The New York Times’ Hiroko Tabuchi recently penned a scathing article (via Games Industry International) about Sony entitled “How the Tech Parade Passed Sony By.” Within, Tabuchi draws some stunning conclusions about the once megalithic Japanese electronics company.
Tabuchi cites new Sony CEO Kaz Hirai’s proclamation that Sony must chart a new course, noting his quote: “I believe Sony can change.” But as Tabuchi herself states, “Outside Sony — and inside it, too — not everyone is quite so sure. That is because Sony, which once defined Japan’s technological prowess, wowed the world with the Walkman and Trinitron TV and shocked Hollywood with bold acquisitions like Columbia Pictures, is now in the fight of its life.”
To be fair, Tabuchi contextualizes Sony’s problems as an issue more endemic in Japanese industry as a whole, but with Sony, she states that it’s the company’s “astonishing lack of ideas” that’s at the core of its problem, while noting that the company hasn’t made any money in years due to its complete lack of a “hit product” during that time.
As a result, “Sony’s market value is now one-ninth that of Samsung Electronics, and just one-thirtieth of Apple’s,” companies that stole Sony’s thunder in the television and music industries, respectively. “One by one, every sphere where the company competed — from hardware to software to communications to content — was turned topsy-turvy by disruptive new technology and unforeseen rivals. And these changes only highlighted the conflicts and divisions within Sony,” Tabuchi writes.
One major concentration of Sony’s problems, according to Tabuchi, is its culture of “disastrous infighting” that causes parts of the gigantic company to quarrel and compete with one another. Indeed, “Sony’s recent leaders have had trouble wielding authority over the sprawling company,” she writes. “Sony remains dominated by proud, territorial engineers who often shun cooperation.”
And even though she states unequivocally that the PlayStation brand is an area where Sony has clearly “found success,” an area they will continue to aggressively pursue, she writes in an earlier part of the article that “executives complain privately of recalcitrant managers who refuse to share information or work with other divisions,” further compounding the problem company-wide.
She also points out the confusing nature of Sony’s electronics catalog, which totes “10 different consumer-level camcorders and almost 30 different TVs,” which flabbergasts customers.“Sony makes too many models, and for none of them can say, ‘This contains our best, most cutting-edge technology.’ Apple, on the other hand, makes one amazing phone in just two colors and says, ‘This is the best,'” Tabuchi quotes ex-Sony executive Yoshiaki Sakito as saying.
But Sea-Jin Chang, National University of Singapore’s Chairman for Business Policy, put it most succinctly. “At this point, Sony just needs some strategy, any strategy, because that is better than no strategy at all.”