The other Apple economy: $2B in devices on eBay

CEO Cook thinks Apple device resale boosts the company's ecosystem

While Apple just announced its second quarter numbers, there's another economy -- and not a shadow economy, either -- involving Macintosh and iOS products that the Cupertino, Calif.-based company doesn't report: Resales of older Macs, iPhones and iPads.

And that other economy isn't small.

Nearly $2 billion worth of Apple devices -- Macs, iPhones, iPads and iPods -- were sold on eBay over the past 12 months in the U.S. alone, according to Apple.

Data mined from eBay's analytics platform and provided to Computerworld by eBay showed that, as with Apple's own sales, the iPhone dominates and the Mac and iPad bicker over second place.

In Apple's universe, the iPhone accounted for a majority of sales for the seventh straight quarter: 53% of Apple's $37.4 billion in revenue came from new iPhones. The other two lines split most of the rest. The iPad accounted for 16% of all revenue, while Mac sales represented a relatively robust 15% of the total, up from 12% the quarter before.

The iPod -- yes, people still buy iPods -- accounted for just 1% of Apple's sales, nearly a rounding error.

Like one of an infinite number of multiverses, eBay's traffic in primarily old-but-still-sellable Apple goods mirrored, more or less, Apple's product line breakdown. The iPhone dominated on the online auction site, accounting for 55% the $1.94 billion in sales of Apple goods. Meanwhile, Mac products accounted for 20% of Apple sales on eBay and iPad sales represented 19% of the total.

However, the iPod was a heartier competitor on eBay than it is in the market for new Apple products, accounting for 7% of all sales of Apple goods on the site.

The eBay numbers aren't as accurate as Apple's -- they were compiled based on sellers' keywords, leading the auction site to characterize them as "ballpark" rather than exact -- but they're interesting nonetheless.

The transactions on eBay -- both in dollar amounts and units -- involve both new and used hardware, but it's clear, both from spot checks of the site itself and from the eBay-provided data, that used goods dominate. Sales of the "Mac Laptop, All" category, for instance, which included older models such as the PowerBook, iBook and PowerPC-equipped Macs, as well as some newer machines, totaled $161 million, or 42% of all Mac sales by revenue.

So it was with the iPhone. Sales of Apple's smartphone on eBay amounted to $1.1 billion, and 83% of that total came from transactions involving the iPhone 5 and older models. Apple's newest iPhone models, the 5S and 5C, accounted for the remaining 17%.

eBay sales by revenue
Revenue from sales on eBay mostly mirrors the product line splits in Apple's own financials. (Data: eBay.)

That's not to say retailers don't sell new Apple gear on eBay; they do. But the site slants toward secondhand goods (or as some sellers like to say, "barely used" -- as if they were peddling cars driven only on Sundays by little old ladies from Pasadena) because that's what the eBay audience is looking for.

Outliers exist, naturally: When Apple had production problems with the radically redesigned -- and cylindrical -- Mac Pro in late 2013 and through the spring of 2014, profiteers flocked to eBay to sell the hard-to-find computers at prices that were nearly double the retail cost. And when new iPhones have been in short supply, scalpers have resold those at exorbitant prices, too.

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