Artificial Scarcity: Companies, Stop Doing It; Reporters, Stop Reporting On It

Apple Watch Sells Out in Six Hours.

The BestTechie article bearing the above headline was published yesterday. The product may have been the Apple Watch this time around, but the name could conceivably be swapped with most Apple products at launch. iPhones sell out. iPads sell out. It always happens, and we always seem surprised when it does.

The thing is, the headline is an inevitability. It’s not a matter of if it will be published, but when. Will it be six hours? One day? A weekend? Whatever the case, we eat it up.

apple-watch-ordersHere’s the truth: the Apple Watch was always going to sell out.

When something sells out, it looks like it’s highly in demand. Companies like that. Apple likes that. It’s free press from all of the reporters who are somehow astonished that Apple has, again, created another hot seller.

But Apple is manufacturing this demand by under-supplying its product, just as it’s manufacturing the stories we write about it as a result. Apple chose the pre-order date. Apple chose the release date. And Apple made a conscious decision to build less Apple Watches than people wanted to buy.

Apple isn’t alone in this practice. Nintendo immediately comes to mind, particularly with its Amiibo figurines. Nintendo does not manufacture Amiibo to meet demand, but rather, puts out a limited run and then moves along, leaving consumers to fight amongst themselves for the product.

This practice winds up hurting those who actually want the product at its advertised price, and it benefits scalpers tremendously.

Here’s an Apple Watch Sport pre-order that sold for $455 on eBay. The retail price is $349.

Here’s an Animal Crossing Villager Amiibo someone is trying to sell for upwards of $50. These sell for $12.99 in a store — if you can find one.

When you think about it, covering staged “sell-outs” actually benefits middleman resellers who want to buy up a bunch of something popular to rip people off. These stories hype the products and pump up the value for those who’ve done little more than buy something and relist it online.

I’m really just not comfortable helping that along anymore. We need to stop lavishing Apple with praise when it sells out a very limited amount of stock. We need to ask Apple why it isn’t more confident in its products, or why it can’t get more efficient manufacturing in place, or why it hasn’t learned from a decade of major mobile product launches that it probably doesn’t have enough stock.

But the headline high-fives for a bullshit milestone? No. No more of that.

About the author

— Shawn Farner

Shawn Farner is a Harrisburg-based tech blogger who has been involved in online media for over eight years. He covers consumer electronics, Web companies, and gaming.


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