Emerging Tech

Somebody needs to kill Sony

At some stage, most great ideas are no longer great. John M McKee makes the case that the same thing holds true for organizations and he uses Sony to make the case.

Are you old enough to remember Japan's Sony Corporation?

You may be too young to know, but once upon a time it was great!  They made wonderful products, they invented the future creating things we didn't even know we wanted. Their products came with bragging rights, as in: "Well, I'm the kind of individual who only buys the best - so I got a Sony..."

It was kind of the opposite of what it is now. Back then:

  • The company's leadership was clear-headed and directional.  Using a company "Founding Prospectus" they were focused on creating a company where, "engineers (and others) could work to their hearts' content in full consciousness of their joy in technology and their social obligation..."
  • The value proposition was apparent and strong: Regardless of what product you purchased, you knew you were getting the best, even though it cost more than the other brands.
  • Societal awareness was considered a valuable asset.  The founder saw trends long before the rest of the world did and he helped his teams to become aware so they could lead (not follow) others with whom they competed.
  • They created beautiful products.  Although they cost more than products that did similar functions, those who could afford a Sony product didn't mind because it was so attractive it was worth the extra money.
As a result, they made tons of money.  They were respected in the various sectors in which they traded globally.  And they were considered to be a great place to work.  They were, to a large extent, the "Apple" of an earlier time.  But then they lost their way.  And it was the real Apple who took control of the marketplace and styles of the next generation way back in 2001 when it introduced the iPod.  Sony had been working on a personal device that would serve the same function but internal competition and external marketplace issues held them back.
That was the beginning of the end.  Although still massive and with revenues of $25B in recent years, it's really been on a downward spiral for a long time.  It's kind of like a zombie that doesn't realize it's time now to lie down.
They are in so many businesses that it's hard to keep track: movies (Sony and Universal), games (Playstation etc.), electronics (TVs, stereos, phones, tablets, blah blah blah), music, and other stuff that is part of the digital world like binoculars, headphones, and personal viewers.
This is a clear case of an organization that needs to be killed.
After that, someone smart needs to come in and rebuild it from the ground up.  Otherwise, it will continue to dither, resulting in lost shareholder value, further erosion of a once-fabulous brand, and it will become simply a caricature of its former self.
Sony deserves better. Here's to the future.
John

About

John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of BusinessSuccessCoach.net, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion d...

28 comments
garyfizer
garyfizer

I used to love Sony products. But I started seeing some troubling signs from the in the late 70s. It started with their hard push to sell El-cassets to audiophiles when they already knew that they were killing the product (a lot of the design of which went into the Beta-max.) And later when they went after Bleem (A Playstation emulator.) and forced them out of business. By the way I wonder if that was their first rootkit? Any Playstation disk before they went to court would work but if you loaded a later release it would render you PC unable to run Bleem, I had to reinstall my os to get Bleem to work again, and then only with early disks. I have tryed to avoid Sony every since. If you can find it read the autobiography by Sony's founder he was pretty cool.

a.portman
a.portman

Sony has been riding on past glory and their game consoles for years. I have a pile of dead Sony stuff from before I wised up and stopped buying any more Sony products. If I wanted expensive looks cool stuff, I'd buy Apple then I could have expensive looks cool stuff that works. Won't miss you when you are gone.

skyeenter
skyeenter

Just looked at the web site for the reference by telcodrone. WebOfDebt (.) com A mind blower of a book. Read the teaser chapter on Mexican dept crisis. Gold - man Sachs and the other usual suspects all being lead dogs again. No wonder OWS has Wall Street nervous. The fingers of truth are pointing directly at them. As for this article. I thoroughly enjoy my Sony LCD TV. Simple, beautiful and elegant. When it's off it doesn't seem like an intrusive machine waiting for attention. Over the years I've always trusted Sony products. But these days I don't make them my first choice for anything. They have to stand and prove their worth individually. No longer take the name Sony as gospel.

telcodrone
telcodrone

A few years ago I bought a Sony EIDE internal DVD burner for 100 bucks bundled with Roxio software. Worked for a year or two then crapped out. And the software wouldn't work with the replacement drive! Last time I buy Sony. Yeah I remember when Sony was great. Course I remember Quasar "works in a drawer", Curtis-Mathes, dad drove a Model A to work. Problem is Japan won't let industries die. They are called "Zombies". Capitalism needs to be reinvented. And damn it, we need to take the power to create money away from the banks. Check out webofdebt dot com.

