I recently spoke with Matt Barker, the CEO and founder of global marketplace MPB, a world-leading online platform for buying and selling used photography gear. Barker offered some incredibly insightful advice on how to navigate the growing recommerce market of secondhand goods as we enter 2024.
MPB has released a report on The Psychology of Recommerce, along with Retail Economics, which uncovered that a large 71% of consumers in 2023 had bought or sold used products. This change in consumer motivations is down to plenty of factors, as the report delves into, but the high price of new flagship camera models has been called into question.
The price of new camera bodies and lenses has more than doubled over the last few years, and this fancy new kit is becoming unaffordable and inaccessible to a large portion of non-professional photographers (myself included), forcing creatives to shop and swap for used gear instead of brand new products.
If you aren't familiar with MPB's platform, now is a good time to get acquainted. It offers a user-friendly way to shop online for used photography and videography gear, with transparency around the item's exact condition and history. You can also receive a speedy quote for selling your tech to MPB, and the shipping process is straightforward too (believe me, I've used it).
Part two of my conversation with Barker on secondhand cameras and the recommerce market (short for reverse commerce), has more of a photographic focus rather than picking apart the report, but it's important to understand where the photography industry is heading, now that the barriers to entry for buying and selling pre-owned photo equipment have significantly decreased.
I asked Barker:
What is the most common reason that MPB would decline to buy photo gear from a customer?
It's really unusual for us to decline to purchase an item, honestly. It's something like say 96% of what arrives at our CCCS (circular commerce centre) gets taken into inventory. So it's very high, and rare that something goes back.
What's quite unique about photography equipment is its longevity. Lenses last for years and years, which is amazing. There's not that built-in obsolescence unlike with other product groups, for example, fast fashion issues.
Apple always builds obsolescence into its products, which isn't very good, and I think this will be legislated in time. But for whatever reason, Canon, Nikon, and Sony, have never built in obsolescence, and that's brilliant. So stuff lasts for a long time. It's well made, and there’s rarely something that goes wrong.
And I would say the main thing that we see, and it's something that people should be conscious of, is lenses that have optical issues as a result of moisture or fungus. Because if you store your lenses in a humid or damp environment in any sense, that can be a problem.
And you see it more as you get into hotter climates like Southern Europe because we operate all over the globe. So we see it a little bit more in the warmer climates. And it's just something for people to be conscious of because it's the only thing that can be an issue with lenses over time. It's a fixable thing, and we can get lenses clean, but if people have stored their lenses in a slightly damp environment then this will cause a bit of fungus.
Keep your kit dry, but not too warm. It's really important, and then they'll last forever. And with the film camera market especially, the analogue market, that's super important because we're kind of seeing a lot of that stuff fall out the ecosystem, which is a shame, just because it was stored badly.
Is there a shutter actuation limit that MPB cannot accept?
I think it's less and less of an issue. We have built a lot of technology so that items or all of those factors are priced into every item that is sold on our platform. So you'll pay less for an item in the equivalent cosmetic condition that's done a higher shutter count than another one. It's always measured. It's always stated on our platform. And that's not the case on lots of platforms. And it's one of the issues buying secondhand because it's an important consideration for sure.
With the quality of how things are being built now, you can run really high shutter actuations. But even if you're buying something that's 15 years old, actually the cost of adjustment or replacement is relatively low. And so yeah, there's no hard and fast rule, different models have different tolerances. And on MPB’s platform, you'll always see the shutter count stated If it can be measured, which is on the vast majority of DSLRs it can be, and so you can kind of pick and choose amongst that.
We always give a six-month warranty even if the camera has done 300,000 shots and it's really good value for that reason. It will still come with a six-month warranty from us and we would change the shutter if it failed.
Are there any other key factors that come into play when pricing a used camera?
There are around 10,940 items, as of yesterday, that can be bought and sold on MPB and automatically priced. On our platform, you can get that price in Sterling, or euros if you're in the EU, dollars in the US. A human is not pricing that, it's an automated price based upon thousands and thousands of data points on each item. These cover cosmetic condition, usage, the included accessories, does it have any third-party accessories? All of those factors go into our pricing engine, and it's our technology and our data which we've invested heavily in.
Because we're the biggest platform in the world now, and we are able to close that gap more than others in terms of our margin, we can offer good value for sellers and good value for buyers as well. And fundamentally, the factors that go into it include functional stuff but we're also measuring the supply and demand from consumers for every product, so that we give the right price.
