SAN FRANCISCO -- David Flashner thought he had it wired: Buy two iPhones last Friday when they first went on sale, keep one, and sell the other at a profit so big it would pay for most of the first one.
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 on 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.
Across the nation, people looking to make a quick profit bought one, two, or as many phones as they could by recruiting friends to stand in line with them. Many 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 Nintendo 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 phones have sold for more than $700, which after taxes, is not a remarkable profit .
Most Apple stores in the United States have no phones available, but the most-determined customers seem to have been able to buy phones. Few seem willing to pay even $100 over retail.
"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. He 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 . "I think it's the last time I'm going to do any kind of electronics product."
Analysts estimate that Apple and AT&T stores have sold around 500,000 phones so far: One 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.
The Apple Web page that had listed the phone's availability across the country no longer shows the row of red (for no) and green (for yes) lights. It says: "Please check back after 9:00 p.m. for tomorrow's status. After your local store closes, we determine iPhone availability for the following day." Only two Apple stores were listed as having phones available yesterday: Tigard, Ore., and the Shadyside neighborhood of Pittsburgh.