We heard earlier today that the 80GB PS3 is being discontinued in Japan. It looks like the same thing is happening in Australia, too.
Several sources we have spoken to recently claim that stock levels of the 80GB PS3 console around the country have hit rock bottom. That is, Sony isn't supplying new shipments of the 80GB PS3 console, leaving retail to sell what they currently have on the shelf.
What does this mean? It sounds like Sony is clearing the retail channel in preparation for a new SKU or a new model of the PS3 console. Or they're doing it in preparation for a price drop. In both cases, it's in Sony's interest to shift all that existing stock before any announcement is made.
Could it be a PS3 with a larger hard drive? We think not. Sony already lets consumers upgrade their hard drive at purchase, so it wouldn't make sense to clear out the 80GB consoles just to pave the way for a 160GB console.
Could it be a price drop? Possibly. If Sony drops the price while retail is still full of current stock, they lose money. Retail has bought those consoles for a higher price than they're now able to sell them, and someone has to pay for that difference. For a business bleeding money, that's not something they'd be keen on.
Could it be the rumoured PS3 Slim? Again, possibly. Sony would want all the 80GBs gone before rolling out a slimmer, cheaper console. And the timing ties in with the unconfirmed retail listing on the German Amazon site over the weekend.
I recently spoke with Michael Ephraim, head of Sony Australia's PlayStation business and I asked him if the 80GB PS3 at $699 was where they wanted to be.
"Let's face it, we'd love to have a lower retail price, but we're a company that needs to deliver a profitable result. The weakness in the Australian dollar hasn't helped, you know, from being at almost parity to now being in the 70-plus cents range.
"As far as the model is concerned, we're comfortable with the 80GB... which is of course upgradeable, so that storage capacity isn't really a factor. And if you look at our sales where we're tracking well against our competitor at a premium, I think we have a lot of value that's just based on consumers understanding what the device can do. As people understand that more, the price becomes less of a factor."
Ephraim understandably refused to confirm that the 80GB SKU would be their only hardware offering come the end of the year.
If you work in retail, let us know if you've heard anything more.