It's basically led by demand in the market for selling and demand in the market for buying, and what you don't see on MPB ‘s platform unless you watch it all the time is that those prices will change all of the time. So prices will come down, but they won't be listed as discounted or on sale. They'll just be reduced in areas where there's less demand for the product and when demand goes back up, people are prepared to pay a bit more. But therefore it's very transparent, and also kind of fair, I guess because it's led by the demand fundamentally.
Do you feel that new flagship cameras are too expensive?
It's absolutely the case that the new market for interchangeable lens cameras and lenses has become more expensive and more premium for sure. The average retail price of a mirrorless camera in three or four years, has gone from approximately £700 to £1700 - in terms of just the average offering across sort of Canon, Sony, and Nikon ranges - and that's just the body right?
We're now regularly seeing lenses come into the market like the new Canon RF 24-105mm lens which is £3,400. I remember when the first 24-105mm lens came out and it was maybe £900. That's a massive, massive leap over 15 years. So there's an affordability gap. Plus there's a cost of living issue that we're all going through at the moment while the economy's not in great shape, coming out of COVID, and for sure I think there's a conscious consumer in terms of looking for value in the second-hand market.
Obviously if the new market is becoming more expensive, it does encourage people into the recommerce market. I think the consumer is less obsessed with the latest and greatest now, and more concerned with diversity and creativity. Once you drop into the secondhand market, you get more choices. It's cheaper, but you also get to be the one turning up with, you know, that particular lens or "that" particular camera.
Everyone’s like, “Oh, what's that“ and you know, it's a more interesting space for people. Given that we serve creators, as our target audience, I think they quite enjoy jumping into that secondhand market because it gets them to experiment more.
We have seen a massive rise in analogue camera sales for that exact reason, I suspect you might shoot on film too like a lot of people do, or even Instax cameras and stuff like that. So I think it gives a lot of benefits in the secondary market. But it is also true, absolutely, that the new market is becoming for a lot of people just too expensive."
What is the most in-demand secondhand camera?
Do you have any predictions for what you think might be the most in-demand secondhand camera of 2024?
If you look at our highest-selling equipment always sort of lags the new market by longer than what people expect. So you'll still see the Canon 5D Mark IV usually at the top of that list here. Obviously, that's been out for more than a decade now.
And you know, we see the Sony A7 III selling very well and the most in-demand camera of the present day and up to the end of this year is definitely the Fujifilm X100V. And I think it's just freeing up in the new market now. But not many people have got their hands on that this year.
So I think it shows as well that it's not always about the new thing with all the bells and whistles,the look and feel of the X100 series has always been a really compelling thing, and we've always seen huge demand from the original X100 through to the F and then the V.
So, yeah, if you asked around MPB they'd probably say any X100 series camera. But I think in terms of the cameras that we've got the most supply of and therefore seen that demand it would still be in the kind of the Canon 5D series.
Why should customers shop with MPB instead of competitors?
(For example, CeX offers a two-year warranty on used camera gear)
You won't get close to the depth and breadth and choice of inventory on MPBs platform. At any one moment in time, there's around 60,000 different items with interchangeable lens cameras and lenses for sale. And I can't quote you the numbers of other retailers but it's often a fraction of that. We are the global market leader, and therefore it's about choice. It's about saying you know, if you want to buy a Canon 5D Mark III, there will be a couple of 100 different choices, all individually described, all individually photographed, all correctly priced, with every degree of nuance captured.
Also, you can buy extended warranties on MPB that take the warranty up to two years. So we can match that warranty if people want to take on a two-year warranty that's available across the entire range of products on our platform.
What camera do you personally use and why?
I'm most comfortable picking up any Canon camera because that's always what I have shot on. The first camera I ever bought and sold was a Canon EOS 5 film camera, and every Canon model that's kind of followed, and I am trying to teach myself to use a rangefinder.
I'm trying to teach myself to use a Leica M 10 at the moment and get that kind of discipline of having a fixed prime lens and things like that. Because I think again, kind of shooting a bit slower, slowing down, you know, enjoying the moment a bit more, is encouraged more when you're using something like an M-10.
So, yeah, that would be what you would see me trying on Christmas Day this year to take a photograph of my kids with, but how well that will go I couldn't confirm.