Sony and Nintendo: A Talmudic parable

My brother wrote me an email with a great metaphor for everything I’ve been writing about Sony:

Your blog’s ongoing saga with Sony reminds me more and more of Hillel and Shammai. When are Sony’s shareholders going to point that that they have a Shammai strategy? If Nintendo executives aren’t choking with laughter behind their closed doors, I don’t know why not.

For those of you who didn’t go to Jew school, Hillel and Shammai are two scholars/sages who were primary figures in the interpretation of the Torah and old-school Jewish law. Hillel and Shammai — and their disciples, collectively known as beit Hillel, or “the house of Hillel” — were in seemingly perpetual competition with each other over whose interpretations would win out. But Hillel had the upper hand. When we studied rabbinical law in school, whenever an example of Hillel and Shammai came up, Shammai was always the loser. It seemed like Shammai’s view was only mentioned to show how not to look at a particular law or situation. (Which brings up the question: Who in their right mind would ever join the house of Shammai if Hillel’s always right?)

Sony is totally like beit Shammai. Surely Shammai had some good ideas, yet he always ended up looking like a loser. It’s not that the Playstation 3’s missing HDMI cable is a huge deal, or that a delayed European launch is a death sentence. And Joystiq has some sane words cautioning against too much gloominess. But for months, every single piece of news about the PlayStation 3 has sounded bad or like a result of bumbling and incompetence. That allows routine Nintendo announcements, like the fact that the Wii is simply on schedule and they have their stuff together, to become absurdly hyped news.

The real worry is that every small bit of bad news will add up to some big bad news: that PS3 will be delayed even in the U.S., or the Blu-ray lasers will fail, or something like that. Scenarios like that aren’t likely, but Sony has given absolutely zero indication that they have any part of this under control. (And remember, all of this is because of proprietary obsessions and Blu-ray.)

I mean, here you have one of the biggest consumer electronics companies in the world having one setback after another, and two months before the launch of its most important product in years a company executive has this to say: “If you asked me if Sony’s strength in hardware was in decline, right now I guess I would have to say that might be true.”

Man oh man. Even Shammai didn’t admit that he was a loser.

— September 9, 2006

One response to “Sony and Nintendo: A Talmudic parable

  1. Pingback: Why Sony’s iTunes competitor will fail – and how they could (but won’t) make it work | Korr Values

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