Thursday, January 11, 2007

Playthings of the rich

When I first thought of buying a digital camera a year and a half ago, I did a market survey to find out the options that I had. The camera I ultimately bought was a Sony CyberShot DSC-W5 and I wrote about it in my blog too.

My choice of this model was not because of its looks, though it was one of the best looking cameras in the market. The factors that influenced my choice included, among other things, a Carl-Zeiss lens, a manual shooting mode with shutter speeds from 1/1000 seconds to 30 seconds, and a limited amount of manual focusing option.

In the last one year, Sony digital cameras have become immensely popular in India, and especially among the young IT professionals. But when I accompanied my friend to Sony world to buy a digital camera for him last week, I was saddened by what I saw.

The DSC-W5 is no more. The models that have replaced it are fancier looking slimmer models which are priced much higher. They have incorporated fancier features like image stabilization, internal zoom and a bigger LCD display. But a closer look revealed that the manual mode was gone, and many cameras were fitted with Sony lenses. Which means the photographer now has less control over his photos and has to choose from one of the many preset shooting modes available. People are paying more for less while the cost of electronic goods is actually decreasing. Sony CyberShot cameras have become playthings of the rich.

But the thing that was most disturbing to me was not that Sony had increased the prices and decreased the features. It was the fact that in spite of this more and more people are buying Sony now. Young IT professionals like my friend have the money to spend. They want a cool looking gadget (no wonder James bond used all Sony equipment in Casino Royale) and they don’t care about the features. More preset modes means the focus will shift from skill to technology, and there will be no difference between the photos taken by two people using the same camera under the same conditions. Of course, even I use the presets for most of my shots, but then most of my shots are not good; only the few that I shoot with extra care are. And those are all shot in the manual mode.

However, this blog post is not only about Sony digicams. Sony is only banking on a growing trend seen in the cities like Bangalore and Hyderabad where a large portion of the population is made up of young IT professionals. The trend is: people spend money without thinking. When they pay for a product or a service, they never stop to ask themselves or the shopkeeper/ service provider whether the price they are paying is justified. Be it the cost of movie tickets or house rents or auto fares, everything seems to grow at an alarming rate. And there is nothing to stop this growth.

Take the case of phone bills. In the last one year, Hutch has charged me an excess amount on my mobile phone bill wrongly on at least three occasions. I can accept a mistake once, but three times in a year? It is true that they accept their fault if pointed out and adjust the excess amount in the next month’s bill, but here’s the catch: usually people don’t point out the mistake. Nobody is bothered if they are overcharged Rs.50 on a Rs.1000 phone bill. Most people don’t even read the detailed phone bill. They just ask the due amount via SMS or a call to customer care, and then pay it. Even if we accept the story that it is a genuine mistake on Hutch’s part, just imagine the amount of money Hutch must be making through these mistakes. Why will they ever correct it? There’s more. They will suddenly start giving you a service that you never asked for, like hourly news on your phone. At the end of the month they will charge you for it. Again, people don’t even notice the extra amount in their bills.

The distance from my office to my home is such that the auto fare, if we pay by the meter, will be somewhere around Rs.50. Try catching an auto in front of the office, and you’ll realize that either they don’t have meters, or they won’t use them. If I take an auto home, the fare is fixed- Rs.80. They are charging this extra Rs.30 just because the people from my office and other IT companies nearby don’t mind paying this amount. Most of them won’t be able to walk to the main road about 2km away to catch a cheaper auto, one that will go by the meter.

In and around the HITEC City here, everybody is looting the IT professionals. I am saying this because, though the other people are also being looted, they are very few in number, say 25-30% of the total population. And I feel the IT people are themselves to be blamed for this looting. Go to any shop and buy a loaf of bread. The shopkeeper will say it costs Rs.15. On being shown that the marked MRP is Rs.14, he will say, “Is it? Pay Rs.14 then.” You go and buy a cold drink, and you’ll be charged a few rupees extra as ‘chilling cost’ which, by the way, they are not supposed to charge. Then, they will serve you a non chilled drink and say that their fridge is out of order or something. And believe me, even after this I have seen people paying them the full amount, chilling cost and all.

