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The Limited Edition Sales Method



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2021 has seen something very interesting happen in the watch world. Now it isn't necessarily comparing like with like, but there are signs of a shift in buyers attitudes and habits that will have a knock-on effect on the pen world. It began with Rolex and AD displays that were empty and scalpers who were buying up stock to, quite literally, sell at three times the price. In the last month Rolex have decided to punish naughty AD's with a very limited supply. A slap on the wrist which may not have any effect in the long term, but they recognize there's a problem and it will be interesting to see what they do going forward.  Despite the name and it's recognition, Rolex is actually a very small producer, making only 80,000 watches per year in normal times. Compare that to Omega, who during the last covid year manufactured and sold over half a million watches. The limited supply of Rolex gives the impression of a limited edition and there are fools born every day who will pay the ridiculous prices demanded by the scalpers. But it's changing, and it's changing very dramatically and very suddenly. 

 

Seiko also produce millions of watches every year. They have their standard output but they do love the LE and they even limit them further geographically. 2020 saw something odd happen. LE sales dropped dramatically and accounted for a significant loss in profit in the area of watches for Seiko Holdings. They have responded by trying to remarket their watches as a more luxury brand, bumping up prices in records soars for 2021. They are still pushing the LE models, but so far it appears that sales have proved disappointing in this area, but we can't be certain of course until the end of the year. 

 

It isn't only in the watch world. Other brands that produce regular limited editions are noting that there is a shift in buyer habit. I can see that this makes sense. If you have a limited edition every month the FOMO that drives the sales becomes so overloaded that buyers switch off and give up on the brand. If we go back to Rolex, although not within these categories exactly, the buyer perception is similar. Many waiting (for a very long time) to buy a Rolex at a sensible retail price have given up and bought an Omega (I'm sure they also bought other brands, but what I read suggested it was largely to Omega). No waiting lists, no need to pay a fortune to scalpers and even limited editions are still reasonably easy to get.

 

What would all this have to do with pens? Well, the pen world has really gone down the rabbit hole of the LE to push and drive sales, but when you have a new LE every month it all gets a bit meaningless. It's having a deeply negative effect on buyer experience when they see something nice they want to buy but can't because it is so limited it sells out within a matter of days and never comes back into production. The pen world also has its scalpers, but if ebay is anything to go by, people seem to be getting wise to this. I haven't seen it here - but maybe I've missed it - but there are other boards and forums where the LE is being fairly heavily disparaged at the moment to the extent that it looks like there is quite the backlash. Personally, I can't abide the LE selling model that makes 300 of something and then no more and repeats the pattern every month. I find it even more annoying when the price for something like this almost doubles just because it's an LE. It just feels like such a con. It tends to turn me off a brand entirely (here's looking at you Leonardo!). I don't mind limited runs and I understand that this offers some brand protection if it proves unpopular, but this silly LE every month nonsense is really starting to irritate me. I thought it was only me until I started a little digging and noticed an article in a watch mag. It's nice to know I'm not alone, but will manufacturers realize the tide is turning so quickly before they turn off the bulk of their custom? Are pen manufacturers seeing the backlash that watch manufacturers are beginning to take note of?

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A Smug Dill
1 hour ago, Uncial said:

I don't mind limited runs and I understand that this offers some brand protection if it proves unpopular, but this silly LE every month nonsense is really starting to irritate me. …‹snip›…  It's nice to know I'm not alone,

 

As a consumer, hobbyist, and user and ‘accumulator’ — in that I don't use all of the pens I acquire, mostly because I just don't get around to it, but I keep a sizeable stash of new pens at different price points to give away if and when the occasion arises — of fountain pens, I actually like the general idea underpinning the sales model, but perhaps just not the marketing (and many of the actual colour and material choices for the limited editions).

 

I agree that the continuous stream, or even deluge, of limited editions at ‘inflated’ prices can be a turn-off, especially if they're uninspiring and aesthetically tepid. (I find Sailor's limited editions and store exclusives especially ‘meh’, even though I still love the brand, and hope the company does well.)

