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Putting Zip Into CD-R/RW

Iomega, one of the last bastions of removable magnetic storage, has now announced plans to offer CD-R and CD-RW products.

Putting Zip into CD-R/RW

Hugh Bennett
EMedia Magazine, October 1999

In case some readers haven’t heard the news, Iomega, one of the last bastions of removable magnetic storage, has now announced plans to offer CD-R and CD-RW products. What a welcome addition to the optical storage industry! Iomega, long celebrated for its catchy product names and clever marketing campaigns, will invariably put some extra zip into the promotion of CD-R and CD-RW. Iomega is also a company desperately in need of reinventing itself if it’s to survive. It will be interesting to see if Iomega can move beyond being a one-product company with a shrinking market to a progressive marketer of removable storage products — whatever form they may take.

Wisely retaining the product name that has served it so well, Iomega has dubbed its CD-R/RW offerings ZipCD. The first model is a 4x4x24 internal IDE/ATAPI Philips recorder with a full software suite. A Wintel-only configuration, the internal ZipCD is expected to come on stream in October with a street price around $250. Following its release, Iomega also plans to introduce an external 4x4x8 Macintosh and Wintel model employing a USB interface and sporting a traditional Iomega case to give it the same look as its Zip and Jaz drives.

In addition to marketing recorders, Iomega will sell branded CD-RW discs including three packs of preformatted discs as well as mixed preformatted and unformatted discs. The question of offering CD-R media remains under discussion.

Big Name and Marketing Savvy
Iomega’s first CD-R/RW products have nothing special to offer in terms of features. With Sanyo preparing to release 10X CD-R recorders and with Sony poised to push 8x4x32 CD-R/RW units into the mass market it’s apparent that the industry already has all the performance and groundbreaking technology it needs. So, rather than offering technological contributions, Iomega brings to the table its marketing ability, distribution system, and the value of its name.

Iomega is the second truly big brand name to offer CD-R and CD-RW products and thus wields marketing power that is both admired and feared by its competitors. Indeed HP must be feeling a little uneasy now that Iomega has entered the race because it was Iomega that single-handedly put HP’s Colorado Memory Systems division (now responsible for their CD-R/RW products) out of the tape backup business. Chances are HP isn’t up for a repeat performance. Remember, in the minds of the buying public, as Hewlett-Packard is to laser printers, Iomega is to everyday computer storage.

And, in addition to reaching a broader audience, the entrance of sophisticated aftermarket companies like Iomega will as well have the effect of refining the overall quality of the CD-R/RW products sold. This was the case when HP entered the market in 1996, Gateway in 1997, IBM and Dell in 1998. It will happen again with Iomega who will, no doubt, wish to expand the market without the crippling expense or headaches of technical support calls.

Complement or Replacement?
While Iomega’s entrance into the CD-R/RW market is welcome news for industry promoters, the company’s reasons for doing so are the subject of some debate. Why bother with CD-R/RW when, according to the company, they have already sold over 20 million Zip drives, 125 million Zip discs, and 2 million Jaz drives?

Iomega says that customer feedback brought about the decision to break from their magnetic roots. Apparently, removable Jaz hard drive owners already use Jaz for premastering before recording final CDs while Zip users want a better way for archiving and to distribute material in an inexpensive common portable format. CD-R/RW, therefore, becomes simply complementary to Iomega’s existing product line and will help expand their overall share of the removable storage market. The Jaz market is already saturated and faltering, and with Zip drives fast loosing ground to the assault of CD-R/RW systems, it’s clear Iomega has been reading the handwriting on the wall.

Rigid removable hard drives have traditionally been a difficult sell. Dominated by Macintosh prepress, graphics-intensive and advertising applications, this market segment has frustrated magnetic hard disk, Magneto-Optical (MO), and DVD-RAM manufacturers alike and just last year claimed the life of Iomega’s arch rival SyQuest.

On the other hand, the Zip drive has taken the industry by storm since its introduction in 1994 as a higher-capacity floppy diskette alternative. Decline is now taking hold, however, thanks to CD-R/RW, which offers near universal interchange, superior capacity, audio capability, and incredibly low media cost. Judging by how long it has taken Iomega to release a CD-R/RW recorder, and the modest nature of the product offering and initial promotion, the question is: Does Iomega truly appreciate that CD-R and CD-RW don’t just complement, but in fact will eventually replace Zip?

After its near-death experience some years ago, Iomega successfully reinvented itself to become a billion dollar company that went on to dominate the removable computer storage landscape. But we know that to everything there is a season. Thus, it seems that Iomega’s future will again depend upon its ability to reinvent itself by offering products according to a market-driven philosophy. Concerns aside, ZipCD is certainly a step in the right direction.

Hugh Bennett, editor-in-chief of Hugh’s News, is president of Forget Me Not Information Systems, a reseller, systems integrator and industry consultant based in London, Ontario, Canada. Hugh is author of The Authoritative Blu-ray Disc (BD) FAQ and The Authoritative HD DVD FAQ, available on Hugh’s News, as well as Understanding Recordable & Rewritable DVD and Understanding CD-R & CD-RW, published by the Optical Storage Technology Association (OSTA).

Copyright © Online Inc. / Hugh Bennett