How To Buy Unobtainable Production Gear

The Blackmagic Design ATEM Mini Pro was introduced well after the pandemic and quarantine hit and, therefore, has been almost impossible to actually buy. Blackmagic Design can’t make enough units to satisfy demand. This is one that I hunted down and purchased four weeks after the unit was announced. How did I find it? Read on.

Buying new production gear in 2020 is proving to be a bit different than it was in 2019 or any other year in recent memory. Most of us in production have been taking an extended hiatus from buying since the pandemic hit about three months ago, but as the months of quarantine have worn on, for me, there have been a few new acquisitions, primarily for my company’s change of direction toward live streaming. We recently inked a deal to partner with a colleague’s live streaming company, combining my company’s aesthetic approach with the partner’s skill set and business model that has been centered around live streaming content for the past decade.

How To Buy Unobtainable Production Gear
Our Main Live Stream System is VMix Live paired with VMix Call for remote live streaming. Pretzels are available for a nominal extra charge.

Since our companies have merged, there has been a need for some specific pieces of gear in order to maximize our new versatility in providing different types and levels of live streaming production capability. In practical terms, we have an “A” live streaming system that’s based around a high-end custom PC running VMix Live and VMix Call software. One of the tenants of producing live stream content is that we feel strongly that a total of 100 percent redundancy is needed in live streaming.

Live streaming is essentially similar to live television production, and if you’ve ever worked live TV before, you know that things can often go sideways with gear. In the live TV or streaming world, if something fails or isn’t working correctly, your entire production is in jeopardy. We strongly feel that since we present ourselves as consummate professionals, a large part of being professional is to build in redundancies in all of your gear and resources.

Many of our competitors don’t take this same approach, meaning that if a client books the competitor and a piece of gear breaks, malfunctions or stops working during a live stream, the competitor may have their “Plan A” well thought out, but if the “Plan A” fails, the competitor doesn’t always have a good “Plan B” waiting to step in and save the day. Why do other companies skip having a good Plan B or even a Plan C? Probably because redundancy is expensive.

When It Falls On You

When we live stream an event for our clients, they often have everything on the line. Our last two larger live stream projects were both fundraising auctions and each had over a million dollars in auction proceeds at risk. A failure in our live stream could have resulted in a loss of over a million dollars for one client and about $980,000 for the other client. It’s sobering to know that your client’s financial future for one of these events is completely in your hands. If we or our gear fails, the client loses big money and we lose our reputation.

We haven’t yet had the funds available to replicate our main live streaming system, although that’s our goal for 2020. In the meantime, we saw that Blackmagic Design introduced the ATEM Mini Pro four-channel live streaming switcher. While the ATEM Mini Pro can’t begin to replicate the functionality that our VMix Live system can, in the event that our VMix system ever went down, the ATEM Mini Pro could at least switch between for cameras or video sources so that we could keep the client’s live stream on the air.

How To Buy Unobtainable Production Gear
While I have successfully purchased the Blackmagic Design ATEM Mini Pro, I literally received this notice from B&H Photo as I was writing this article. I’ve had the same notification from B&H for the past six weeks.

OK, Let’s Buy It

After watching Blackmagic Design CEO Grant Petty’s excellent introduction video for the ATEM Mini Pro, I made the decision that the device could function as a backup for our main system until we could afford to build another high-end system, and the ATEM Mini Pro could also be handy as a stand-alone live stream and recording solution for my own gear reviews and other multicam projects. Of course, I tried to order an ATEM Mini Pro as soon as the video was released. The problem was, so did tens of thousands of other users around the world.

In speaking with several of my friends and colleagues who wanted to either purchase the ATEM Mini Pro or another live streaming capture device/adapter, I found that the common thread was that not only was the hot new ATEM Mini nowhere to be found a month after ordering it, basically all of the available single camera capture/streaming converter devices were sold out.

The Usual Suspects And Some Unknown Sources

I had been checking all of the usual sources that I usually purchase pro video and audio gear from, and nobody seemed to have any specific information about when they might have the ATEM Mini Pro for purchase. Most retailers will accept pre-orders, but I don’t like pre-ordering gear for our business unless the retailer can at least provide a window of when we can expect to receive the gear, and nobody was offering any kind of dates about when they could fulfill a pre-order.

With the ATEM Mini Pro, a perfect storm of the pandemic interrupting supply chains to and from China, where most electronics are made, the quarantine causing almost everyone who needed to live stream deciding that right now in 2020 was the perfect time to kick it off and buy up every live streaming device they could get their hands on. Combine these two factors with the ATEM Mini Pro supporting live streaming with amazing features at a very low cost, and you had zero availability.

How To Buy Unobtainable Production Gear
Here’s a retailer on Amazon who might be able to deliver the ATEM Mini Pro to you sometime in July. They’re only charging $132 for shipping too. What a bargain!

The Death of the Mom-And-Pop Photo Shop

Because of their fairly generous return policies, I’ve tended to buy lower dollar gear like this ATEM Mini Pro from either Amazon or B&H Photo. When buying higher dollar gear like cameras and higher-end lighting or lenses, I like to support smaller retail stores that are near me, but unfortunately, most of the camera stores have disappeared in my part of California and there really don’t seem to be too many smaller mom-and-pop stores left that sell this sort of specialized gear like pro lighting, lenses, cameras and live streaming gear.