 

I appreciate the fundamental idea of making an excellent workhorse pen model, e.g. Sailor Professional Gear, Pilot Custom 912 (even though I don't think much of its FA nib), Aurora Ottantotto, and (I'll concede) Lamy 2000, which always remain in regular production and available in one (i.e. black), a second (which is usually maroon for Japanese pens), or perhaps even a third colour for a decent price, for ‘everyman’ who are actual users of pens to write or draw, and who may be so impressed as to be keen to recommend the pen to friends and acquaintances, on account of the purchase being good for one's fellow as well as for the brand. Keeping those basic colour options affordable and accessible is a reciprocal loyalty to those who love the pen model.

 

However, it makes sense that once the desire for different colourways or materials in the same reliable model goes beyond being able to distinguish one's two or three workhorse units (in the two or three Plain Jane colours) visually, and self-styled fans and collectors don't want to feel their perfectly competent writing instruments are undistinguished aesthetically and miss out on that extra little bit of enjoyment and pride in ownership, they are ripe to be invited to pay a handsome premium for the immaterial value-add in pleasure and allusion to refinement, privilege and/or exclusivity, disproportionate to any additional (production, distribution, and marketing) costs to the brand's manufacturer. Better yet, make the opportunity to secure that value-add scarce, by only making a relatively (very) small number of units in one-off short production runs, and make that known upfront. I don't think there is anything dishonest or punitive in that. If someone doesn't want the pen in plain black or maroon, from time to time some other colour or pattern would be released; but he/she doesn't get the luxury of thinking long and hard, or sitting back and waiting to see display units or online reviews of such, before committing if he/she wants that specific limited edition. Note, he/she wouldn't be cut off from future opportunities to get something other than the plain colours; but if he/she is particularly taken with, say, a teal version, it may be too late by the time he/she has taken as long as needed to make a fully-informed decision, and the next limited edition colours may be mustard yellow and rose pink which he/she doesn't like nearly as much.

 

To me, that would make a great deal of business sense, especially if the limited edition pen body's material comes in rods of acrylic or celluloid, or pieces of expensive timber. Just acquire a small amount of that material from a finite commercial supply, make as many units out of it for showcasing the pen model and keeping hobbyist interest in it buoyant, and move on to the next ‘new’ material once that small amount of this one the pen manufacturer has on hand has been depleted, instead of trying to acquire more of the latter to satisfy fans' demand notwithstanding their having held out and failed to commit upon the limited edition's first release.

 

I like it. But then, my wife and I like to toss nuts and cracker fragments, etc. when on picnics, and watch the birds that don't want to just stick with their usual fare for sustenance flock in and vie with or even fight each for it. The goal is not actually to punish the birds or starve them, of course; we have every faith that they can get by without our feeding them. On the other hand, we definitely wouldn't want to toss so much food that every bird will get their fill or ‘fair share’ without competition and strife; but we wouldn't be offended if certain birds don't want to play or just aren't interested, when they're just doing their thing and we're doing ours.

 

No, individuals' FOMO is not something that the supply side of the market should bear any responsibility for moderating.

I endeavour to be frank and truthful in what I write, show or otherwise present, when I relate my first-hand experiences that are not independently verifiable; and link to third-party content where I can, when I make a claim or refute a statement of fact in a thread. If there is something you can verify for yourself, I entreat you to do so, and judge for yourself what is right, correct for valid. I may be wrong, and my position or say-so is no more authoritative and carries no more weight than anyone else's here.

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Uncial — isn’t the Rolex number closer to 1 million watches per year? Did you mean 800K?

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Karmachanic

For myself, I don't  'get' LEs.  Same pen, same in hand experience, different dress, higher cost. Uuhh, no.  But then 97% of my pens are black flat-tops.  Only one per model allowed.

"Simplicate and add Lightness."

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I'm not taking any specific conclusion on the matter, but it has annoyed me a few times.

I happened to look for a specific edition that had just been launched and found it was a limited edition in four colours each of 12 pens (!). I asked a trusted shop to book me one specific colour and discovered that the pens were sold out even before the shop could start taking orders...

The thought that did strike me was "guys, you don't need my money, I'll spend it somewhere else..." (and have)

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20 hours ago, Toll said:

Uncial — isn’t the Rolex number closer to 1 million watches per year? Did you mean 800K?

