Failed Consumer Electronics Week: Sony’s MD Player


In honor of Valentine’s Day, we’re paying homage to the consumer electronics that broke our heart. They started out so promising, set hearts everywhere pitter-pat, but then crashed and burned, leaving us with a hunk of junk not even a pawnshop would touch. Love hurts.

In our last post on failed consumer electronics, we discussed how Microsoft’s Zune failed to establish a foothold in the MP3 player industry.

This time, we’ve got a more difficult case study: Sony’s MD Player.

Remember the MiniDisk?

It’s easy to forget that MiniDisks were supposed to be the next big thing. Set to replace cassette tapes in the early 1990s, these little disks were more durable, smaller, had more storage space and were easier to play than their older counterparts. Of course, they also had two major problems: their price and competition.

MiniDisks were insanely expensive.

In a market dominated by teenagers who simply did not have the money to spend on an entirely new music system, charging $750 for a music player was simply too much. Even six years later, portable players still cost $250, while portable cassette and CD players could be had for less than $100.

Speaking of CDs: while MiniDisks seemed to have a shot at becoming the new dominant music player when they just had cassette tapes to worry about, things became more complicated when CDs entered the market.

As it was, MDs became yet another product in a long line of consumer electronics forgotten because they were beaten out by a similar but better alternative. (We just saw the same thing play out in the BluRay vs. HD DVD debate.)

Proprietary Software Was the Achilles Heel

Sony held all copyrights on MiniDisks, meaning playability across devices was almost impossible – unlike the new, though larger, compact disk. By the time MiniDisks adjusted, MP3s had entered the market. And the rest is history.

An All-Around Failure

Those copyrights also made recommerce efforts more difficult. Buyback programs were not nearly as popular as they were for other failures such as the Zune; selling a minidisk player makes little sense if the actual disks aren’t widely available. Remanufacturing and recycling were more likely options for merchants, making the MiniDisk player a failure in every way.

If you’re interested in more information about recommerce and its relationship to the consumer electronics industry, contact us today!



Justin Finkelstein

Co-Founder & CTO at Sourcely; server swiss army knife; flavor architect; the wildcard.