Friday, January 22, 2010

Japan jumps shark?

I ask that question in my latest column for The Daily Yomiuri, out today, writing about Sony's booth at this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas, the JAL bankruptcy, political shenanigans and stagnancy, and the ongoing troubles in the anime and manga biz.


SOFT POWER, HARD TRUTHS / Is this the year Japan jumps the shark?

"Jumping the shark" is an American idiom describing the point at which a television series, a career or just about anything that has developed popularity or momentum blows its own credibility and heralds its own demise.

The phrase was coined after the Fonz, a character in the long-running TV series Happy Days, known for its rosy vision of postwar American life, literally jumped over a captive shark while water-skiing. Many now see the shark-jumping episode as an omen of the program's decline into cancellation.

The expression came to mind earlier this week, as I perused reports of Japan's poor showing at this year's International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, the bankruptcy of Japan Airlines, and the rising numbers of unemployed Japanese seeking government aid over the holidays, finding temporary shelter in bubble-era capsule hotels.

This news of sinking fortunes had me wondering: Can you jump the shark without actually doing anything? Paralyses that have long gripped Japan's producers of popular culture, whose profits continue taking a beating overseas and at home despite growing global enthusiasm, are now damaging its gadget, travel and other industries. In Japan, the Year of the Tiger is looking a lot like the Year of the Great White. [more @ YOMIURI HERE; @ 3:AM magazine w/graphics HERE]


ArthurFrDent said...

have to say that I fell over laughing when i first saw the pic... it's always a hot topic about when something has hung on too long...
Perhaps the real question is can Japan hold to it's virtues until it can figure out the product and thinking cycles that would be a strength for it. Smaller and shorter product cycles are cannibalistic. Eventually the amount of money riding on each cycle cause companies to be in a make/break mode all the time. Eventually there will be a swing back to safe mode where things change incrementally, because no-one can afford the big loss. This is true globally, I think.

I'm not sure that buying in to that is the best bet, especially since I don't think you could move Japanese Corporate tradition so quickly. The catch is, that it doesn't seem [to me as an outsider] to be moving at all. I doubt the US is much better, just different.

'spose it's a goldilocks thing where you go back and forth looking for what's "just right". What is dawning is the idea that it's a global stage, potentially. The key is potential. You don't have to conquer the world market in one day, but you should give a shot at being able to grow that way. Distribution systems, marketing systems, the ability to ramp production.

You may never sell anything outside you home country, whatever it is... Idea, song, socks, people. But if you go into it thinking that every sale is a sale, and what is the return on investment, and is it profitable? You set yourself to be ready when the next zhuzhu pet craze takes over another country [and it looks like Tomy has]. I think that also has the impact on piracy and the internet, for intellectual property. I think most people [not all] are willing to purchase things if they see value in it. But you have to sell to the world. You also need to have a realistic idea about the number of people who are not going to buy a thing in anycase and marginalize them. Napster was NEVER the big bad wolf that the RIAA made it out to be, and importantly they didn't provide alternatives. From a legalistic perspective, who is wrong is more or less apparent. [Fair use being savaged on both sides] but giving people the great alternative, and THEN prosecuting gets you much farther along.

But you have to be ready. You have to figure out by watching, that people are going to go after a new media type. Or that your title is going to go over well. Essentially you have to tap into that passion, and figure out how to make a profit. This is where I think the Japanese media industry could be a forerunner. IFF they could change their mindset and gain some speed. You can't wait for this to happen, you must persue it...

Roland Kelts said...

"IF they could change their mindset and gain some speed."
Ah, yes. That's the operative phrase--a gynormous "IF." And we both penned words before Toyota's massive recall and still-belated response. Japan will endure, as you suggest. But it used to lead, and still should, methinks.