Marc Gravez
Marc Gravez

Its quite a few years old and I'd really like a newer design with more space. However, it just won't die and is still one of the very few tech devices I truly enjoy using. Lastly, I can't explain to my wife why I need more than 30,000 songs in my pocket. On the other hand, a good friend has a non-Apple MP3 player for which he needs his computer-geek son to load songs. I think my iPod was a much better value even if it cost 10 times as much. Last but not least, to prove that I'm not a "brand junkie," I used to often purchase Panasonic equipment because I liked it just as much as the competing Sony products and it usually was a little less expensive. Competition is good. Sony, Apple, and other companies all make great stuff. The fact that each consumer has a choice is a good thing. Where Sony seems to have lagged in recent years is in developing groundbreaking new products. That will be fatal only if they are structured in a manner that requires them to always have the latest and greatest "trendy" product. There are plenty of ways to make money; intelligent cost-reduction being one of the best.

tkejlboom
tkejlboom

Sony needs to be broken up. It's not that they're trying to do too many things, it's that the particular things Sony is trying to do impose direct conflicts of interest. They want to own production, distribution, and end user consumption of movies and music. This his put them at odds with the internet and crippled their consumer devices with DRM. While everyone else was focusing on design, picture quality, and efficiency, Sony was trying to figure out how to install rootkit on their customers computers. While Netflix was innovating in video compression and distribution on the internet, Sony was focusing on building DRM into already bloated Java by way of Blu-ray. I'm not saying Sony should be completely disassembled, but only an idiot would buy their stock until at least the blatantly obvious conflicts of interest are resolved.

garyleroy
garyleroy

Sony just made (and still does) quality products that last, work well, and are well-designed for the user. They never went the Apple route...develop a following of blind lemmings willing to shill out 2-3x what something's worth to get that security they get from thinking they have the best. Apple probably will take over that spot...for a while, because there are enough gullible customers who are foolish enough to fall for their marketing technique. Time will take care of that, but in the meantime, they'll prosper. My son, at 10, naturally "needed" an ipod, many years ago. Several years later, after foolishly shelling out $150-200 a pop to replace the failed units (because a "genius" insisted that it was his fault), I'd had enough and bought him a nice, inexpensive Walkman MP3 player. No more itunes garbage or expense, plays audiobooks and all sorts of music formats, easy interface, generic USB cable, and is still working perfectly after over 3 years. In that amount of time, we'd have replaced several more failed ipots (sp intentional). I can say the same for our Sony flatscreen TV...after using a Sharp for a week while visiting, it made me appreciate how well our Sony is configured for ease of use and adaptibility...likewise my Sony car radio/cd/MP3 player which has been working for many years, and in fact even an old Sony dual cassette boombox which, despite many years of abuse, still works fine. Apple crap would have been in the bin long ago...I just threw out a half-dozen pre OSX Macs from our office that I couldn't even give away. If you look strictly from an investor's viewpoint, maybe Sony isn't your idol, but they built what they have by quality merchandise and customer service, the hard and long way. Contrast that to Apple's "get 'em while they're young by giving computers to schools", badmouth everyone else, elitist and snobbish approach to establishing a customer base, and Sony looks like a saint.

lynagh11
lynagh11

Here is proof that Sony is on the wrong track! I purchased a Sony Walkman - MP3 Player /Video player and, you won't believe this, but when you plug the unit in to the charger - YOU CAN'T TURN IT ON!!! That is just lazy engineering. The unit even has an alarm clock and when do you use an alarm clock the most? A: When you want to wake up....so.....you can't charge the unit overnight because the alarm won't work when the unit is plugged in to the charger! WOW....Unbelievable...and the unit wasn't that inexpensive. I guess that I will have to assimilate to the IPOD nation.

