Sony Walkman Dies. A Hint of Sony’s Future?

Anyone who was over 18 years old in the early 1980′s remembers the Sony Walkman. It was a compact cassette tape player that revolutionized how people listened to music back then just like how the iPod revolutionized music a few years ago.

Like people today own, or have bought, several iPods, I usually bought a new Sony Walkman every year (I played mine constantly).

1979 Sony Walkman

Those Sony cassette Walkmans were, I think, the Zenith of Japan’s “cool” technical gadgetry. Everyone owned a Walkman.

Well, today, the Walkman has officially died.

From Switched:

After 31 years and over 200 million units sold, Sony is officially putting the cassette model Walkman out to pasture. Introduced in 1979, the portable tape player defined the following 10-plus years of mobile music playback. It was even a leader in the era of optical media, with its Walkman line of portable CD players eventually known as Discman. But in the era of the iPod, the brand name has diminished in value. Radios and digital media players still go by the name Walkman, but the moniker has always referred to the tape-playing model in the collective mind. And as Sony announced that it shipped its last batch of tape-playing Walkmen back in April, we couldn’t help shed a tear for the ubiquitous ’80s gadget.

Actually, this news only applies to people living in the west. The Sony cassette Walkman will no longer be sold outside of Asia. Luckily for us living in Asia, we’ll still be able to buy Sony cassette Walkman’s. The only problem is where do we buy cassettes?

All levity aside, I think this also goes to show just how lost today’s Japanese corporations are when it come to image and branding. More and more, I become convinced that today’s Japanese management do not fully comprehend really what “corporate image” and “branding” really mean.

The subject here is Sony. After the massive success and appeal of the cassette Walkman (and we didn’t call it a “cassette” Walkman back in those days, we just called it, “Walkman.”)  from 1979 to the late 1980′s… The sales and appeal died down a bit.

Then, out of the blue, we were thrilled with Apple’s new iPod. The iPod was not the first MP3 player on the market. There had been many MP3 players on the market for years. Sony even made one…. But Apple’s iPod was marketed well and became the hottest, most desired item amongst the well-to-do and even average music listener. It was a smash success.

After Apple’s iPod dominated the market for about two years, Sony decided to put out their own “new” MP3 player to try to take back market share from Apple’s iPod.

Good idea. but way too little and way too late.

After spending tens of millions on research and engineering, Sony came out with their version of the iPod to great fanfare. I remember hearing much about it because I often go to meetings at a Sony subsidiary company.

I won’t go int too many details, but the Sony device has been a huge money loser.

Have you ever heard of it? No? Yes, you have. They foolishly named it, “Walkman.”

When I first heard the name “Walkman” for the new MP3 player, I really thought, “You must be kidding me!”

Why didn’t they call it “Digi-man”? Or something like that?

So, for many reasons, this new Walkman hasn’t captured the imagination of the public and sales lag. When will Sony pull the plug on this money losing product?

And all, in my opinion, because they don’t understand branding and imaging…

Funny that, you’d think that a company that turned the entire world on it’s ear with a product named WAlkman in 1979 would have learned a few good lessons about image… But then again, I guess not.