The Power of Second to Market

According to HBS, second-to-market can be a good strategy. The article looks at Apple and digital music as an example.

Apple Computer's recent domination of the digital music environment provides a surprising example of the disadvantages of being first to market. The innovative computer company that has become a leading force in the music space appears to have built a core strength around figuring out how to succeed at being a deliberate and very smart second (or even third) to market.

Indeed, with such prominent early exceptions as the mouse and the graphical user interface, Apple has rarely succeeded because of an appreciable first-to-market advantage. NEC beat Apple to the notebook computer, and Rio and Eiger Labs both had MP3 players long before the iPod was ever introduced. Sony's ACID, Cakewalk's Pyro, and others offered desktop music-editing software before Apple ever released its option.

Second to market? You could say first to market with a product that incorporated aesthetic design along with functional design. Semantic issues aside, second to market can be a good strategy because someone else does the initial consumer education work that is sometimes so difficult. So what do you do if you are first to market? Be second to market too. Make your first product obsolete, and another company won't have to.