peneconomics Lamy followup misses the point

Jonathon Deans has posted some controversial stuff about Lamys future prospects and their current situation and competition. Many people (me included) have been critical of his points and the way he apparently comes to his conclusions. His latest followup seems to address some cherry picked feedback, but in my opinion avoids or misses the most important points. Here are my thoughts on what he has written.

Twsbi may have a real advantage when it comes to the US market, where both the Eco and Safari are roughly the same price, but Lamy hugely outperform in Europe where the price difference is more like 2:1 (even 3:1 in the UK). This is absolutely true and I’m afraid it reflects a bit of sloppiness on my part, and not specifying the market that I was discussing.

Deans makes pretty broad statements, like Lamys premium offerings not being successful and in earlier posts he claimed that the Eco would outsell the Safari (at least for some time). That makes it sound as if he is speaking about Lamys whole business. If he is looking at isolated segments of the market (enthusiasts, geographically…) he should clarify that. But that makes some of his statements (Lamy premium pens failing) even less sound.

[…]Twsbi […] haven’t really invested in European distribution yet. Once they do, their costs should fall, and we should see them become more competitive.

IF they do. IF they CAN. Again, he makes it sound like a certainty that we just need to wait for. If he has any info on that, tell us. If he doesnt, this is wishful thinking.

Ed raises a point on Twitter that comes up now and then, when he points out there’s no data or sources in the Lamy post. As regular readers have probably noticed, that’s standard for this blog even though I understand it can be frustrating for those who want to delve deeper.

Yeah, it’s frustrating alright. Not only for people that want to delve deeper, but mostly because it shows that many of Deans assumptions are baseless (which doesn’t mean they are wrong, we just can’t know), and arguments he builds on them become more and more strange. If he is aware of that I don’t see that in his posts, they read as if he presents assumptions as facts.

Nowadays, academic economics is largely about data, statistics, diagrams, etc and it becomes impenetrable to anyone without a master’s degree. While there are good reasons for this, it also means that economics is often inaccessible to the general public. As this blog is all about making economics more accessible, I decided that I wouldn’t use any equations, any statistics, any diagrams, nothing that would prevent someone with time and interest from understanding any posts.

Thats condescending. Never underestimate your audience. And not showing data, not talking about data, makes it look like you don’t have data. Deans has admitted to me that he doesn’t, and later in this post he dances around the fact but comes close to saying it, too.

The problem is that, even if one retailer or one brand decided to give you access to all of their numbers, it still wouldn’t necessarily be enough to make the kinds of certain judgements that Ed seems to be seeking.

Deans either doesn’t get it or he’s dishonest. It’s not about judgments his critics are seeking, it’s about the judgments HE is making without having data.

Lamy could open the kimono but without Twsbi’s data, it’s really hard to say much at all. […]

Deans should take this paragraph to heart.

My approach then is what’s known in economics as methodological individualism: you think about individual behaviour, either buyers or firms, and try to figure out what’s driving them or why they might do certain things. Thanks to the blogs and forums there’s often plenty of insights available with which to form hypotheses about general phenomena.

The plural of anecdote is not data.

[…]it’s for me to describe what I believe is happening, […]

If Deans is being honest here, if this is not just appeasement, he needd to work on his writing. I read his beliefs regularly stated as facts.

[…]where Lamy fans have had their feelings hurt and have grown critical. And that’s fair enough. There’s an idea called status politics, which claims that some people will closely identify with something — be it a brand, an idea, a lifestyle, a sports team, anything — and want to see it raised in social status. They react strongly against anything which they perceive to lower its status. So you might believe that the homeless lack status and therefore you’ll support any policy which raises their status, regardless of the actual costs and benefits.

Condescending and defensive. Branding critics as fans comes close to an ad hominem fallacy, since Deans are not talking about their points, but about a mechanism that could make them reflexively defensive.

Caveat Emptor

Disclaimer: I thought long and hard about publishing this post, and I finally decided not to name the vendor that I dealt with. If you think you figured out who I am talking about I kindly ask you to refrain from exposing any names. Thank you.

