Fig. 1: Image of Walkman
Walkman, the name itself arouses curiosity. And not only does it have an interesting name but is an interesting gadget too. Walkman got its name from brand Sony. It brought a revolution in the music listening habits by allowing people to carry their favorite music while they were on move. Launch of pre-recorded tapes towards the end of 1960s had unwrapped new market already. And Compact tape size worked for Walkman and made it fit for mobility and car stereos as compared to 8 –tracks or vinyl.
In July 1979, Sony Corporation launched Sony Walkman, silver and blue colored portable player with flashy buttons, leather case and headphones. It also offered an extra earphone jack to let two people listen music at the same time but was a little bulky. One day Sony’s co-founder, Masura Ibuka while travelling for business, asked his executive deputy president to design a model that could be used with headphones. And then high quality, compact music player was launched.
This device now needed a name. Originally Walkman was launched in US with the name of Sound- About and in UK with Stowaway. But the only problem was that coming up uncopyrighted , new names for each country proved expensive. However Sony chose ‘Walkman’ as the name. Released first in Japan, the production proved to be a big hit. While the company had predicted sale of only 5000 units in the month, Walkman was sold, more than 50,000 in first two months.
Sony was although not the first company to launch portable audio or the portable transistors. Regency TR 1 which was of size of index card made its debut in 1954. But unique combination of privacy and portability offered by Walkman made it ideal product for consumers looking for portable stereos. TPS L2 was launched later in June 1980.
1980’s can be very well known as the decade of Walkman. Apart from Sony, brands such as Toshiba, Panasonic and Aiwa helped tapes to outsell the vinyl records in year 1983 for the first time. And by year 1986, word ‘Walkman’ had made a place in Oxford Dictionary. Fortunately, its invention clashed with beginning of aerobics craze among people and millions of them used it for keeping themselves entertained while working out. Between years 1987-97, popularity of Walkman reached to its highest.
Sony did not stop rolling out variations of the product in the market. Innovations such as bass boost, FM/ AM receivers, auto reverse were a part of later models. The company even launched water resistant Walkman, device with two cassette players and one that worked with solar energy.
But capturing such a large part of the market was not a cakewalk for the company. Sony had to face many entry barriers. Just before Walkman was making an entry into market, its image was stained by press, which considered a cassette player without recorder worthless and letdown to the company. Sony without paying attention at negative comments, geared up for the product launch. Management of the company did not want to promote the product in traditional manner. So they organized a bus tour with journalists.
All journalists were handed over Walkman and were taken to a garden. These journalists were asked to put on their headphones and listen to product’s explanation. Meanwhile, staff members carried out product demonstrations. Use of Walkman while walking, skating, cycling and while indulging all other fitness activities was explained. This inventive promotion style allowed the journalists to enjoy great audio quality of the product personally. And they were impressed with innovative launch and ability of the product to keep people entertained with music anywhere, anytime.
Even after impressing journalists, Sony had to pump its promotions up to increase the sales. They got their staff to travel in the trains to promote Walkman. The company was targeting young crowd and hence hired young staff with Walkman to walk around Ginza, Tokyo. These young staff members were instructed to let passersby try the product for free and experience the great audio quality.
Management even got young stars to pose with their product and got the pictures printed in the magazines to add to their product’s popularity. They also resorted to demonstrations and word of mouth to advertise Walkman. The creative promotional style added to Walkman’s success and it became a big hit.
And it was not just the entry barriers but the Stereobelt conflict that made the company’s journey a little hard. Sony had to confront lawsuit by Andreas Pavel. Andreas claimed that he was the one who invented portable player known as Stereobelt in year 1972. He also claimed that he got in touch with Philips and Yamaha but his invention was rejected by manufacturers on the basis that it would not work. He even filed patent for Stereobelt in Italy and then in UK, US, Japan and Germany.
Legal issues between the Sony and Andreas started in year 1980 and after 6 long years Sony agreed to pay for royalties for Walkman sold in Germany. But it did not satisfy Andreas as the company was not acknowledging him as an inventor of product and he filed lawsuits again in 1989. In year 2003, he warned Sony to file the infringement lawsuits in countries where he had applied for patent and then Sony agreed for out of court settlement. Now a handsome sum was paid to Andreas and he was made to sign a contract that disabled him from filing lawsuits against the company.
And after Walkman had its share of fame, the time for bidding it goodbye came its way. 1986 marked decline of the product. Sony introduced upgraded model of the music player known as Discman. The new technology gained fans with better audio quality. Being market leader in portable players, the company decided to retain Walkman as name and scrapped name Discman. And this how early Walkman had paved way for the portable players. Developments in technology lead to outdating cassette players but some deluxe models are still sold in Japan and South Korea.
Filed Under: Invention Stories