Does it Sell?

One thing that has happened since Internet photography sites started chasing business-related articles is that "statistics" are being carefully chosen to support a brand-fan contention. 

I was reminded of this when I saw Map Camera's April statement of the top-selling cameras from that large camera store in Japan. #1 in April? The Pentax K-3 Mark III crop-sensor DSLR. Wait, aren't crop-sensor DSLRs dead? Apparently not in April in the largest online store in Japan. Yet I only saw one site report that "statistic." (in order, the other best sellers according to Map Camera that month were Canon R6, Sigma fp L, Canon R5, Fujifilm X-S10, Nikon Z6 II, and Sony A7C, which probably explains why no Sony-related site reported that data ;~).

I put the term "statistic" in quotes because virtually all of the "information" now being disseminated and discussed about market shares, unit volume, or best sellers is based upon data published by vested interests without any clarity of how the data was obtained, monitored, or verified. Much of the so-called public data also comes from sources that have hidden marketing promotions, or spoofs, in place, too. 

With camera stores (and online sources, as well), what they actually sell these days is determined by: (1) what they have available to sell (e.g. in stock); and (2) what they're promoting to sell due to hidden manufacturer or other incentives. Moreover, you'll notice that these short-term reports ("this month's best seller according to X") tend to show up on brand-specific sites only when that brand is "winning." Misinformation is reporting something incorrectly. Disinformation is reporting something knowing that it isn't necessarily correct.

I've tried to report market share statistics using only legitimate, known-process data and statistics. Unfortunately, there aren't many sources for those, and most are behind an NDA paywall that requires press not to disclose specifics (though we often can use the data to comment on trends or general aspects of the market). 

One reason why Nikon's quarterly reports are so valuable in assessing what's going on is that Nikon—under penalty of investment laws—discloses actual unit volume and uses another known data set, the CIPA shipment reports, to provide clarity on overall market share numbers. Canon mostly does the same thing, though it has had a few unit shipment disclosure lapses, plus Canon tends to use their own overall market estimates rather than CIPA's. Fujifilm, Sony, and Panasonic bury any unit volume data and rarely disclose it, thus any public source that is specific about market share for those brands tends to be unreliable. Olympus used to disclose unit volume just as Nikon does, but now that they've been spun out to a separate, private company, that data is no longer available or certified under financial law. 

I've long reported Nikon's ILC market share using Nikon's certified numbers against the corresponding CIPA shipment numbers. Nikon was under 25% in the late 1990's, bounced around reaching a high of 39% in the DSLR era, and is currently down to 15%. Nikon has several times in their history pursued a consumer camera rush only to pull back to primarily the enthusiast/pro market. It seems that they keep finding they can't sustain a true mass consumer-focused effort (hint: marketing, messaging, support, consistency, and a true customer-company relationship all break down during these pursuits, so it becomes about being the "low cost seller", which isn't necessarily a profitable position, and certainly at odds with everything else Nikon does as well as their corporate structure). 

I've also used a crude generalization that's now been picked up by others: the ILC market since the 80's—it really started to form this way with the introduction of the Minolta Maxxum and the shift to autofocus—has had a clear leader, along with clear second place and third place competitors, and these three syphon up the vast majority of the interchangeable lens camera customers. I've written that this tends to be +/-5 points from the 45%, 25%, and 15% market share positions, which is about where we're at today. Call that a duopoly (45+25 = 70% of the market) or a triopoly (85%) if you want, but it means that if you're not one of the top two or three competitors, your perceived presence due to ongoing market share is going to be small. Even the third position is perceived to be small, though it has generally been a profitable one.

However, the second aspect that tends towards disinformation on the Internet is the fact that crop sensor and full frame are almost always conflated. Lower price = more sales (but not necessarily profit). Right now the lowest-priced DSLR on B&H's site is the US$449 Canon T7 DSLR with kit lens. You'll find several pages of crop-sensor DSLRs before you get to the lowest-priced full frame one, the Nikon D610 at US$999 without lens. Mirrorless is much the same, with pages of choices ranging from US$499 before you get to the lowest-priced full frame one, the Nikon Z5, again at US$999 without lens.

