Stumbling into the Gray Market
By Monica Bay
"IT's time to upgrade," declared Joe Walker, my AmLaw I.T. guru, after I once again called for advice after trying to push the limits of photos taken on my beloved Olympus C-2020 Z digital camera. My ears perked up. After all, the only sentence I like better than one that includes my name and the word "upgrade" is "Flight attendants, prepare for landing."
So with the blessing of my boss (and a strict budget) it was time to go shopping.
Because I had such good luck with the first camera, and already have a stack of accessories, I wanted to stick with Olympus. So I gave a call to Patrick MacFarlane of Olympus' tech support team, who has become my Olympus "rabbi."
Patrick and Joe helped me narrow down my choices, and we ultimately decided on the Olympus Camedia E-10.
I had purchased my C 2020 Z directly from Olympus, and I originally planned to do that again for the upgrade. But delayed gratification is not my strong suit, and I wanted to take the new camera with me to LegalTech New Orleans, so when I couldn't reach the press office for a few days, Joe and I decided to explore local stores and Internet vendors. It was quite an unexpected education.
Our first step was to do a bit of research on www.cnet.com. In the past, I've had great luck with c/net's product research charts. You can get updated info about the stores, find out if they are certified by c/net, if they are an authorized dealer, see current prices, the state the stores are located in (important, because there's often no tax if you order from another state), phone numbers, shipping policies and whether or not the desired product is in stock. You can click directly to the stores to buy.
The list can be sorted either by price or sponsor. It offers reviews, specs, and even an e-mail alert service when prices drop.
I'd used the site when I bought my original Palm IIIx; and when I ditched Palm in favor of Hewlett-Packard's Jornada. I've bought from several online vendors on the basis of c/net's listings with nary a problem, including mcglen.com, chaseshop.com, and ecost.com.
But it's a damned good thing Patrick warned me about the "gray market." I had never heard of the gray market, but if you are camera shopping you really need to know about it. I could have very, very easily ended up a very, very unhappy camper.
Here's the deal: If you get hardware that has been imported into the U.S., you may find yourself with a camera that does not meet American specifications.
What does that mean? Well, for starters, you can't get warranty service in the U.S. If you get a European edition, you might find that it's set up for the PAL video standard and won't work in the NTSC standard used in the U.S. -- effectively disabling the video preview functions, says Olympus.
Gray market cameras may not meet FCC standards, and sellers can be subject to fines. Cameras originating from Asian companies will not have English language menus, and other software may not work. Check out Olympus' Web site for its full advisory.
Not Just Cameras
Of course, the gray market problem is not just limited to New York-based Olympus or to cameras. Stephen Manes, writing in PC World's May 2001 issue, found that his Sony DCR-PC5 digital camcorder arrived without a warranty card, but with clear instructions for getting service -- in Singapore. The cord on the battery charger had two round prongs, although they did send an adapter, he notes. He was flabbergasted, because he had done his homework, and thought himself to be a savvy buyer. More advice: watch out for inflated shipping fees.
In fact, I found that most of the cheapest prices were indeed gray market E-10s. I give the vendors credit for being candid about the gray market status when I called to inquire. But I knew to ask. I suspect most people do not.
It's such a problem that last September, a group of I.T. companies declared war, and created The Anti-Gray Market Alliance. Founding members include 3Com Corp., Apple Computer Inc., Compaq Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., Nortel Networks Ltd. and Xerox Corp. See www.agmatoday.org.
The ultimate con: I wish I could remember which online vendor it was who offered me a very attractive price on a U.S. model -- but when I was about to recite my AmEx number, asked me what lens I wanted. I almost burst out laughing as he insisted that the camera did not come with a lens.
Suffice it to say, my faith in online camera ordering evaporated. Joe and I decided to order directly from Olympus. Instant gratification was going to have to wait. Ultimately, it was worth the extra $200 or so for the peace of mind that I was absolutely getting the camera I ordered, with all the parts, warranties and security. As they say in law school, caveat emptor.
Thomas O'Neil III, MCI Group General Counsel, will keynote LegalTech New York, Monday Feb. 4, at the New York Hilton and Towers. O'Neil oversees MCI's legal, regulatory and public policy affairs. The keynote address, at 9 a.m., is open to the public, and kicks off the three-day show. See you there!
Yes, that was Dan on T.V.
Dan Berlin had some exciting TV adventures last fall with Pat Summerall. Berlin is president of Software Technology Inc., the developers of TABS III and Case Master. His company was chosen for a profile on Summerall's Success Stories, which aired on October 11 on the FOX Cable News Channel.
STI was the only software company chosen from legal/accounting markets, explained the production company.
Oprah: Call Dave
There's actually a legitimate tech angle to this silly show of support for David Letterman's campaign to get on the Oprah Winfrey show. Dave is partly responsible for my ending up as editor of LTN. How, you say?
Well, when I was working at Counsel Connect, (AmLaw's predecessor to law.com), I became intrigued with the nuances of online communities. It's a long story, but cutting to the chase, I was invited by Dave's staff to serve as an AOL "community leader." I moderated the show's chat room two nights a week, and also had my own "bulletin board."
Our duties included trying to keep conversations flowing and discouraging folks from using the seven Carlin words. But most important --we kept an eye out for cyberpredators (especially because the site attracted teens).
Between my efforts to help build a community of lawyers on Counsel Connect and a community of viewers on Dave's site, I learned intriguing lessons about group and cyberspace dynamics. Someday, I'll write a novel.
And on both venues, I met some terrific, talented people, including Jay Johnson and Walter Kim, who run Letterman's Web operation, which has now moved off AOL to the CBS site.
Because of both gigs, I also found myself coming to N.Y.C. several times a year. In fact, I actually made my decision to move East one night after a balmy, late night July '97 dinner with some pals from the show. I had so much fun, it abated the concerns I had about relocating to the Big Apple. The rest, as they say, is history. So thanks, Dave. I wouldn't be here without you. So let me join the chorus: Oprah, call Dave!