1998: The Year of Living Digitally
Excerpts from an Interview in T3 Magazine
Sony: Simon Goodman, Sony PR Manager
Philips: Simon Poulter, Philips PR Manager
Pioneer: John Bamford, Pioneer Product Information Manager
Steve: T3 Editor
Russell: T3 Production
Paul: T3 Mediator
Rob: Reviews Editor
- Let's move on from things we look at to things we
listen to: MiniDisc and CD Rewritable. Which will win out?
- Speaking for Sony, we believe MiniDisc is the best
portable solution for digital audio. It's portable, it's recordable,
it's editable, it's durable and it's much more flexible than any other
format in the market. And it's proving popular: there are 18 different
manufacturers of the blank software, there are 25 record labels
providing the pre-recorded material and there are 25 manufacturers of
hardware. Yes, it's something we brought to the market but, as a
MiniDisc person, I believe passionately that the format will work.
- How come it's taken so long then?
- Name a format that hasn't. CD took more than three
years! The first portable CD player was four years after CD was first
launched. We're getting there with MiniDisc - you buy your CD, then
choose the tracks you like and stick them on MiniDisc.
- It's the future of tape, isn't it? The replacement
for an outmoded technology ...
- The one thing that undermines MiniDisc for me
is the cassette tape itself, and that's with the best will in the
world, because Philips has been through it with DCC. Wrenching the
public away from cassette tape is difficult. It's been with us since
the '60s and has immense emotional value.
- And it's in every single car, isn't it?
- Look at the figures: there are 250 million
cassette systems sold every year around the world. There's 2.6 billion
cassette tapes sold every year, of which 1.6 billion of those are
- I'd add two things: firstly, we're a major
manufacturer of cassettes, and these guys are, so there's no question
that cassettes will just go out -- you need to cover for that, you
can't just make something defunct overnight. Secondly, those figures
hide the fact that there's been a massive decrease in blank tape
sales: something like only eight percent of the UK buy blank tapes. So
we're not really removing a major market place. It's a digital age and
that's the way it's going, and someone has to find the right digital
audio product that records.
- Is CD-Rewritable a bit of a thorn in Sony's side,
- Well, we believe that because of the MiniDisc's
portability, editability and so on, CD-RW is really not a competitor.
- It goes beyond that, though. One of the things
we've found is of immense interest to people using a recordable CD,
whether it's write-once or write-many, is using it as an archive
system -- if you have classic vinyl albums which you don't want to
play as much as you used to.
- Aren't these stopgap solutions? Won't we later on
have rewritable DVD?
- They're all stopgap solutions, all we're doing
is just widening the parameters. Until we go solid state, tape will be
with us, whether we like it or not, and will still outsell MiniDiscs,
CD-RW, the lot.
- Who else is on the MD bandwagon?
- There are 20 Sony models, about 15 Sharp models,
and people like Kenwood, JVC ... I do have a list of them, and there
are about 25 manufacturers worldwide. I accept that the take-up is a
gradual one. The next place is the in-car market -- record at home and
take it out on the move. People don't actually want to have a CD in
the car, especially if they've spent GBP 14 on it; they don't want to
risk losing that.
- A gratuitous plug here for the CD-R, because
that's where they come in. Even now there's a certain reluctance --
people will have a six-disc changer in the boot, but they still have
to lug the CDs about. The mindset is: I'm effectively taking my LPs
out on the road with me, but I'd rather have it on a cheap tape or
disc format of some sort.
- Compared to tape MiniDisc is expensive, isn't it?
- Not really. You could buy a top-of-the range
cassette deck for GBP 500 -- whereas a mid-range MiniDisc player is
just GPB 300.
- And MiniDisc is a way of life in Japan. It's
about 60-70 percent of audio hardware. It's not so much that Europeans
are slow to catch on, it's just that they don't want to buy anything
unless they can see an absolute value in it, whereas the Japanese like
miniaturised things. My European colleagues are always astonished when
I tell them that if you go into the Virgin Megastore here, you can
still buy music on cassettes. Britain is the last bastion of the
- It's convincing the consumer that they need to
move on. Tape is always going to be the one thing that will take the
longest to dislodge and it will take a concerted, industry-wide
effort, one that maybe MiniDisc can be seen to be representing. It
will take a long time because people don't want new formats all the