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

The market place will decide whether Sony lives or dies. I happen to like several of their recent movies. I regularly play one of their on-line games. I even have some of their hardware in use around the house.

LedLincoln
LedLincoln

It could be argued that the Sony Walkman paved the way for the iPod. It established the idea that your music can be personal and travel with you. Yes, Sony is well past its prime now.

reward
reward

You said it clear as day! It was more expensive, but now everyone looks for the lowest price (even if it is the worst product!)! A company cannot stay in business in this scenario you talk about... Sony had to compromise quality materials to lower their prices (all businesses do that now, including Apple, except Apple still wants top price!!!)... And everyone needs to realize that Apple would not even be here today if the American Government (American Tax Payers!) would not have saved their tales a decade ago when they were going under, by scraping all IBM Compatible PCs, and such, to switch everything over to Apple hardware. As a tax payer and Computer Professional, we should have let Apple go down then... Because it is certainly going to happen now that the visionary (not inventor) is gone! Companies like Sony do not have the American Government (Tax Payers) to save them, heck my own government won't help a little guy like me out!!!

vitec
vitec

Kind a, Just Like the United Stated was the leader in the 50's and 60's.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

Sony used to be about high-quality products that allowed you to do what you wanted to in a high-quality way. Then they bought a movie studio and everything changed. All of a sudden, half of their product line became a threat to the other half. They started to see their core customers as their enemy, and they treated us that way. We started to see crippled products designed to limit us in what we could do with our own media. They tried to foist expensive & substandard formats on us over superior established ones. We saw hideous DRM schemes. (The DRM on their first solid-state music player & service rendered it virtually useless) We even saw them deploy actual malware. And quality has been slipping since the '80s. I haven't seriously considered Sony products for over a decade. Can anyone imagine Sony developing and marketing a new and revolutionary product like the Betamax today? Of course not. Today, they'd be the ones in court suing to stop it.

Spitfire_Sysop
Spitfire_Sysop

Many of these large corporations try to be everything to everyone. Look at Mitsubishi, who makes cars and televisions. I think Sony just needs scale back and stick to what it is good at. I still think Sony can be great with home electronics. Sure, you could say the iPod killed the Walkman but you are talking about dead technology anyway. I have a Sony reciever that powers my home stereo. It may be plugged in to an iPod but that's not the point. Apple doesn't make good receivers, speakers or rice cookers for that matter. There are plenty of places where Sony can still fit in. They do need to pull out of computing. The VAIO series sucks and I think the PlayStation is great but they botched it pretty bad. If they did a huge turn around in PS policy I think they could make it work. Apple doesn't make computers that can play video games well. You can't be good at everything. All companies need to choose a focus and be great at something.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

It was smaller than a notebook and had a build-in webcam that swiveled to face in at the user or out at the horizon. The thought of having a small video display window showing the Uni prof - not having to look away from the screen to see the presentation - wow did I want one of those beasties. Sadly, Sony's recent behavior has caused me to look back over the companies history toward it's customers and the market. Tried to litigate over use of triangle/square type icons now ubiquitous on audio/video control buttons. Litigation and attempted stifling of each generation of recordable media in the hands of us normal people. Shipping intentionally malware propogating products to customers. Fixing the malware infections by shipping a trojan cleaner which replaced it with yet more malware. Litigation against device owners exercising ownership over legally purchased hardware. Bait and switch games with device selling features. Abysmal and blatant disregard for it's customer's personal information or any bare minimum of responsible network/server management. Sony can get stuffed. I'll live without a Playstation thanks; even with the library of available games including Grand Turismo with feedback wheel and pedals. When I recently bought a new TV we chose Samsung over Sony; Samsung make's Sony's display screens and hadn't demonstrated such a history of disdain for it's own customer base.

