The photography industry and it’s consumers would both benefit from introducing the predominant mobile phone sales model.
Camera lenses unlike the camera bodies they mount to, are generally considered to be a smart buy. For a photographer, they represent a long term marriage that will outlive the generations of camera bodies to come, while maintaining strong resale value throughout. On the flip side, the camera’s themselves are more like a short term fling, they never seem to stick around in a photographers bag for very long before being superseded.
Camera companies have a heavy hand in this ritual as every year they look to adopt more and more useful technology in a play to trump their widespread competition. As a result, the time between new releases has shortened as product cycles purposefully quicken. One example is to look at what Sony, a company known for aggressively releasing products over the past few years, has done. Specifically, it’s high resolution purposed stable of a7R mirrorless cameras. The first iteration of these bodies was announced not terribly long ago in October of 2013. Fast forwarding less than two years later in June of 2015, Sony followed with the much improved Sony a7R II. Jump ahead a short while once more to this past October of 2017, and we see the release of the a7R III, which again advanced in many usability respects, and leaped far past its predecessor. That’s three high-resolution camera announcements in less than a five year span. So where does this hyper aggressive release schedule leave the willing consumer? Well if you were for good reason an adopter of all three example Sony models, money in hand with each new release, then there is a solid chance you lost a good bit of money in a flooded used market on the resale end as you desperately attempted to recoup the expense of staying current. On top of the money headache is the resale process itself which is an exhaustive, and anxiety ridden game to play, with each large ticket camera purchase you take to the private resale market full of possible costly pitfalls.
So that brings us to the question, if given the option would you prefer to simply purchase your next DSLR or Mirrorless camera in monthly installments? Installments that are designed to ultimately cater to a photographer friendly turn in at the end, seamlessly easing you directly to the latest model on the market, and avoiding the hassle of a private sale behind. It’s really not as far fetched an idea as you may think.
Outside of the car industry, there is already precedence set on a smaller priced scale for an industry shifting to this type of purchasing option. The mobile phone industry popularized equipment installment plans some years ago. And the funny thing is the option we have now as photographers to buy outright has always remained in plain sight with any new cellular phone, but when given the option so few customers actually opt to. The vast majority choose to avoid the big hit at the register and finance monthly their phone purchase on a month-to-month basis.
Outside of the phone carriers themselves, hardware Goliath Apple offers the iPhone Upgrade Program; a direct purchasing option to buy their high priced phone hardware in installments with easy upgrade markers set after one year of payments. Camera companies could easily follow a similar installment model, even going as far as to include their respective accidental damage plans like for example Canon’s excellent CarePak Plus, similar to how Apple leverages AppleCare into their program. This way you are almost assured outside of loss or theft to have a working device to hand back in when the time comes to end the lease and upgrade to the new model, keeping you locked in with said brand.
Another trend you see with the major cell phone carriers is additional offerings like free monthly subscriptions to Netflix, HBO, Hulu, and Pandora to name a few. It’s not hard to envision camera brands following this model, and partnering with software companies like Adobe, Luminar, and Phase One as examples to further entice you at checkout, and bring more value to the consumer.
Value on Both Sides
Just like the shift to subscription pricing on software, companies love the steady revenue flow that comes from a large group of photographers all paying in a small amount monthly as opposed to a large stream of revenue shortly after a big launch followed by months of steady decline in revenue. In addition, all of these cameras that photographers turn in via the upgrade process could find renewed value possibly fueling online refurbished inventory, and creating an additional revenue stream for the camera brand.
On the photographers' end this provides a safe, and dependable place for pro’s and enthusiasts alike to purchase a used previous generation camera, at a heavy discount, and direct from the camera maker themselves as opposed to today’s risky private sale alternatives. As it stands now camera manufacturers are missing this opportunity to build the camera once, but sell it to the marketplace twice.
But Does the Math Add Up
Now, of course, the monthly expense would have to make sense in order for camera brands to realistically offer this as an attractive solution that the photography market would embrace. Take the Sony Alpha a6500 priced currently at $1,198 as an example camera. As opposed to paying for the camera as you would today in full at checkout, an additional device agreement option for say three years or 36 months would also be available.
By selecting this option you are committing to a monthly payment of $33.28. Once you have completed twelve payments which in this example totals up to $400.00, you could then at your discretion turn the device back in, and upgrade to the hypothetical a6500 replacement. Or simply ignore the latest model, and stay the course till the full balance is paid off, and you own the camera. In addition, if the successor does not launch anytime within the 36-month installment plan, then no harm no foul. As a consumer, you still won by taking advantage of what essentially was no interest financing with optionality.
For this to truly become a sensible option we would need to see a shift in camera brands assuring refresh cycles hovering close to two years, or less. And my crude financing example would have to be adjusted to ultimately fit the camera industry, versus being based on the examples we have elsewhere today. But how great it would be to no longer fear purchasing the expensive camera we may need right now, even when it’s dangerously close to it's expiring street date.