Japanese Market Shares

BCN has released their year-end retail sales rankings for the Japanese market for 2016, and as usual it's provoking a lot of whipped up Internet forum frenzy across the sites that cover mirrorless. A reminder: BCN is an organization that tracks cash register receipts in Japan. Their data is based on actual sales.

Before we get started, here's the full set of data as BCN releases it, for the entire history that they've released it for mirrorless cameras:

bythom bcn 2010-2016 mirrorless

You'll note that I present the data in a different form than BCN. They award first, second, and third place shares, but that disguises a lot of what is really going on. 

Back in 2010 Olympus, Panasonic, and Sony were the only mirrorless players in town (literally ;~), and thus held 100% of the mirrorless market share in Japan. The trend over time has been for the top three to hold a smaller portion of the overall market, meaning that the market is getting much more competitive. That trend led to only 63.2% in 2016, which means that the other four players not in that chart are taking about 37% of the market between them. I don't think there's a lot of distance between third place Sony and whoever took fourth place (probably Panasonic). And companies like Fujifilm, Nikon, and Pentax have significant sales, too.

Other trends seem to be in play, as well. Panasonic started strong and has clearly been on the wane in their home market since. Canon has suddenly emerged to quitckly take over the second place market share, which has to scare everyone (other than Canon). Olympus and Sony have strongly fluctuating numbers over time, and I'm pretty sure that's due to pricing of the models that appeal to the Japanese: both companies have had periods where they've emphasized low end models and sales versus other periods where they backed off from that.

Which is the tricky bit of trying to interpret the BCN numbers. BCN used to publish much more data that allowed external parties to better assess what was producing the most sales. During the time that they provided that more detailed information, it became clear that previous generation models on fire sale did quite well in Japan, particularly if they were small cameras physically. The Japanese market is especially price and size sensitive, it seems. 

This, of course, disturbs the fan boys, who expect that their maker's flagship—XT-2, EM-1II, GH5, A7rII, etc.—should be mopping up. That's not the way it works. Most of the camera buying action is at a much lower level. It's really the entry-consumer up to the mid-consumer levels that tend to speak to market share. 

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