We have definitely lost choices in where to buy the gear we need to run our businesses, and we all know that Amazon and large retailers like B&H Photo now command a sizable share of the pro video market. The upside is that their size means that either of these retailers will typically receive higher numbers of a hot new device than smaller retailers, although to be fair, Amazon sells certain products on their own, but they also serve as the storefront for many thousands of smaller retailers who sell through Amazon.

A Strategic Game Plan

Since I was eager to finally acquire the ATEM Mini Pro, I kept checking in with various retailers and friends who had ordered them from various retailers. The results weren’t encouraging. The challenge is when you pre-order from a large retailer like B&H Photo, you’re placing your pre-order in a huge line of other pre-orders, and according to B&H policy, they ship on a first-come/first-served model. If you’re in the first few minutes of pre-order, you’re good. If you wait a few days or even weeks, you may wait a long time.

The challenge is that B&H won’t tell you how many other people are in that line ahead of you and how many units they’re receiving and then sending out for pre-orders. I checked a lot of retailers who I’ve bought from in the past like Full Compass, Guitar Center, Samys Camera, Adorama and dozens of others. The story was pretty much the same at all of them. “Out of Stock” and “Coming Soon” were the two phrases I saw displayed at pretty much every retailer. I also checked eBay and it was really the same story—nobody had the unit in stock, but some were promising delivery by a specific date in June, July or August. This wasn’t encouraging as I needed the ATEM Mini Pro fairly soon for some upcoming live stream projects.

How To Buy Unobtainable Production Gear
Amazon has listings for anyone selling anything and a separate page for authorized retailers selling. Know which one you’re looking at.

I noticed that every time I looked up the ATEM Mini Pro on Amazon, I was seeing different buying choices though. Amazon themselves showed, “Out of Stock but available from these sellers.” If you click on the sellers who supposedly have units available, the selling prices were ridiculous. Remember the Blackmagic ATEM Mini retails for $595. I was seeing it offered for $790 plus $5.62 shipping, then for $959 with FREE shipping and for $999 also with free shipping!

None of these sellers are authorized Blackmagic Design certified retailers. I’m all for capitalism and free enterprise, but in my opinion, these sellers are price gouging, not just putting a healthy and fair markup on the device. If you HAVE to have the device, it seems as some buyers will spend that much of a markup to obtain the device. Not me. But some obviously will.

How To Buy Unobtainable Production Gear
If you want, you can pay for your tardiness by paying the markup from price gougers. In some cases, this may actually still make sense if you need the product to line up a big-paying client project where your profit will easily cover the price gouging. I’ve paid the gouging price before when it was a good business decision.

Jackpot!

After two weeks of continual searching for the product to be in stock somewhere and striking out, I was becoming discouraged. It was looking as if I’d just have to put in pre-orders with multiple retailers and just hope for the best. With no solid delivery date though, it could take months to get a hold of a unit in time for some projects we wanted to use it on. Just for kicks, I kept checking Amazon and one day, as the page loaded for the ATEM Mini, a small New York camera shop I hadn’t heard of pulled up as having an ATEM Mini Pro in stock.

I checked them out online with the Better Business Bureau and read their reviews. They looked like an OK retailer, so I hit the buy button. Unbelievably, their single ATEM Mini Pro was in my shopping cart, I checked out and found that the Mini Pro would be on my doorstep in three days. It was strictly a case of being in the right place at the right time. If that ATEM Mini Pro had sat for five more minutes, I probably wouldn’t have been lucky enough to buy it.   

Tips, Tricks And Advice

In this instance, I was just lucky to have scored the ATEM Mini Pro. You can increase your chances of getting the latest and best gear by following a few simple strategies. These strategies are no guarantee you’ll be able to buy the new, just introduced gear whenever you want it, but these tips and tricks can definitely help you get the gear you want or need sooner.

  • Get on it! In my experience, you stand a much better chance of getting the product you want if you’re at the head of the line. Online retailers like B&H will often have a notification on their website of when they’ll begin accepting pre-orders.
  • Shop Around. Certain websites like eBay and Amazon are aggregators where you’re buying from any of a number of actual sellers. Keep checking back daily and sometimes you can get lucky where obscure retailers will get one or two copies of the item and if you’re on it, you can purchase it quickly as I did with the ATEM Mini Pro.
  • Pay More. If there’s a brand-new product on the market, you can often post WTB (Want To Buy) notices on many of the forums and discussion groups. Of course, you’ll pay a premium but at times, you may need the piece of gear for a big project that you’ll make a handsome profit from. In these cases, paying a price-gouging price may still ultimately be worth it if the piece of gear is unique or can do something special. 
  • Become A Tester or Reviewer. Certain YouTubers and social media influencers are often sent the product way before it’s available, and for lower dollar items, the manufacturers often send you the product to keep in exchange for the review or posts about it. I usually like to purchase new cameras, lighting and lenses after they’ve been released and they have some kind of track record of how they work in actual use. There are times, though, like with the ATEM Mini Pro, where you need it now in order to capitalize on a business opportunity. In those cases, I hope that my advice is helpful in your landing the unobtainable.

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