I always like looking at the statistics for the first month of the new year for shipments of cameras from the manufacturers. Why? Because January is one of those pivotal months. If Christmas sales were really healthy and growing, there's restocking that needs to happen quickly, for example. Strong year ends tend to make for strong year starts, while weak year ends tend to make for weak year starts.
Well, here's the news:
Unit volume is down significantly in compacts, up slightly in DSLRs, and basically flat in mirrorless. That, as you might expect, is the bad news. The pressures that were present in 2012—lower compact camera volume, slight interchangeable lens camera growth—are still with us in spades. Worse still, the production numbers show some continued mild inventory buildup at the camera companies; they're not shipping everything they're making. Buried in those numbers was another interesting number: unit shipments to North America of mirrorless cameras were only 69% in 2013 what they were in 2012. As you might expect, Asia was the big winner with flat to slightly up volume depending upon which part of Asia, though surprisingly shipments to Europe were 98% compared to last year. Somewhere in Japan there are lot of executives trying to figure out why the Americans don't want mirrorless cameras. Hint: two of the primary players (Olympus and Panasonic) have poor dealer and Big Box reach in the US: buyers just don't see them like they do Canon and Nikon DSLRs. The third big mirrorless player (that would be Sony) does better in visibility, but it's still the third player in most stores. To paraphrase, uh excuse me, parody, a TV ad here for one of the mirrorless players "small is the new invisible."
So what's the good news?
For DSLRs and mirrorless cameras at least, the average selling price has gone up. That means folks are buying more of those FX Nikons and full frame Canons on the DSLR side, while on the mirrorless side it's probably the GH3 and NEX-7 and OM-D E-M5 type of camera that's pulling the bar up slightly.
Still, those compact camera declines just have to hurt. Couple that with the recent yen depreciation, and the camera companies are just getting squeezed hard in the compact business. In fact, you can see what the Japanese are doing about that in the regional numbers: compact camera shipments to Japan? 107% of last year. To North America? 80% of last year. Unfortunately, that's not a good answer, as that could just accelerate the downward trend outside of Japan. If you ship us fewer cameras, we're obviously not going to buy as many. Heck, we may forget why we wanted them.
Look for that big Camera Bar at Best Buy to get smaller this spring. Or perhaps more telling: the DSLR/mirrorless cameras coming off the smaller cases behind the bar and onto the bar itself. Yet strangely, amongst all this collapse of compacts, Nikon has announced 14 new compact camera models already this year. That makes for over 150 different Coolpix models in the 12 years I've been tracking those releases. To paraphrase another famous ad: guess they can't make just one.
I'll have my next update at the end of the quarter, and we'll see if anything is changing during this critical period.