The Wall Street Journal has published a glowing, lengthy feature on a 16 year-old kid who has spent the last 18 months buying then selling things on the internet, with particular focus on “elusive” video game consoles like the PlayStation 5.
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He’s also been buying up and selling Xbox Series X consoles, Pokémon cards, and sneakers, while also finding a market for more mundane (but also more essential) items like heaters.
In other words, he’s a reseller. Someone who buys products at retail price and then, having bought something that’s otherwise sold out, flips it at an inflated, demand-driven price.
Reselling fucking sucks, for reasons I’m sure you’re already aware of, but that I’m going to list here anyway. For starters, reselling makes it harder to buy things that you want to buy since stock is being bought by people who don’t want the thing—they only want the value associated with it. Then, the practice makes buying that thing a lot more expensive, since resellers by definition charge more for their stock than a store would have.
Finally, it’s just so...bleak as a principle. It’s a market conjured entirely out of thin air, the most miserable, late-stage capitalism industry imaginable. Reselling exists to serve no purpose other than to enrich those able to crowbar their way between a product and its intended market.
Reselling is an annoyance to people trying to buy cool shit—like video game consoles or sneakers—and in times like a global pandemic a genuine problem for people trying to buy essential goods, like medicine and toilet paper. It’s a practice that is just the easiest thing in the world to condemn.
But not if you’re the Wall Street Journal! Their profile on the teen is gushing. He’s a boot-strapping kid, a wily entrepreneur, someone smart enough to see a way to make money and just take it. It marvels at the amount of money he’s making—$1.7 million revenue last year, with $110,000 in profits—and labels him “a tech-savvy teen [who] exploits the supercharged resale market for scarce goods.”
Did nobody at the WSJ stop to consider that these goods are scarce in large part because of resellers? Or read then re-read this passage?
Reselling nonessential goods in most cases is legal, though retailers generally frown upon it as it can create friction with consumers. Hate mail and trolling from shoppers angry about the marked-up prices comes with the territory. [The teen’s father] said he was initially uncomfortable with his son’s business success because he benefited from a situation created by the health crisis. But he concluded that it was permissible because his son only resells luxury goods, not necessities.
“It is a real distinction,” said [the dad], 61. “This is capitalism.”
Of course they did. It’s the Wall Street Journal, free market boot-strapping is their bread and butter. “This is capitalism” indeed, baby.
I don’t want to hang this kid out to dry here. The teen, like all of us, is living in the vampiric capitalist hellscape that is 21st-century America, and that reality has shaped him accordingly. The kid’s dalliance with reselling here—and brush with national fame—might just be a phase he looks back on one day as a changed man.
Or not, whatever, I’m not his dad, and anyway the kid isn’t really the point here. There are countless other people out there just like him—the New York Times profiled a similar, if less successful example recently as well—and the problem isn’t necessarily an individual one, but systemic.
Resellers are flourishing at the moment because the market allows them to, and has been powerless (and in many cases simply unwilling) to stop them. It doesn’t matter to Sony whether a PlayStation fan or a reseller buys a PS5, because they’ve made the sale. It doesn’t matter to Nike who buys a pair of sneakers, so long as they get the money for it.
And it doesn’t matter to a reseller how badly we might want something that is supposed to cost $500, but now costs $1000 because the only people who own them are those who only want them to sell them again.
It just sucks. Everything about this sucks! And instead of companies, politicians and the media looking for solutions, we get either shrugs of the shoulders from companies, or inspirational profiles like this. So much of the frustration people have with reselling is that it seems like an insurmountable problem, a horrific consequence of generations of politicians and consumers resigning themselves to “letting the market speak for itself”.
The kid’s dad said it himself, what’s happening here isn’t illegal. And maybe to him that’s OK. But for the rest of us, just because something’s legal doesn’t mean it’s right.