Apple 2.0

Covering the business that Steve Jobs built

iPhone 5: Customers in the Big Apple camp out 8 days early

September 16, 2012: 4:28 PM ET

By Sunday there were 7 in the queue -- each of them for commercial purposes

Five days to go: Hazem, Sage, Jessica, Keenen, Jackie, Brian and Joseph

FORTUNE -- In the popular imagination -- and in Samsung TV ads -- the people willing to wait in line for days to buy the newest Apple (AAPL) gewgaw are hopeless fanboys and fangirls who need to get a life.

That attitude is so 2007.

Today, occupying a space near enough to the front of an iPhone queue to draw media attention is a commodity with tangible commercial value.

The two guys from Kent camped out in front of Apple's Covent Garden store in London, for example, are hoping to raise thousands of pounds for Cancer Research UK.

And each of the seven New Yorkers we met in front of the big glass cube of Apple's Fifth Avenue store on Sunday -- five days and nights before the iPhone 5 goes on sale -- was there on business of one sort or another.

#1 and #2: Hazem Sayed, 54, and his marketing manager Sage (short for Sagittarius), 31, set up camp Thursday at 8 a.m. -- eight days early -- to promote a social media startup called Vibe. Sayed describes it as a tool "to create ad hoc communities of people who happen to be in the same place" -- like an iPhone line. He's invited local developers to use Vibe this week to demo their mobile apps (through a projected image on the sidewalk in front of the growing crowd) and he'll invite the people in the queue to vote -- through Vibe -- for their favorite. "It's a real blue-collar app," says Sage, whose resume includes opening up empty buildings for squatters and doing logistics for Occupy Wall Street. "Jet setters don't get the app because they don't have a neighborhood."

#3 and 4: Jessica Mellow, 27, and Keenen Thompson, 22, are old hands at this. We met them last October when they were Nos. 2 and 1, respectively, in the iPhone 4S line. (See 17 days in the iPhone line: Wet, cold & smelling like Cheetos.) Mellow, who makes a living doing promotions and movie screenings and does body painting (as an artist and model) on the side, is blogging about her experience this week at iphonewhatever.com. Keenen, who worked at Apple retail for a 2.5 years, is now the assistant to a Conde Nast fashion writer. Last year their line-sitting was subsidized by a stipend from Gazelle, a Boston-based company that does a brisk business buying old iPhones just before the launch of a new one. This year Gazelle is doing it again, paying for Mellow and Thompson's iPhone 5s and providing food, drink, camp chairs, sleeping bags, Gazelle-branded t-shirts, sweatshirts, hats, wrist bands, and, in case of rain, a tent.

#4, #5, and #6: Jackie Lin, 15, Brian Ceballo, 18, and Joseph Cruz, 19, lucked out. Lin thought he'd hold a early spot in line and sell it to someone with less patience and more money. Ceballo and Cruz, who are cousins, wanted the new phone, but as aspiring musicians (pop, R&B and hip hop), they also hoped to get some of that good free publicity that attends an Apple launch event. All three lucked out when Gazelle showed up and offered to support the first five customers in line. Sayed and Sage, who had their own Vibe thing going, passed. These guys snapped up the offer, and when I met them they were all decked out in Gazelle gear, down to the bright orange wristbands. Lin, meanwhile, has changed his business plan. As long as Gazelle is paying for the iPhone 5, he's going to keep his spot and the free phone.

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Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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