Sunday, June 21, 2015

Why Did The MiniDisc Fail?

MiniDisc, The Forgotten Format
Twenty years ago, Sony launched a format that promised CD clarity and cassette convenience – but the world just wasn't interested. Why not?

Twenty years ago this month, Sony unveiled the technology they hoped would transform our relationship with music. Cassettes were too flimsy, fading and snapping as time passed. CDs were for listening, not recording – yet. But the MiniDisc? That could do everything.

The only problem? No one was interested. In its first year, Sony managed to sell only 50,000 MiniDisc player/recorders.

Though MiniDisc was better than the well-established alternatives, it was never quite worth the expense. For technophiles it was a dream, taking users into a world of new data compression techniques without them needing to know how to run a recording studio. But it took a decade to make any impression on the mainstream – people stuck with cassettes for recording, and Walkmen and Discmen for portability – and almost as soon as it did, it was killed by the MP3 player.

When it launched the MiniDisc in September 1992, Sony seemed not to have noticed that its target market – teenagers – couldn't afford what it was selling. The MZ-1 MiniDisc player/recorder cost $750 (£463), which didn't lure teenagers away from cassettes and CDs. What's more, Philips was preparing to launch the Digital Compact Cassette, and faced with product confusion, consumers opted for neither. So Sony sulked back to producing matte plastic CD players in slightly different shades of gray – until the late 90s when it decided to have another go at MiniDiscs.

Sony feverishly declared that 1998 was to be the "Year of the MiniDisc", after its research showed 75% of Americans had never even heard of the device. A $30m marketing campaign was launched, accompanied with the release of lower-priced systems, the cheapest costing $250 (£154).

Sony's 1997 advert for the relaunched MiniDisc tried to convince music lovers they had the world at their fingertips. It suggested the MiniDisc endowed users with musical superpowers: the advert's hero exploded a fire hydrant underneath the businessman who was, inexplicably, sitting on it, before changing the orbit of Earth around the sun. The marketing should have sparked an explosion in sales, but none of the record labels were interested. When you wanted to listen to something not released by Sony, you were stuck trying to cut out the between-song radio chatter on the top 40 to make your own mixtapes. In HMV's flagship store in London, MiniDisc racks were sad little displays dwarfed by acres of CDs.

By the time other labels began to see the benefits of MiniDiscs, it was too late. In October 2001, Apple launched its first iPod; meanwhile recordable CDs were becoming commonplace for those who wanted to make their own mixtapes. In 2001, both MiniDisc and cassette sales dropped by 70%, and the end for both formats was nigh. Die-hard fans continued to praise the device, but to no avail: in September 2011, Sony shipped the last MiniDisc Walkman – 19 years after it had stumbled on to the marketplace.

The BetaMax might be the poster boy for better technology killed by marketing after its defeat by VHS, but spare a thought for the MiniDisc – smart, cool … but just not cool enough. — Joey Faulkner | The Guardian

Sony Announces the End of the MiniDisc Wired UK

Sony to Stop Making MiniDisc PlayersTelegraph

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