 

Bit of a tangent and possibly opening a pandora's box on this subject, but, hard to know is the answer...I think.

Wiki lists sales at 1 million per year and the reference is from Forbes who actually state 800K, but only as an estimate. The problem is that as a private company Rolex is so notoriously secretive on this front that I doubt even most of their employees know. They don't sell direct, unless for a VIP client or for a marketing opportunity, so AD's are the main outlet, of which there are roughly 1,500 globally. This would mean each AD potentially could get roughly 650 watches per year. The problem is that unless the AD is particularly successful in sales, most AD's around the world seem to only get between 4-10 watches per year and then additional orders on top of that that might bring it closer to the 80,000 figure and then of course the wait lists on top of that (generally 2 to 3 years wait) because demand exceeds supply. What I read was suggesting 80,000 per year and 120,000 (with additions to the standard line) in an exceptional year and with the number crunching this makes a bit more sense. I guess it's possible that Rolex has a huge warehouse somewhere with a load of unsold watches sitting in it....but it just doesn't seem probable to me. As of June 2021 all Rolex AD's in the UK have been limited to 4. That's a very small number and I think the 800,000 to 1m number that floats around the internet feeds the idea that Rolex deliberately (and privately) sells to scalpers, but that makes no sense whatsoever to me.

 

Then again, maybe there's an AD somewhere in Switzerland that has a few hundred thousand watches in their window.

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I think the trouble comes when LEs are too frequent, and have too high a premium to the ordinary pen. 

 

Edison is on the side of the angels here, I think, with quite limited but really quite special LEs in my experience (a number of them linked to pen shows).

 

Pelikan is doing nice LEs but they are coming a little too fast now and the prices are going up all the time. The regular new M200 demo once a year to go with the Edelstein ink is a nice rhythm, but launching the gold marbled and the pastel green and the star ruby all in a bunch felt gratuitously overdone. 

 

My villain is Platinum with the 3776. I've gradually acquired most of the celluloid 3776s. I note that now, the LEs and SEs sell for more than the vintage celluoids, and none of them have really inspired me. I have not acquired any of the new LEs for a while now, except for the Nagasawa apricot (do pen shop specials count?)

 

I suspect that the LE may become an addictive drug for some pen companies. Their basic business model doesn't work too well, so they issue LE after LE to try to get enough money in to pay the bills. Then it becomes a game of diminishing returns as eventually buyers run out of pen budget, get bored with having sixteen different colours of the same pen, or find something else to collect.

Too many pens, too little time!

http://fountainpenlove.blogspot.fr/

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10 hours ago, Uncial said:

 

Bit of a tangent and possibly opening a pandora's box on this subject, but, hard to know is the answer...I think.

Wiki lists sales at 1 million per year and the reference is from Forbes who actually state 800K, but only as an estimate. The problem is that as a private company Rolex is so notoriously secretive on this front that I doubt even most of their employees know. They don't sell direct, unless for a VIP client or for a marketing opportunity, so AD's are the main outlet, of which there are roughly 1,500 globally. This would mean each AD potentially could get roughly 650 watches per year. The problem is that unless the AD is particularly successful in sales, most AD's around the world seem to only get between 4-10 watches per year and then additional orders on top of that that might bring it closer to the 80,000 figure and then of course the wait lists on top of that (generally 2 to 3 years wait) because demand exceeds supply. What I read was suggesting 80,000 per year and 120,000 (with additions to the standard line) in an exceptional year and with the number crunching this makes a bit more sense. I guess it's possible that Rolex has a huge warehouse somewhere with a load of unsold watches sitting in it....but it just doesn't seem probable to me. As of June 2021 all Rolex AD's in the UK have been limited to 4. That's a very small number and I think the 800,000 to 1m number that floats around the internet feeds the idea that Rolex deliberately (and privately) sells to scalpers, but that makes no sense whatsoever to me.

 

Then again, maybe there's an AD somewhere in Switzerland that has a few hundred thousand watches in their window.

Thanks for the response. I appreciate your thoughtfulness. As you note, who really knows!? I have two highly desirable Rolexes that I bought from an AD with no drama (I.e., you need to spend $X in my store before I will put you on a list). I consider myself fortunate in that regards. All the best. 

