I'm sure that there must be more thrilling ways to spend a Monday afternoon than analysing the shipment and sales data of Japanese camera manufacturers–I don't know, rearranging all the books on my shelves according to some idiosyncratic and completely inexplicable system?–but that is just how I've spent mine. (Please don't believe that I'm too bats, American readers; it isn't a Bank Holiday here in England today, that was last week.) Whilst carefully tabulated figures arranged according to camera type, region, and date might've made my eyes go slightly gooey at one point, there are some interesting points that their contemplation has thrown up.
Overall, the volume of sales of still cameras has fallen by roughly 22% this July compared with July a year ago. However, revenue from these sales has not dropped comparably; it's down by 8.4%. So we're buying fewer cameras, but paying more for them.
Most alarming for manufacturers will be the 28% drop in the number of compact cameras sold, and as a consequence the 32.3% drop in revenue from them.
For consumers, it's worth noting that we're buying marginally more interchangeable lens cameras; their shipment rates are up by 4.3%, but that manufacturers are generating more revenue from them. The value of this July's shipments increased 20.3% on last July's shipments. Furthermore, in the Americas and Japan, volume of sales has dropped, but value of sales has still increased. (In Europe, both volume and value of sales of interchangeable lens cameras has increased by roughly 21%.)
There isn't a breakdown of the sales of SLR cameras and EVIL cameras, however, and that I would be interested to see.
Still, what do these random figures actually tell us about the market? First, and not very hard to read: we're buying far fewer compact cameras. I'd hazard that it isn't just people don't feel the need to own a compact camera if they're happy with the camera in their smartphone, but that if they're feeling a bit cash-strapped, a new compact camera isn't necessarily high on the list of priorities.
Second, Europe might be keeping the numbers of interchangeable lens sales afloat, but for the manufacturers, their margins are in the Americas.
Third, if you compare the figures for July 2011 against 2010, compact camera shipments were falling then, but not as significantly as between 2011 and 2012. Furthermore, the volume of interchangeable lens camera shipments appears to be slowing down; they're up on last year, but not by as much as 2011's were on 2010's. The last 12 months has been generally bumpy for camera sales, not forgetting that the floods in Thailand had an impact on production and sales.
The world economy isn't in great shape, so no, people won't be buying as many exciting electronic gadgets and gizmos. People for whom cameras are a luxury, not a necessity, will make do (although not perhaps mend); maybe those of us for whom a camera is a necessity are being more discerning in our purchases? And maybe, perhaps, the camera market is reaching saturation point?