For a company like Nikon that has focused most of their current engineering effort and their messaging on full frame, and specifically via two higher-priced mirrorless cameras, the Z6 and Z7 (now in II form), it's inevitable that they'd lose market share, as those cameras currently start at US$1499. Can they lose market share but re-obtain profit share? Nikon says they can, and I believe them. But doing that primarily with higher-priced full frame cameras means that their unit volume will be down considerably from Nikon's DSLR heights. 

While all the dogs on the Internet seem to be predicting Nikon's failure, I actually believe that Nikon's current strategy of concentrating on a smaller volume of up-market sales should do just fine: they have a huge installed base of DSLR supporters to draw from, those folk will eventually have to make a mirrorless decision, and Nikon doesn't need them all to come along, as Nikon's no longer pursuing a volume strategy. I would say, however, that dissonant messages, such as no-screw drive lens support in the lens adapter, don't help them and Nikon needs to get rid of those frictions to transition sales as soon as possible. But Nikon really doesn't need anything more than a well-considered Z30, Z50, Z70, Z5, Z6, Z7, Z8, and Z9 set of cameras, and they probably don't need the first one, or maybe even the first three.

Canon, meanwhile, continues to pursue the "largest market share" strategy. I'm not sure how that works given their current product mix. Most of Canon's current volume is a long tail of crop sensor DSLRs coupled with the doesn't-play-well-with-RF, crop-sensor, M-mount mirrorless models. Canon's current efforts feel a lot like Nikon's 2011-2014 era (the Nikon 1 was an incompatible crop sensor mirrorless camera, and Nikon was pushing consumer DSLRs and mirrorless as if they were Big Macs). It still feels to me like Canon doesn't have the rationalized focus that they'll need long term. Sony has such a focus, so if Canon can't get their ducks in a row their choices will be (a) loss of profits in the ILC lines; or (b) loss of market share as customers recognize the product chaos and vote for a company that seems more organized.

But let's get back to the headline: does it sell? Yes, it does, pretty much no matter what "it" is. As I write this, Canon, Nikon, OM Digital Solutions, and Sony appear to be profitable on the volume of sales they're currently making. With Fujifilm it's unclear, as they only talk about "revenue" in the Electronic Imaging business, never "income" (profit). With Panasonic and Ricoh (Pentax), the camera results are so small compared to the overall companies, that it's impossible to tell even what their revenue performance is like, let alone profitability. Furthermore, Ricoh is about to relegate digital cameras from their Other SmartVision group to the Other Other group (!), where the overall Other umbrella is already just 1% of the companies sales. In other words, digital cameras is about to reach true rounding error level in terms of sales at Ricoh.

My advice has never changed: buy what you need first and foremost, buy what you want secondarily. You've got plenty of choices these days, and last week I pointed out that the top all-around cameras currently come from three different companies (who just happen to form that triopoly). 

Am I disappointed that Nikon's market share is currently 15%? Yes, but mostly because I believe that they could have pursued their current strategy and achieved better results than they have. Am I upset that Sony now has the second largest market share? Not at all. The A1 is quite a nice camera, as are many of Sony's other recent offerings. Sony deserves to reap the benefits from having survived their transitions (from Minolta to Sony, from DSLR to mirrorless, from SLT, etc.) and now putting more maturity into their products. Do I appreciate Canon's #1 market share? On one level, sure, as it's hard to turn a battleship and stay on top as they have. But frankly, I find Canon's overall lineup a mess right now. Love the R5 and R6, but most everything else doesn't quite feel right in some way. 

Even though Pentax has completely disappeared within the huge Ricoh conglomerate, none of the current camera makers are going away, and the three biggest ones are currently profitable, as well. There's too much angst among the buying public that's not deserved, and mostly now being fueled by vested-interest disinformation. It's unfortunately become all about bragging rights on the Internet ("we're #1, woo-hoo"). 

We as consumers actually have an abundance of product riches to consider. Recent camera introductions from pretty much everyone provide us with better performance, more features, and better connectivity than we've ever had before. Couple that with a clear step forward in lenses that's come with all the recent mount changes, and I'd say this: if you can't find a camera that will suit your photographic needs for the foreseeable future, you're not looking. Of course, parts shortages and overseas shipping issues coupled with current buying demand may mean that the camera you do find isn't in stock ;~). But that just means it is selling, doesn't it? 

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