Sony pushes 'Stop' on walkmans: A tribute

As students of marketing we learnt about the 'end of product life-cycle". Some products have to die when they are no longer needed by consumers. This in other words also means when the products see no innovation to stay ahead of the competition. Yet when an iconic product meets such an end,  leaves you sighing with a heavy heart.

This is what happened when I read about the iconic Sony Walkman cassette player being withdrawn. The website of Sony Corp had a terse and short message: "Production finished."

The generation of the 70s and the 80s have fond memories of growing up with the Sony Walkman cassette player. Sony Walkman or its equivalent from competition was the hallmark of youth and yuppie status of that generation, just like the iPhone or iPod today. The product had universal acceptance and in its 30 years existence since launch in July 1979 sold more than 220 million to become one of the most successful gadgets of all time.

The product no doubt had the Sony touch. It was the at the altar of music technology at one time although Walkmans per se seems to have lost their way in the recent times and has never been able to regain those glory days.

Sony, which was an embodiment of innovation in technology and Sony Walkman that personified excellence in music technology, seems to have lost out completely in the last decade to the new czars – Apple and several other Apple-like devices.

In the 70s and 80s, the Walkman was not just another music player or a cassette player. It zipped to popularity because it revolutionized the way music was listened to till then. In his autobiography Sony Chairman Akio Morita says he wanted to listen to music during his frequent travel to the US and his audio-division engineer Nobutoshi Kihara built the cassette player in 1978. The rest, as they say, is history. Walkman initially was known by different names in different countries.

Morita did not like the name Walkman but by the time the company could decide to rechristen the product, advertising for Walkman was ready to roll out. A re-think at that stage would have cost the company heavily.

Now, Sony has taken the decision stop production of the product in Japan. It will continue to be available in other markets such as China, US and Europe. Considering that the demand for cassettes players is diminishing by the day, it won"t be long before we would have to bid adieu to the cassette player globally. Who would want to carry a 'cumbersome" cassette player in an era of downloadable music and mp3 and mp4 players?

Sony, of course, will continue with the Walkman brand for its mp3 players and the Sony-Erickson mobiles. These are the products the generation of 90s and beyond identify Sony with.

This morning when I read out this news to my son, he quickly retorted, “What did you expect? No one is buying the product today!" He was bang on target. But to the generation for whom Sony was their Apple and Walkman cassette player was their iPod, the news is certainly not music to the ears.

*Follow Radha Radhakrishnan on Twitter

*The views expressed in this article are solely that of the author and do not necessarily represent those of or of Greynium Information Technologies Pvt Ltd. *

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