It’s hard to be a Cannibal!

I strongly recommend David Aaker’s blog post on the importance of TIMING to the success of Apple’s iPod, “Why wasn’t the iPod a Sony brand?”: WhyNotSony

As David relates, Sony had launched two digit players two years earlier, but the technology was not yet right. Apple launched when affordable flash memory was available.

A follow-up question is why wasn’t Sony still trying? The company had been built on successful waves of portable, personal music: (1) the transistor radio, (2) radio Walkman, (3) cassette Walkman, (4) CD Walkman. Sony knew that the digital flash player was inevitable, had been willing to change to new technologies before, and must have viewed personal portable music as a core business: shouldn’t Sony have continued incremental improvements (ala Microsoft) until they finally had a decent offering?

In response to my question and those from others @DavidAaker suggested that likely difficulties included (1) Sony not being as “Open” as apple to technology from Toshiba, (2) iPod was a new business model not  just a new technology or product, and (3) the guys down the hall (the hilariously mismanaged Sony entertainment).

Points (2) and (3) fit perfectly in Christensen’s analysis of disruptive innovation. Christensen’s early focus was on disruptive technology but in later writings stated that more often it was the business model rather than the technology that was truly disruptive. A big driver of inertia or blindness towards a disruptive model is love for current business and fear of cannibalizing revenues.

The iPod model supported (1) playing “stolen” music and (2) disintermediating albums to allow users to buy only tracks they enjoyed. Both threatened Sony Entertainment. So while a big factor in the success of the iPod was timing, a big factor in Sony not being there was simply:

It’s hard to be a Cannibal!

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6 Responses to It’s hard to be a Cannibal!

  1. David Aaker says:

    Timing is Job’s secret skill. An iPad type product was introduced by Bill Gates in 2000 and all of Europe have the iPhone vision a decade before iPhone. Jobs timing is incredible. The canibal is another idea that is pervasive. Chrysler got 16 years with no competition from their minivan becasue of attractive station wagon businesses.

  2. gschirr says:

    As I acknowledged I think your comment about apple timing is a keen insight. As a former trader, I can appreciate what a rare skill Jobs has!

    While I agree timing explains Apple’s success, I think that fear of cannibalization may have been more important to Sony’s total failure than their early approach simply because they should have still been in the market when Apple entered.

    Thanks for your comment and original article!!

  3. Professor Gary,

    Good post!

    I believe Apple’s success isn’t just a matter of good timing (which, of course, is always important to marketers). For example, the launch of the iPhone. Apple is fantastic at listening to their audience to understand their needs and are equally ready to react. Apple’s ability to listen to the market using social media (before it was trendy to do so) determined that consumers were moving away from the stylish RAZR and looking for “smarter smart phones”. The time for cute fun phones was ending as Apple prepared to launch the iPhone in 2007.

    So, why didn’t Sony beat Apple to the punch? The answer is simply better marketing and the ability to deliver on product innovation well timed to market needs.

    Cheryl
    @ckburgess
    http://www.bluefocusmarketing.com/blog
    http://www.twitter.com/ckburgess

  4. Pingback: Tweets that mention It’s hard to be a Cannibal! « Service (Co-) Creation -- Topsy.com

  5. Maha says:

    As I acknowledged I think your conmmet about apple timing is a keen insight. As a former trader, I can appreciate what a rare skill Jobs has!While I agree timing explains Apple’s success, I think that fear of cannibalization may have been more important to Sony’s total failure than their early approach simply because they should have still been in the market when Apple entered.Thanks for your conmmet and original article!!

  6. gschirr says:

    Thank you so much for your insightful comments!!!

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