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There could be another side to it in that offering a LE may be better than nothing vs having to add the new pattern/colour to their regular output.  This has manufacturing implications, I'd imagine, and may well not work out financially in the end.  Unfortunately, there's the side effect of having a disgruntled customer or potential customer who dislikes the regular editions and prefers one of the LE colours/patterns, but then the higher price is in the way.

 

I do agree though that the epidemic of LE's may erode into the customer's 'trust' although there may be no intention to make money at the expense of the customer.  It could well be just a perfectly understandable case of supplier meeting the demands of the market.  Of course, any limited run of a product will cost a little more or a lot more, depending on how different the LE is or the amount of R&D etc. required to produce the LE.

 

What eases the angst is a reminder of the power of decision in these situations.  No one forces anyone to purchase a LE pen.  These LE's provide the same functionality and writing experience as the regular edition, so customers aren't being denied, what I'd consider anyway, the primary reason for purchasing the pen.

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2 hours ago, maclink said:

 Unfortunately, there's the side effect of having a disgruntled customer or potential customer who dislikes the regular editions and prefers one of the LE colours/patterns, but then the higher price is in the way.

 

I think this is the nub of what I find problematic about the the LE sales method. In the watch world examples given it's really the scalpers who are the problem. Now there is an element of that in the pen world and people will ask completely insane prices for a limited pen or a limited ink shortly after it becomes unavailable (check out the recent thread on the price of a bottle of Lamy lilac!). If people pay those prices, more fool them, but what really irks me is when the pen manufacturer themselves turn into the scalper and begin asking silly prices for an LE. That really turns me off the brand, especially when it's something as simple as a different colour or pattern on a bit of plastic.

 

If I give an example from the watch world. Seiko, for a long time, had applied markers but have more recently begun to make most dials cheaply stamped and yet they raise the prices. For the asking price I'd like something of reasonable quality and cheaply stamped dials that a lot of the time don't even line up properly really turn me off them. Added to this, the same thing but in a different colour and costing a third more because it's limited (although Seiko reserve the right to re-introduce it at any time as part of their standard line-up....and have done) is an exercise in scalping done by the manufacturer. Some people might not be bothered by this, but for me personally it has really turned me off the brand and I no longer look at their offerings anymore, and I'm not alone. Seiko have noted the response of their customer base and it is effecting their profits so it will be interesting to see what they do going forward; although I suspect that limited and seasonal goods is so ingrained in Japanese business that it might be an incredibly difficult habit to break.

 

I should be clear though, I'm not against limited editions. Some can be nice, some very appealing and some can mark an occasion. What I dislike is the grossly inflated price and the regularity of doing it that makes it meaningless. Pelikan produce 'limited' pens, probably best described as 'special' editions. I like them. They do produce a lot, and perhaps too many per year of a particular type (M200 seems a bit overdone lately), but at least you know you can get one without too much bother and without having to pay three times the price of a normal one. For the most part I think Pelikan have the right kind of approach. I've probably jinxed it now and Pelikan will produce six LE M200's this year at four times the price and limited to 20 pieces each pen and only available to those who can prove they own more than 40 Pelikans!

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Ones uncontrolled susceptability for BLING is not the fault of the manufacturer.  As long as the punters continue to consume the same product in a different dress at higher price, they will happily continue to produce.

"Simplicate and add Lightness."

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No Scalpers.

Used nice watches....same with pens. (Affordable....used Longines or a De Ville..............or a 1950 Buliva. or 82 of my 90 pens were  affordable.

 

If I bought new...well my P-75 was new in '71...and I'd be a One pen guy with out a drop of ink. (And $22 dollars in Silver was a fortune.)

 

Now that Dill pointed out the 200 is now a double ball nib... no more of them either.

German vintage '50-70 semi-flex stubs and those in oblique give the real thing in On Demand line variation. Modern Oblique is a waste of money for a shadow of line variation. Being too lazy to Hunt for affordable vintage oblique pens, lets you 'hunt' for line variation instead of having it.

RIP...200's once great nib, now a double ball.:crybaby::wallbash:

 

The cheapest lessons are from those who learned expensive lessons. Ignorance is best for learning expensive lessons.

