Why I Don't Put Much Credence in BCN Market Share Numbers

The oft-repeated BCN+R mirrorless numbers from retailers in Japan basically say this: Sony is in first place, then Canon, Fujifilm, and OM Digital Solutions, with Nikon and Panasonic nowhere to be found since BCN doesn't report out more than the top group. Thus the oft-repeated "Nikon is failing" chant from the disinformation crowd. 

No, Nikon is mostly doing something different. (Whether that is wise or not is open to debate.)

BCN's numbers are (1) Japan only; (2) biased towards chain and consumer outlets (think Best Buy/Target in the US); and (3) aren't often reported in those quoting BCN with the actual models being sold also noted. In the current 2021 mirrorless numbers just posted, for instance, four low-cost cameras took up a bit over one-third of the entire chart (Sony A6400, Canon Kisses, Fujifilm X-A5). Nikon does not seem to be targeting the types of outlets that BCN+R tracks, and the only product they have that compares to those most popular Canon, Fujifilm, and Sony models is the lonely Z50 and its two lenses. As I've been writing since, well, forever, no clear commitment to DX means fewer sales and leakage of customers to the other makers. All in the under US$1000 market.

The full top ten: A6400, Kiss M, X-A5, Kiss M2, A7C, X-S10, A6100, E-PL10, X-A7, A7 Mark III, which account for about 60% of the sales BCN+R reported. This top list has almost always been mostly low-cost cameras coupled with a few just-released models every time I've seen it. 

Nikon wants to sell US$1300 to US$3300 mirrorless cameras right now. Probably for the simple reason that those have larger profit margins and thus pay back the R&D costs of making the transition faster. Moreover, Nikon seems to emphasize SE Asia/China and the US market more than the Japanese market. 

While it's not a perfect indicator, I can tell by my book sales how those models are doing (at least with the English-speaking crowd). The Z6, Z6 II, Z7, Z7 II are doing well. Quite well. Not DSLR peak sales levels—which none of us are ever going to see again—but solid, healthy, and growing sales. Which you can kind of see by the fact that the Z6 II and Z7 II are difficult to find in stock in the US, and even the older Z6 and Z7 have darted in and out of stock in recent months for some SKUs (as does the Z50 two lens kit). 

When Nikon says that they're operationally profitable again, I believe them. They've cut so much cost out of their system that even in a slug of a year they've got their heads above water again. Nikon's current fiscal year ends next week and they're not in a discounting mode, which means they're meeting their projected numbers. Meanwhile, the executives have been out and about among the Japanese business press outlining how things are going and offering fairly rosy projections for their coming fiscal year (we'll hear all that officially, with specifics, in a bit over a month, but these so-called whisper sessions so far seem to be optimistic). 

I'm not sure Nikon could weather another severe downturn in the camera market as well as they did last year, but that's not what anyone is projecting for 2021. Everyone is predicting ILC market growth in 2021 (particularly in revenue). Nikon is likely to add three mirrorless bodies in their upcoming fiscal year, along with a dozen lenses. That's more than what they did in 2020 (three bodies, six lenses). If I'm correct about that, it means the lineup will total nine cameras and twenty-eight lenses within twelve months. I'm sure some of you will still complain that somehow these are "not the bodies" or "not the lenses" you wanted, but I'm not sure any camera company can truly say they're doing everything their customers demand.

Perhaps turn down the volume on your Internet connection for awhile. The "news" that's currently running at full volume may not be anything you need to hear. 

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The corollary to all the "Nikon is failing" chants is a similar "only Sony can succeed" claim. Those phrases are often used together in the same post or comment. Unfortunately, this is incorrect logic. 

Clearly Sony is in an excellent position at the moment. It's been executing on the same strategy now for a much longer time than either Canon or Nikon, who are still transitioning their strategies (Canon even more so than Nikon). The Alpha lineup is mature and has plenty of choices, and the lens lineup is starting to approach "full" (though it is far too dominated with 24 to 85mm options). It's highly likely that if you want a mirrorless still camera or an interchangeable lens video camera, Sony has something you'd be interested in. And it will perform well. Kudos Sony. 

However, "only one succeeds" is not how markets work. Markets ebb and flow, and right now Sony is flowing. DSLRs are clearly ebbing, so Canon and Nikon, who dominated those markets, also are fighting an outgoing tide. Neither Canon nor Nikon has gotten to the point where their mirrorless lineup is fully fleshed out, so they aren't fully strengthening yet. 

No doubt that the #1, #2, and #3 order in ILC will get shaken up some as we get deeper into the mirrorless era. Just how much would be difficult to predict, but both Canon and Nikon have large bodies of DSLR users who haven't moved to mirrorless yet, so I wouldn't exactly count them out in terms of re-establishing their dominance (and by the way, Nikon's "dominance" never really pushed past 35% market share in the last three decades).

My point, though, is simple: Nikon doesn't have to fail for Sony to succeed (so stop showing your low self esteem, Sony fan boys). Nor does Sony's success mean Nikon's failure. 

I can't tell you how many times I've watched Nikon ebb and flow. I tend to think they always end up with an overreach (true consumer products) followed by retrenching at the pro end and starting the process over. The Z9 is going to be the camera that tells us just how fast and far Nikon moved back the other direction (from consumer DSLRs). That they're talking about it so early would suggest that they're confident that it's going to be a great product. 

Meanwhile, I'm mostly pleased with the Z products Nikon has been producing. I just wish they'd produce them faster and in enough quantity so that they stay in stock. 


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