My Blog

Old Things #1

   Tue, January 1, 2013 - 7:46 AM
A self-explanatory message to Sony Corp.:

Thank you for the opportunity to amplify my response to this survey about my recent query.

I specifically wrote about model WM-FX290W, but my comments pertain to any of the last-generation silver Walkmans in the WM line.

I had asked if Sony had terminated production of Walkman audio cassette players and was told that it had. Although it had been reported two years ago that Sony would halt production in Japan and stop selling them there, you kept making them in China for export to markets such as the United States.

As far as I can tell, there never was an announcement that the products would be terminated here. I noticed that the prices had shot up on, and when I checked your website found a notice that the final model was no longer available, and this was confirmed by your email of December 27th.

I object to the lack of notice and much more to the decision to end production of these models.

Since the early 1980s, I have been buying audio books. I work on a computer monitor all day long, and it's a relief for me to have a reader so that I can rest my eyes. I also listen to audio books in the gym or while doing household tasks that don't require much attention. I understand that there are newer technologies, but the audio cassette has a key advantage: you can't lose your place even if you lose power or switch devices.

My collection numbers in the hundreds of titles. I sometimes go back and listen to old ones, and I'd hoped to bequeath a nice library either to my eventual heirs or to some organization that would be able to make good use of them.

Without devices to play it on, the collection becomes worthless, and the cost of transferring to digital media, especially when labor is factored in, is prohibitive -- it would be cheaper to just buy the titles again.

Sony was a key player in the development of the Compact Cassette format, and invented the Walkman. Your company's role in the popularization of audiobooks was vital: without the Walkman, the format probably never would have taken off, having little advantage over vinyl except for use in automobiles and later compact discs.

Now you wish to abandon the market. Yes, other companies still make portable cassette players, but none are nearly the equals of the WM-FX290W. That model was nearly perfect, featuring easy controls, long life on a single battery, a convenient compact form, and good sound reproduction, all at a reasonable price. Its only flaws are a fragile battery door and, like all cassette devices, a limited useful life.

The market may be dying, but it's not dead. lists about one new book on cassette each day. As well, there must be hundreds of millions -- perhaps billions -- of audiobooks in people's collections waiting to be reheard or rediscovered. On top of that are music cassettes. But books on tape are typically listened to many fewer times than music, meaning the deterioration caused by repeated use is virtually nonexistent. This makes for a vibrant secondary market.

As long as Sony was making its last trusty Walkman, this content remained available to those who want it. I find it incredible that demand is so weak that one factory in the world can't be profitably run producing these useful little units, so emblematic of Sony's design acumen and consumer focus. Indeed, the price of remaining units has roughly tripled in recent weeks, indicating there are people desperate to have access to this technology.

I hope you will reconsider terminating the cassette Walkman, and in so doing turning mountains of useful and entertaining books and music into piles of petrochemical landfill.

Very Truly Yours,

Mitchell Martin

Addendum: Check out the reviews on Amazon.

1 Comment

add a comment
Wed, January 2, 2013 - 4:17 AM
I am in agreement, totally, with your perspective and your reasoning, and especially with the subject.
I have two media shelves full of cassette tapes. This includes such wonderful music as Lynyrd Skynyrd's pre-plane crash works, 15 albums from Jethro Tull, the odd Frank Zappa, most of Heart's catalogue, and at least a few one-hit wonders (Timbuk3 - 'The Future's So Bright....').

Frankly, I have no time to re-record or dub over to CD all the music I bought legally from Sony, BMI, Warner, MCA and others. I'd rather look for new goodies in my spare time.

And cassette players are rapidly departing from most shelves. The heck with format changes. I had to do the same damn thing with 8-tracks.

I suggest that once you BUY an album, you have the option to exchange it for the CD version. That would make some folks think twice about another format change. I suspect next they'll have mini-CDs. Then, where will we be?