Genius Bar

Apple Genius Bar scalping: Why didn't we think of that?

July 30, 2013: 7:12 AM ET

If you want a free repair at a Beijing Apple Store, be prepared to pay.

iPhone 4S launch in Beijing. Photo: M.I.C. Gadget

Gangs of Chinese scalpers at the iPhone 4S launch. Photo: M.I.C. Gadget

FORTUNE -- When Wang Bin's iPhone 4S developed a glitch, he went online to book a slot at the nearest Apple Store Genius Bar.

No luck.

Mr. Wang, a correspondent for the Beijing Morning News, soon discovered that every appointment at all three Beijing Apple Stores had been booked four weeks in advance.

They'd been snapped up by scalpers and were being resold online for anywhere from $1.60 to $6.50 apiece.

Wang, who published an account of his troubles on Monday, had a choice: He could either pay the scalpers' prices or stand in line for up to four hours hoping for a cancellation.

Think of it as a 21st century illustration of what economists call the "tragedy of the commons," whereby a shared resource -- a rich fishing bank, a field for grazing cattle -- is quickly depleted by individuals acting independently and in their own self interest.

This is not the first time Chinese scalpers have caused headaches for Apple (AAPL). The launch of the iPhone 4S in Beijing was abruptly halted in January 2012 when the company's barricades were overwhelmed by gangs of "yellow bull" scalpers bused in from the countryside.

Apple CEO Tim Cook is reportedly visiting China this week to smooth over a variety of issues. This one, however, is probably below his radar screen.

Thanks to Electronista for spotting the story.

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