Charles Bundy
Charles Bundy

are... interesting, but what you call losing money I call transfering cash into tangibles during the 08-09 financial thrashing. I would vote but there isn't a fourth option and to my eyes the other three are biased :)

FlagstaffCJ
FlagstaffCJ

Just saying. That being said, Sony can pull an Apple who was verging on Bankruptcy to become the most valuable company/brand out there.

garyleroy
garyleroy

Virtually all brands of MP3 player don't work when charging. Maybe your ipod does, but you pay for it in the regular failures these pricey devices experience. These are made to carry with you when you're on the go, not to sit in the house and listen to from your leather couch while you snack on chips. Had you kept that Walkman, it would no doubt still be working perfectly when you went in for your 4th or 5th ipod repair/exchange, and it wouldn't need itunes to do its job.

belli_bettens
belli_bettens

people forget, but there were mp3-players before the iPod (and their use was widespread)...

seanferd
seanferd

It's about the corporate culture, decision making, and treatment of their customers.

kylehutson
kylehutson

Say what? I've been in this business for many years, but I don't remember the government "scraping (sic) all IBM Compatible PCs, and such, to switch everything over to Apple hardware." Source, please?

jev.case-24297005939114168965253281161338
jev.case-24297005939114168965253281161338

You are right apple's success will not last forever, apple has succeeded in the customer market partly because of the image it has cultivated, stupid hipsters think that they need iphones. As for Sony God help them because I will not. i haven't bought a sony product in awhile and won't in the forseeable future.

KBabcock75
KBabcock75

Not really, while America is still the leading, most powerful, innovative country that people want to migrate to. Sony is not the strongest player, is one of many , is a poor innovator and people are indifferent to their products.

dcolbert
dcolbert

"Sony was the Apple of its time". I don't think the author got that quite right. Isn't it, "Apple is the SONY of this time"? And really, since the late 80s, Sony and Apple have been cut from the same cloth in many ways. Their corporate philosophies have frequently been strangely aligned, even as competitors. But they haven't even always been competitors. One of the early claims to fame among Apple Macintosh fanatics was the clarity and superior quality of Apple Macintosh monitors, which were almost exclusively Sony .25 dot pitch Trinitron CRTs. Another troubling similarity has been Sony's insistence in developing proprietary i/o interfaces in their devices and creating custom solutions that are priced exorbitantly compared to the competition. This tendency is what troubled Apple for so long, leading them to the brink of bankruptcy, but I believe it has been an even bigger liability for Sony, who has always tried to compete in the Windows PC space directly, but with devices that had highly proprietary Sony interfaces. Mostly I'm thinking memory cards - but there are a host of other I/O schemes that both Sony and Apple have tried to push over the years that have failed. In any case, I'd say that instead of looking at Apple's new lease on life as an opportunity for Sony to reverse their fortune, I'd look on Sony as a cautionary tale for Apple about what happens if they go back to playing the same kind of games they've engaged in during the past. Fortunes can reverse quickly in the tech industry, and there is no guarantee that Apple will be dominant even 4 or 5 years down the road.

BRAIN-DRAIN
BRAIN-DRAIN

I do agree totally, I bought a top of the line 60" HD TV five years ago for more than $4000 . I also bought the extended warranty as well. A little more than a year passed, a $1500 componant failed. I have no warranty any more. The same componant has failed again! Apparently, this componant failure is so widespread The media picked up on it. When I called customer support, Sony immediately tried to sell me one of of their current models. They were not interested in compensation or me. I was a Sony consumer for over 40 years. Not any !@#$% more.~ Viva Samsung.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

...mainly because Sony, being a media company, could guarantee that there'd be content on the market to play on it, whereas Toshiba could not. But then again, Blu-ray players are low-margin a commodity item. Very few people buy one because Sony had anything to do with it. That pretty much renders Sony primarily a media company instead of an innovating hardware company.

spawnywhippet
spawnywhippet

"Very few people buy one because Sony had anything to do with it." Very few buy one period. All the DRM nonsense, updates etc make the Blu-ray drive in my computer practically useless. I cannot remember the last time I was able to just put the disk in and press play. I always had to update something, download something, try to crack something. And this is using a piece of media bought from a store, playing on a drive that came pre-installed, using a paid-for software player.

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