Over the past few months I have been dealing with a particularly nasty situation that I have gotten into with a vintage pen dealer.

I was interested in buying a Pilot Murex. Reading up on the pen I ended up on the site of a collector and vendor that I would consider an expert on this very model, and his site has a comprehensive history of the pens. Encouraged by his expertise I browsed the pens he offered for sale and found a listing for a NOS (new old stock) Murex with a lose clip on the cap and a pen in non-working condition that had a cap in good shape as a bonus. The pictures posted gave a good impression both of the NOS pen and the cap on the additional pen. Our mail conversation was swift and pleasant, we agreed on a price and after I made my payment I was notified that the pens had left Japan for Germany.

Weeks later I received a notification from my local customs office to pick up a parcel from Japan. The packaging was in perfect condition, so where the cardboard envelops that the pens where separately packed in. The NOS pen was in the condition presented to me in the pictures, but when I examined the second pen with the “good” cap I found this:

What follows are excerpts of the e-mail exchage that resulted:

Tim: I was able to pick up the pens from customs the other day.
As you can imagine, I am very disappointed with the condition of the cap on the second pen. It looks fine from the front, as seen on the pictures you posted, but the side you didn’t show has major dents and scratches.

I would like to arrange a return and full refund.

Vendor: I don’t recall any dents or scratches at all. I also don’t give refunds for used pens. Sorry!

V: I should also point out that you paid for the new pen with loose cap. The second pen was a gift. No refund available for a gift. Sorry!

T: I understand your position, but I am fairly sure you remember the markings you can see on the picture I attached to this email. I checked the packaging, no damage there, so I am sure that the pen left you in this condition. You carefully worded your offer in a way to present the second pen to make up for the lose clip/damaged cap on the actual pen, and you took the pictures of the second pen in a way that was clearly meant to hide these issues. I feel mislead by you and I kindly ask you to reconsider your position on a refund in this case.

The next answer honestly made me speechless, something that does not happen often:

V: That does not look like the cap I sent. Those dents are not in the photos I have of that pen’s cap. I have been burned by someone in the past by this very thing. A woman sent me photos of a damaged Murex cap and wanted me to send her another cap (apparently she had a second Murex with damaged cap). I swore I’d never believe such stories in the future.

Anyway, scratches and small dents are not eligible for refund on a used pen that was sent as a gift along with the new pen. You have a perfectly good pen with a loose clip. And you can choose between the two clips.

Not only was the item that would be shipped to me presented in a way that hid some major flaws, now I was being being falsely accused of trying to scam this person. Just because apparently he had a bad encounter in the past. This was my response:

T:I am very sorry that you have had bad experiences in the past, and I am even more sorry that you have decided to amplify and pass on these bad experiences to another enthusiast by feigning ignorance on the issue. I can assure you that this is the cap I got from you. Unfortunately I feel like I have plenty of reasons to complain about our interactions and since you have decided to be unreasonable about all this, I will have to vent my frustration via other means.

The next day I recieved a notification about my money being refunded. Over the next week I send 3 e-mails asking where to return the pens to. I had no address since customs had made the address on the parcel illegible, as I explained to the vendor.

A full month later I receive an answer with an address, the excuse that my mails went into spam and a request to

be honest and do the right thing as I did

Since my messages did not go to spam before I suspect the person on the other hand marked them as spam. I was genuinely upset by his request for me to do the right thing and him falsely putting himself in the position of acting with integrity. His late answer leads me to believe that he might have found another buyer that he is probably going to treat the same way…
I have since returned the pens to the vendor, having spend time, money at customs and emotional energy for nothing but an education in buying vintage pens online.

So what have I learned ?

    Pen people are still the best, even if some of them aren’t. I will not, like this person did, put my negative experiences on the new people that I meet through this hobby.
    I should never buy vintage pens online. I’m sorry, but the risk is just too high. Unfortunately that means that I will never own or experience the vintage pens that I am most interested in because the European market doesnt offer many of them, but that’s just how it has to be from now on.

