How Japan Lost Its Electronics Crown

During a business trip to Japan in 2004, technology analyst Michael Gartenberg caught a glimpse of Sony Corp.’s Librie, the first e-book reader with an electronic ink display.Mr. Gartenberg was impressed. He saw it as a harbinger of a new wave of products that would hit the U.S. But there were problems. The software was in Japanese. It required a computer to download a book and selection was limited.

Today, Amazon.com Inc.’s Kindle dominates the e-reader business and the Librie is little remembered. Sony is playing catch-up with a successor device, which ranks a distant third in the global market.

It is a story that has played out repeatedly over the past 20 years for Japan’s once-world-dominant electronics firms.

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