 

 

 

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Thanks for the topic Uncial, it's interesting to understand the market, beyond one's own preferences. I gave up on special editions or even somewhat rare pens in general a few years ago, particularly given my strict maximum budget for pens, only to find that with a lot of patience and a sharp eye one can find some of them at reasonable prices. My impression is there have been enough well heeled consumers to buy many limited editions without batting an eye. It's always healthy to keep a distance, if someone is willing to pay $300 - $500 for an aquamarine Pelikan M205, good luck to them.

 

Sailor in particular has released a few stunning pens but at twice the regular price I stopped seeking them, even though I did manage to get a a special edition at a very decent price through sheer perseverance; luckily there are plenty of fish in the sea, I discover new interesting models almost every couple of weeks, mostly vintage, and I've reached my maximum number of pens vis à vis the inks I want to use.

 

"The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt."

 

B. Russell

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10 hours ago, como said:

For me, limited edition is mostly a marketing gimmick. I buy what i like. Whether a million others have it or no one else has it, it doesn’t really concern me.

 

I feel the same way.  I think that there is a distinction between limited and special editions.  If you take the Lamy Safari, a pen that is reliably released in one or more special edition colours every year, both parties win.  Lamy wins, because it gets to sell more pens to customers like me.  I win, because I get the Safari in colours that simply would not be commercially available, if they had to all be carried all of the time by retailers and distributors.

 

Where I get cynical is when it comes to limited run editions at inflated prices.  I can accept some price premium, but not what Lamy is doing with the Lamy 2000.  I simply won't be a buyer if I think that I'm being taken for a ride, no matter how much I like the product.  

 

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20 hours ago, Uncial said:

If I give an example from the watch world. Seiko, for a long time, had applied markers but have more recently begun to make most dials cheaply stamped and yet they raise the prices. For the asking price I'd like something of reasonable quality and cheaply stamped dials that a lot of the time don't even line up properly really turn me off them.

 

I'm not sure that I agree.  I consider Seiko to provide some of the best-value limited edition watches, e.g. the Seiko 5 Street Fighter range.  They did not appeal to me stylistically, but I did not consider the price excessive.  

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11 hours ago, como said:

For me, limited edition is mostly a marketing gimmick. I buy what i like. Whether a million others have it or no one else has it, it doesn’t really concern me.

 

Ah, but look at it another way: if Pilot decides to buy twenty rods of some acrylic with a particular pattern and make a variant of its Custom Heritage 91 out of them, that is by definition a limited edition. If the handful of units that can be produced from those twenty rods are received favourably in the market despite a high asking price (say, 2.5x of that of the regular CH91), then I think the smart(er) thing to do is to buy another twenty rods of acrylic in a different pattern, stick it through the same production process, and call it the next limited edition, as opposed to producing more of the same. That way, it'll prospectively attract interest from both CH91 fans who want a colour other than the three in regular production but missed out on the first LE pattern, as well as those who have managed to secure a unit in the first LE pattern but now wants to start collecting them all (or at least different LE patterns that take their fancy). It'll also ‘train’ prospective buyers to understand that there's no time to really think about it with each release, because there are always another hundred other buyers out there in competition with oneself who is ready to jump on each new LE.

 

If (generic!) you miss out on this one, then better luck with the next LE; the manufacturer will keep churning out new ones and price it (likely increasingly) at what the market will bear, and you'll simply have to compete with your peers and equals in the fan base for that pen model to secure a unit in a colour or pattern that takes your fancy. That opportunity only appears for a short time with each LE release, unless you're prepared to sit back and wait, take your time to mull it over, and then pay the inflated resale price that the collectors or even ‘scalpers’ would want to part with their ‘loot’ ordered upon (pre-)release.

I endeavour to be frank and truthful in what I write, show or otherwise present, when I relate my first-hand experiences that are not independently verifiable; and link to third-party content where I can, when I make a claim or refute a statement of fact in a thread. If there is something you can verify for yourself, I entreat you to do so, and judge for yourself what is right, correct for valid. I may be wrong, and my position or say-so is no more authoritative and carries no more weight than anyone else's here.

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