Watch out for yourself.

P.S.: I have changed the statement “Never buy vintage pens online” to “I should never buy vintage pens online”. Although I think that the preface “So what have I learned” puts my original statement in the correct perspective, I have been informed by vendors I respect that the original statement could be received as overly broad. I hope this clarifies things.

How to ruin a vintage pen in less than 2 hours

A cautionary tale

As I’m sitting here, a broken vintage (or classic) pen in front of me, I reflect on the poor choices that have let me to this place. Learn from my mistakes.

Step 1: Swallowing the bait

So you are interested in classic or vintage fountain pens. You have some experience with pens and their upkeep, you have aligned some tines, you have disassembled some pens that are more challenging than others.

You read the blogs. And someday, somebody with similar taste to yours will post about their latest vintage interests. And you will think to yourself: “Hm, this could be a pen that I would enjoy. Maybe I should check the online auctions.” You see that the prices are affordable and you find similar models that you find interesting, too.

Your fate is sealed!

The hunt is on

It’s late. You have looked at auctions all evening and you have talked yourself into accepting higher and higher prices to get a good quality pen. And then you find it. The pen you have been looking for. At a price you are willing to pay. And it is NOS.

New old stock!

Sooner than you realize you receive mails confirming purchase, payment and that your item has been shipped.

The payoff

You just came home and unpacked your backpack from a nice little trip out of town when the doorbell rings. DHL is here with an express delivery. Never have you signed your name more quickly, never has a parcel been opened more carefully yet swiftly.

And there it is. Your brand new, never before used Parker 50 Falcon. And it is perfect! Not a mark on the barrel, not a scratch on the arrow clip. The cap closes with a satisfying click and is rock solid. The section is without the typical rings that plague this model and the nib… Oh that gorgeous, integrated nib. You ink up the pen and write the first few lines on a fresh sheet of Rhodia paper. The ample ball of tipping material glides over the paper with just the right amount of feedback and leaves a fine line that is perfect for your print handwriting.

It is a pen nerds dream, and you are living it!

The incident

You need to share this joyous occasion! Better take some pictures of your new favorite pen and send them to the only person that understands you: Your friend that is also into pens. First responses from Facebook are positive, and you feel justified and supported in your decision to get this beauty. Let’s celebrate with a cold beverage!

You are in front of the open fridge looking for a bottle when you hear it: a little noise, insignificant to anybody but you.
You immediately identify what has happened.
Your new vintage pen has just rolled off of the table and hit the wooden floors, hard.

After a deep breath, you close the fridge and, having resigned yourself to the inevitable, you walk over to assess the damage.

It is bad. The once perfect, sleek integrated nib behaved like any well crafted arrow should and hit the “target” first. The impact has bent the tines down in an almost perfect 90° angle. The pen is seriously damaged, and it has been in your possession for about 90 minutes.

The silver lining

You are calm. This had to happen to you in your pursuit of the hobby sooner or later. All there is to do now is to go over your options:

  • Nibmeisters. You don’t know any, and the ones you have heard of are an ocean away from you.
  • The internet. A quick search doesn’t yield a lot of results on servicing or repairing this specific model of pen.
  • Spare parts. Hey, you won an auction for a nib unit for the pen that you got pretty cheap! You could wait for that to arrive. And since it will arrive sooner or later anyways, you could try to fix the pen yourself…

The ultimate defeat

“How hard can it be?” you think to yourself. “The tines are steel, I should be able to bend them back if im careful” you think to yourself.

You try it. And you are making promising progress at first! The tines are getting closer to their original position! A final effort and they should be back to…

Snap.

One tine has broken. You can’t even find the missing piece on the table, but it is clearly gone from the nib.

Your pen is ruined.

Acknowledging your defeat, you check the auction for the spare part. It is just the nib, without the feed.

A quick Google search tells you that removing the feed is most easily done with liquid nitrogen!

You put all your pens away for the day and remember that cold beverage that was the spark that lead to all of this. Seems like a good idea right now.