The Sad State of Japan’s Consumer Electronics Giants

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Sony TVs and other products in a British store window in 1972.

The Washington Post‘s Chico Harlan has a sobering story on the dicey financial condition of big Japanese electronics companies such as Sony, Panasonic and Sharp. Once they were the gold standard in gadgets; now they’re struggling to catch up with companies located elsewhere — especially the U.S.’s Apple and South Korea’s Samsung, both of which have helped create the smartphone boom which has largely left Japan’s giants behind.

If you’d told me a couple of decades ago that Sony wouldn’t be able to command a never-ending stiff price premium for an array of products based on its unique combination of technological prowess and general status symbolism, it would have been startling. Same thing for the notion of Samsung becoming known as a reliable maker of quality products rather than as a cut-rate also ran.

The biggest challenge these companies face is that nobody is standing still: By the time they catch up with Apple and Samsung, the world may have moved on to something new. And once you’re no longer a leader, it’s hard to bounce back to the top. Just ask Zenith, RCA or any of the once-mighty U.S. consumer-electronics brands which Japan Inc. displaced a few decades ago.