipped a bit on using versus buying, so I’ll try to rebalance things during the coming year. It’s not that serious users don’t keep buying products, but rather that they buy because they have use cases that aren’t being completely fulfilled by an old product. I’ll see if I can help fill the gap in between those two things.

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