By Matthew Henry

SYDNEY: Sony has made the surprise move of cutting its Walkman digital audio product line-up back to just a single range – the company’s new E Series players, which were launched at the Sydney Home Show in May.

The brand has discontinued its hard disk drive models launched in November last year, although there is still stock in the channel.

This means that Sony is no longer competing head to head with Apple’s flagship iPod with an equivalent hard disk model, but rather will only chase business in the flash market with its aggressively priced 1GB and 2GB E Series players, priced at RRP $159 and RRP $199 respectively.

In an interview with last week, Sony Australia marketing manager – audio products group, David Allen, said the brand has accepted that it has let the portable audio category slip through its fingers, and must start again to build credibility with consumers in the mp3 age.

“What we are really trying to do is start the long road back – and it has been very difficult for Sony to accept that they are no longer the dominant player in the audio market place as we were for so many years,” he said.

“I think now the positives that have come out of that is that Sony has become a bit more open minded and we have realised that we need to take this step by step. So really one of the first things we want to do with these new products is establish the fact that we have a player which is reliable. We are supporting a lot more codecs and we’re getting more of an open view. Sony’s orignial strategy was very closed – it was a lot of proprietary technologies.”

Allen believes cutting the range back to the E Series is Sony’s way of putting its best foot forward as the brand tries to establish a foothold that will give traction to subsequent product releases.

Sony Australia will introduce new products before Christmas this year, which are likely to be based on larger capacity flash memory.

As Sony moves to regain ascendancy in the category, Allen believes word of mouth marketing is important, particularly with the 20 and 30 year olds who constitute the brand’s primary market.

Sony aims to one day reclaim the number one spot in portable audio, but the company is not will make predictions about when this will happen.

“We have to be realistic about how long it is going to take us to get back into a healthier position in that area. Our short term goal is obviously to take the number two spot within the next six to 12 months,” said Allen.

“No one likes monopolies, and the reality is that right now there is very close to a monopoly and I think there is resistance from some retailers and to some degree from end users because they are not so comfortable with one brand being so strong.

"Based on our history and the strong relationships we have with most of the key retail channels and our awareness of their needs and working more closely with them, so far all the discussions we have had have been very possible to make a dent in the other brands. But to be honest, it is not going to be easy, we’re not kidding ourselves,” said Allen.