Mr. Flashner wasted no time. He began advertising the extra phone while still in line at an Apple store in Burlingame, Calif., south of San Francisco. During his 21-hour wait, he posted half a dozen different ads to Craigslist — with prices ranging from $800 to $1,200 — and waited for the calls to come in.
But no calls came because consumers expect that stores will soon have phones in stock. He continued to advertise the extra phone through the weekend, and ended up with just one call, which went nowhere. On Wednesday, he returned the phone.
Mr. Flashner, 25, who manages an audio-visual equipment rental company, is not the only would-be iPhone reseller whose plan failed to follow the script. “I haven’t heard of a single person who sold one,” he said.
Across the nation, people looking to make a quick and easy profit bought one, two or as many phones as they could by recruiting friends to stand in line with them. Many of them were the first to get in line, camping overnight outside the stores. But now they are finding that the iPhone is much more like a Harry Potter book than a hard-to-find Wii video game machine: a great thing to be one of the first to own, but not high in resale value because supply is not constrained.
Last Friday, just after the first iPhones were sold, thousands of listings showed up on eBay and Craigslist, with prices of $1,000 for the 8-gigabyte phone, a $400 markup. Some bold sellers were asking $2,000. But as it became clear that supply was meeting demand, they found themselves stuck. Few of the phones have sold for more than $700, which after sales tax, is not a remarkable profit margin.
Corey Spring, a columnist at newsvine.com who analyzed eBay auctions, estimated that a significant number of sellers “were only making their money back, even closing at a loss.” Most Apple stores in the United States have no phones available, but the most determined customers seem to have been able to buy a phone. Few people seem willing to pay even $100 over the retail price.
Some frustrated resellers say they will keep trying, then return their extra phone or phones within the 14-day return period.
D. J. Ostrowski is typical. Mr. Ostrowski, a 20-year-old college student who lives in Carol Stream, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, stood in line “in the hot sun” outside an Apple store for nine hours and talked a friend into joining him.
Like other resellers, Mr. Ostrowski was hoping the iPhone demand would duplicate the Xbox, PlayStation and Wii crazes. Lines are still long for the Wii gaming console, because Nintendo misjudged demand. Devices sell on eBay for around $100 more than the $250 retail price. In his ad, Mr. Ostrowski offered to “rendezvous anywhere,” or even deliver the phone. The only call he got was from another unsuccessful reseller, asking if he had had any luck.
Mr. Ostrowski had used a day off from his job at a hookah bar to stand in line. Now, he said, after factoring in the money he spent on gas and the waste of a free day, he views the entire venture as a net loss. “I’m probably better off getting a side job,” he said.
A few people got lucky. Trevor Lyman, 21, a senior at Temple University in Philadelphia, sold an 8-gigabyte phone on eBay for $1,300 while waiting in line last Friday afternoon to buy it. He has sold two more, but for far less than the first one.
Demand for the phone was remarkably strong in the first days. Analysts estimate that Apple and AT&T stores have sold around 500,000 phones so far. One analyst ventured a guess as high as 700,000. But Apple appears to have anticipated demand and contracted with manufacturers in Asia to build far more. Apple has said it expects to sell as many as 10 million phones by the end of 2008.
Over the last few weeks, Apple stirred a great deal of speculation about inventory levels by shrouding them in secrecy. As a result, resellers decided to take a chance. The company declined to comment on the rush to resell the phones, and on the status of iPhone inventories. On Wednesday night, on the Apple Web page that lists the phone’s availability, only two Apple stores were listed as having phones available Thursday: Tigard, Ore., and the Shadyside neighborhood of Pittsburgh.
Jim Fazio, 41, an entrepreneur in Fort Collins, Colo., said he had seen people make huge profits off the PlayStation 3 last Christmas and decided to jump into the iPhone market. “I took a chance that the prerelease hype would create a supply-demand imbalance, but obviously that scenario didn’t play out this time,” said Mr. Fazio, who advertised his iPhone on eBay for $1,200. “I pity the poor goobers that camped for these things.”
On Tuesday, when Mr. Fazio failed to sell his phone at a reduced price of $850, he took the phone back to the Apple store, which was out of 8-gigabyte phones. The instant he returned it, another customer in the store bought it.
“It’s a lot easier with tickets,” said Aron Honig, a 23-year-old equity research analyst who lives in Boston and has had more success selling Yankees and Red Sox tickets. Mr. Honig bought one 4-gigabyte phone and advertised it for $700 on both eBay and Craigslist, but heard only from people he assumed were scam artists, offering to wire him the money. “I think it’s the last time I’m going to do any kind of electronics product,” he said.
Some resellers are amused, if not wealthier. Jack Boyce, 62, a graphic designer in Boston, bought two 8-gigabyte phones last Friday, after waiting four and a half hours in line. Mr. Boyce took his computer with him and was able to do a little work. He charges clients $100 an hour and calculates that he lost three and a half billable hours.
Still, Mr. Boyce said, he “had a ball” waiting outside the Apple store in Cambridge, Mass. “The people around me were wonderful,” he said. “We took pictures of each other.”
And he remains optimistic that someone might still pay him $950 for his extra phone, pointing out that only a few Apple stores have iPhones in stock, and none of the AT&T stores do. “So my wish may be coming true,” he said.