Another thing which I had to study recently was the house rents around the HITEC City, and I came to know this: people are ready to pay obscenely high rents for incredibly tiny flats. My new flat has got a large bedroom, a small drawing room, a miniscule kitchen and probably the tiniest bathroom in the world and I pay Rs.5000 for it which I consider too high. I know people who pay more than this amount for a flat which does not have the drawing room, and the kitchen is even smaller than mine. Thankfully I never looked into their bathrooms. But until everybody stands up together and refuses to pay unfair prices for things, individuals have to suffer. If I say I’ll pay Rs.3000 for such a flat, I’ll have to sleep under the sky.

As far as Sony is concerned, they have an advantage over their competitors. Among the people who never had anything to do with photography, Sony is a better known and more trusted name in electronic goods than say, Canon or Nikon. They have their outlets all over the country and their after sales service is excellent. They do a lot of pioneering research (they invented the audio cassette, the walkman and the micro floppy disc) and so they price their goods higher. All this is fine with me. In fact I have no complaints regarding the performance of my own camera. But they should realize that bringing out five different models with slightly different features and pricing them way above competitors’ cameras with far better features is not going to work very long. For example I, despite being a satisfied Sony user, chose to buy Canon on the last two occasions when people told me to buy cameras for them. If Sony wants to make playthings for the rich then they can continue like this, but if they want to regain their position as the maker of the best digital cameras, they need to revise their marketing strategy. Just sleek looks won’t do.


  1. Just sleek looks won't do...Otherwise Mallika and Madhuri could have had same respect and stature. ;-)

    Canon is giving better features and lotsa accessories in lesser amount. If one have to compromise with carl zeiss lens then why not go for canon than sony.

    I also have advised many of my friends to buy Canon.

    DCS-W5 is awesome and I am glad that I have one and sad that new buyers are deprived of a better deal.

  2. @abhijit: My thoughts exactly. I've not used a Sony lens and I'm not saying it is bad, but if not Carl Zeiss then why not Canon? Especially since it is much cheaper. And I too think DSC W5 is awesome. I feel like owning a limited edition collectors' item.
    How come you didn't say anything about the rest of the problem? I think it was you who forwarded that mail to me that first said about this collective looting of IT professionals.

  3. hmmm....
    i nvr cared 2 verify my it seems i'll hav 2 go thru the details.Thanx
    And yeh the root cause of the problem is the "unbelievable purchasing power of the youth"....At bangy lots of companies provide packages of 5-6 to such a problem is bound to arise.They donn mind spending excessively coz they kno that they can only go UP from there.....itz the ppl like me who suffer :(

  4. @aurindam: It's good to find a fellow sufferrer. ;-)

  5. It is interesting that you say this:

    [......Among the people who never had anything to do with photography, Sony is a better known and more trusted name in electronic goods than say, Canon or Nikon.......]

    I wonder about this statement. Is that your personal opinion or are you referring to some research/survey. As far as I know and quite a few professional photographers I've talked to, no body ever said Sony was a better "CAMERA" brand than say a Canon on Nikon. Nikon used to be on the top rung but Canon seems to have overtaken Nikon with Sony a distant third.

    In fact Sony is even being beaten at something they were very good at - Game consoles. It seems more like a company that is still living in a differnt era with the only exception being Sony-Ericsson where they are coming out with stuff that is a lot better than the churn that the market leader Nokia and to an extent, even Motorola come out with.

  6. @opinionated indian: Did you properly read what I said? Because you are saying exactly what I said. I said Sony is a better known name in electronic goods and not in cameras. It is obvious that professional photographers will prefer Canon or Nikon (this is not my opinion though). It is the the people who never had anything to do with photography who prefer Sony.

    This is not based on any survey or research but on my own experience and interaction with people around me.