Why Sony’s A9ii strategy​ makes no sense

There have been a floury of Sony apologist rushing to defend Sony with the disappointed fan base and the A9ii release.

The excuses provided have been along the lines of:

  • Sony needed a better backend workflow for professional users
  • The A9 was good enough that not much was required
  • This camera is dedicated to a small portion of the user base that needed it
  • Users were expecting too much
  • This is only a sports camera

I don’t think you’ll find many people disagreeing that the professional users needed a more professional backend workflow to extend the user base in the pro sports market. I agree wholeheartedly…but…that isn’t every sports user and not every A9 user is a sports user.

If the A9 is purely a pro sports camera, and the A7Riv is a high megapixel option, that leaves a massive gap for all the other professional users in their lineup. Does that mean wedding photographers have to buy the A7Riv when they really want to use the silent shutter of the A9 in a church? What if they don’t want or need 61MP?

If the A9 is only a sports camera, why do they have portraits, wildlife and insects on their A9 gallery. And the tag line for the A9ii?

“Speed and productivity for working pros”

Apparently, all those photographers shooting weddings, portraits, wildlife, macro and every other genre outside sports and journalism aren’t “working pros”. Thanks Sony. I’ll let them know.

I think the first mistake Sony made is targeting a new release of the camera at a niche a portion of their A9 user base. They released a camera update for a subset of the Pro sports market and the A9 is not just used by a subset of the pro sports market.

Not all the sports market, namely the press sports shooters. I know and work with many sports shooters, none of whom wanted this camera. I also know many wedding and portrait photogs who use the A9.

A survey on the Sony A9 facebook group showed that 1 in 28 of the users were interested in buying the A9.

I would hazard a guess that the targeted portion of their current user base is small, so they have tried to target a new segment of the market and ignored a large portion of their current user base.

The problem with this release is that Sony releases every 2-2.5 years. Now the rest of their user base, who are the bulk of the users, has to wait another 2 years for the A9iii, October 2021 to be exact.

You could argue that the users expected too much, but Sony has a 30MP stacked sensor, it was released in July so it’s not uncommon for users to expect a company to put the latest sensor in their flagship model or be aware of its development in advance.

With the current strategy, you’ve left 95% of your A9 user base disappointed. Having disappointed users gives the potential for users to abandon ship and move to other brands, and prevents users from moving to Sony. That’s a dangerous position to be in when the market is becoming highly competitive.

The second issue is that this release barely matches the D5, a 3.5 yr old sports camera from Nikon that will be updated in a month. I say barely because the silent shutter isn’t suited to a lot of artificial lighting which has moved to LED. Nikon goes big with major releases so I would hazard a guess that the Nikon will be a 30MP 15fps beast.

In a month’s time, before their camera hits the market, Sony is going to find themselves outdone by their rivals for another 2 years who are more established in sports, have the existing user base, have better-specced cameras, and are far lower risk for pro sports shooters.

My guess is Sony is trying to get DSLR users to move across, but I think their release is so weak that they won’t get many to move. If they can’t get DSLR sports users to move, they’re stuck with a release that doesn’t appeal to a large portion of their current user base and hasn’t garnered any support from photogs moving from competitors. I.e. it’s failed on two fronts.

Whilst Nikon has it’s sports flagship beating Sony’s equivalent, they have time to play catch up on the mirrorless front, so by the time Sony does release a real competitor with the a9iii, Nikon will be up there on the mirrorless front and Nikon users will have no reason to move. A lost opportunity now, and a lost opportunity in future.

It’s easy to talk about what they did wrong, so let’s talk about what they should have done:

One of the users on Dpreview made the suggestion that they should have announced an A9 variant just for the Olympics. I think the poster was right, release an A9 Pro model just for the Olympics, use it as a trial for the Olympics and put out an A9ii in 6 months with a new sensor and the new functionality from the A9P so the two merge into a single camera line. I think this would have met the expectation of the current A9 pro user base and the pro base along with circumventing the bad fall out. Amazing how a name can make the difference.

So my perspective:

  • It’s a failed strategy. When you create a very disillusioned user base from a new release that is supposed to excite people, you have to take a long hard look at your product line and strategy. The fact that they did a low-level press release shows they were expecting it to be disappointing to the user base, so not only did they know this was coming, but they did nothing to circumvent it. Someone should be fired at Sony just for that because it will take months to undo the problem they created.
  • Often problem strategies have simple fixes like the Dpreview poster suggested. An A9P variant release with a merged roadmap in 6 months would have let people know that Sony is still thinking about them. In the case of the A7Riv, if they provided a small/medium raw, I think that would have solved 50% of the complaints from users who didn’t want or need 61MP as they could have gone for small or medium raw and been happy. Small software solution to a big marketing problem. That says they aren’t listening to their customers properly, or they are only hearing what they want to hear.

 

3 comments

  1. Kenneth Sky says:

    Perhaps you are not the intended market. I’m not. But maybe Sony only intended this camera for the sports photographers covering the Olympics with the added halo effect. This release does not preclude a Sony A9R or for that matter an A9S. I am not a Sony fanboy or apologist. But, Sony does like to segment the market. We have no insight into the inner motivation of their marketing strategy

    Like

    • Agree, but here is the problem:

      1. The A9ii is now positioned for sports and news professionals
      2. The A7Riv is a positioned where? Not everyone wants 61MP. Many of the pros I know don’t want that. They want high ISO performance.
      3. The A7iii has a crappy low res viewfinder and is really an entry-level full-frame

      If I was a wedding shooter, what do I use? The entry-level body? Typically wedding shooters like high ISO which is why the A9 was so useful but now according to Sony, that’s a sports and journalist cam? Or are they saying that wedding photographers have to use the original A9 and live with a 4-year-old body which is where it will be in 2 years time when it gets replaced and the 1% of photogs who do work in stadiums buy the A9ii? That doesn’t make sense. You’re positioning your latest camera for the smallest market.

      By going to specialised, they leave massive gaps in their lineup hence the reason their strategy makes no sense. I was looking for a replacement for my current camera and I’m in no man’s land. I don’t want to buy a 2-year-old body for the kinds of sports I shoot.

      The problem with a strategy is your target market needs to understand it to know where to put themselves. If they can’t put themselves anywhere, that’s a bad thing. The last poll I saw on the A9 site showed 5% of potential and existing A9 buyers were looking to buy the A9ii. For a​ new sony release, that’s astoundingly low. That’s the kind of poll you’d expect to see on a DSLR.

      Like

  2. Kenneth Sky says:

    And in which case, Sony will pay the price in low sales. In which case, I would look for a marked drop in price by New Years followed by the A93! Or….(wait for it)…..a firmware upgrade utilizing something in the new CPU-LSI that only is in the A92.

    Liked by 1 person

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