Announce Now, Sell Later


Today's announcement of the Canon 70D makes absolutely no sense to me. Announce at the beginning of July, sell some day in September. Seems wrong. Very wrong. Let me put some context on that.

DSLR sales are down. Canon and Nikon dominate this market, but both have significant inventory of older models still lingering on the shelves. Here in the US, some models from both companies have three generations available new. The immediate need of both companies is to move existing cameras, not launch new ones. The latest CIPA numbers show that DSLR sales are down 15% in the first five months of 2013 compared to 2012. This is bad news, writ large. 


The reason why an announcement now for a fall shipment seems wrong to me is that we're in the heavy use season for DSLRs: the one time they're pulled out of the closet by the casual shooter tends to be vacation time. Instead of enticing these folks to just trade up before heading out on vacation, announcing a new camera at this time that doesn't ship until after most vacations have been taken just seems to be flaunting the customer: "Ha ha, you won't be able to use this on your vacation this year." 

But it also means that if the camera does resonate, this year's vacationer sure as heck isn't going to upgrade to one of the existing cameras before heading out the door. It's true that we're now past the second big buying time for cameras (Father's Day/Graduation), but summer announcements without shipping just seems like rubbing salt in the wound. Not only are some people going to wait for the new camera, driving current sales down, but the current cameras now seem like they're worth less, which means they will probably eventually need bigger discounts to move. 

It's as if the right hand and left hand of the camera companies are attached to different bodies (pardon the pun). Analysts who follow the camera market are all starting to adjust their DSLR sales numbers downward (and most analysts tend to be following indicators, not leading indicators). The NPD retail sales numbers here in the US show year-to-year downward trends. Walk into any Canon or Nikon dealer and see if they have DSLR body inventory on the shelves (answer: they do). If we could do a quick walk through the Canon and Nikon warehouses, we'd see plenty more waiting to be sold. The right hand says "we need to move current inventory." 

The left hand, though, says "it's business as usual." It wants to announce products away from competitor announcements so that they make more noise, wants to seem like it is pressing ahead with technology, wants to announce what they've started making and move on to the next iteration task, and wants to be able to say "we're first" at something (in this case, dual purpose photosites). Really guys? Can't wait 45 days?  

Now don't get me wrong. I don't know how good the 70D is or isn't. It's probably a great update to the 60D based upon everything I've seen about it date. I'm not panning the product, I'm denouncing the marketing and sales management of the product, especially as it relates to other products in the same line.

Some will say "well maybe there will be a halo effect." In other words, people will hear about a great new Canon camera and go into their store and buy a current one. I'm not a big fan of such tactics (and am not really sure they work). Products need to pull their own weight, or why are you making them? If I were in charge of Canon product management, I wouldn't be pre-announcing a 70D until I knew that we had a full plan in place to sell the 60D units out, were executing it, and finding that the plan worked. 

Instead, we have a company who's pre-announced a new product in a category they're having a tough time moving product in. It won't help their numbers for July and August at all, so we'll likely end up with seven months of downward DSLR sales.  

Still others may say "well Canon needed something in response to the Nikon D7100." Perhaps. But the timing still baffles me. The big time to try to stall Nikon sales would have been in May/June, not July. Moreover, August is a time when Nikon tends to announce new products. If the announcement was made to dull the competition, I simply don't see how that works if Nikon announces a DX DSLR in August as expected.

I suppose there's another possibility: that Canon will be announcing something big every month for awhile, and rather than shooting all their bullets in one volley they want to spread them out. Still, something feels very wrong to me about DSLRs right now: sales are down. Announcements of future products doesn't help sales today. This feels really Wimpy to me (note the caps): "I'll gladly ship a camera on Tuesday for an announcement today."  

When Canon eventually lowers their DSLR sales forecast for the year, remember their tactic on the 70D and see if it fits the reality of the situation. I don't think it does.

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