In cult-like fashion, thousands of consumers around the globe waited for hours, sometimes days, this week outside Apple Stores to be among the first to get their hands on the new iPhone 5. For a select few who were getting paid to sleep on the sidewalk, the wait actually made a bit of sense.
A Businessweek “dispatch from the front” outside an Apple Store in Manhattan sums up the essential pointlessness of camping out for days in order to purchase a product that there are other, far easier, if marginally slower, ways to buy:
An Apple line-wait is a curious thing, as it has no real reason to exist. When Nike reproduces classic Air Jordans, people do camp out, but that’s because Nike makes only so many and then no more. If you don’t buy a pair now, there will be none left, and the secondhand market will punish you with a 200 percent markup.
By contrast, Apple will make as many iPhones as people want to buy. All of its iPhones and other products are also readily available for purchase online. Many of those waiting in line can’t quite make sense of their actions. A 19-year-old camped out in front of an Apple Store in Germany, holding a sign that said “Ich bin Nummer 1” (I am Number 1) explained his compulsion to queue up this way to Reuters:
“I just need to have it. I know that the new iPhone from a new features perspective hardly has anything extra to offer. But I just needed to be here. It’s the hype, man!”
“None of these people need the new iPhone,” wrote BusinessInsider’s Henry Blodget, and “none of these people will be substantially better off once they get the new iPhone.” What, then, explains their actions? Perhaps, according to Blodget, “the most effective corporate brainwashing campaign in the history of mankind” deserves some of the credit.
Some entrepreneurial types, however, had fairly valid reasons to justify waiting for hours, if not days, in line. Namely, they were getting paid to do so, sometimes quite handsomely.
The Chicago Tribune reported that a group of friends in their early 20s had been camped out in front of a Apple Store since Tuesday, and they were willing to sell the first spot in line for $500—before bumping up the price to $1,200. It’s unclear if anyone wound up taking the offer, but the Number 5 person in line confirmed that she sold her spot to a bidder on Craiglist for $400.
Hundreds of iPhone fiends, meanwhile, used the website TaskRabbit to hire someone to wait in line for them, according to CultofMac.com and Businessweek. Relative to prices like those mentioned above, the TaskRabbiters were a bargain: just $55.
Among the more high-paid iPhone 5 waiters was 24-year-old Charlie Hufnagel. Featured in a San Francisco Chronicle story, Hufnagel was reportedly given $1,500 by an “anonymous Apple fanboy” for making the first purchase of an iPhone 5 at an Apple Store in downtown San Fran. Hufnagel, described as an “unemployed social-media communicator,” started his campout with a green tent on the sidewalk on Monday morning.
In London, meanwhile, a pair of friends named George Horne and Richard Wheatcroft slept in camping chairs for seven nights outside an Apple Store. Per Forbes, their plan was to sell the first two phones they bought on eBay, and also sell the third and fourth places in line to bidders, to the tune of £5,000 each (over $8,000).
Did the two plan on buying iPhone 5s for themselves? Nope. Wheatcroft said that his phone is a Android HTC, and that he’s “probably the worst person to have in an Apple queue ever.”
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However, it looked like all the hoopla was having an effect on the young man. “I do need a new phone,” Wheatcroft said, “so I’ll probably get an iPhone 4.”