What things flopped because they arrived at exactly the wrong time?
January 13, 2019 10:45 AM   Subscribe

What are some products/movies/music/etc. that failed not because they inherently sucked, but because they arrived at the wrong time? For example, Kia Borrego (a 15 MPG SUV that launched in the 2008 recession and $4 gas...and was discontinued after only a year). Again, the Borrego wasn't necessarily a great car but mainly flopped because it came out at the worst possible time.
posted by Seeking Direction to Grab Bag (37 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
The tv show "Happy Endings" came out too early to be a hit. it's hilarious and smart but people were still looking for the canned laughter Friends type shows. And it was before streaming hit it big, so it was cancelled :( it does have a huge cult following though by those of us who know what a gem it was!
posted by katypickle at 10:48 AM on January 13, 2019 [13 favorites]

They Might Be Giants album Mink Car dropped on the same day as the planned start of their album tour, Sept. 11, 2001. Since air travel (and for a little while, normal life) were suspended for a good amount of time, later that morning, it upended the first month of their tour. You probably know that new music albums are released on Tuesdays, so I'm sure they weren't the only ones.

It's the only TMBG album to have ever fallen out of print (out of 22, counting 3 this year). I can only assume 9/11 completely stalled music sales of all kinds, and the albums released that day in prior weeks just tanked, at least outside their die-hard fanbase.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:57 AM on January 13, 2019 [7 favorites]

The Dreamcast, ish.

The Audrey, a connected device meant for the home that was launched when neither the hardware nor home network connectivity was up to the job. (It predated the Linksys WRT54G, which tells you the state of home wi-fi in 2000.)
posted by holgate at 11:00 AM on January 13, 2019 [5 favorites]

I think the Ogo. I wanted one so I could email and live journal at lunch without using my work computer. Then the iPhone came out ...
posted by tilde at 11:06 AM on January 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

Robin Lippincott’s novel Mr. Dalloway, based on Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs. Dalloway, came out right after Michael Cunningham won the Pulitzer for The Hours, also based on Wool’s novel. The first line of the New York Times review is “Talk about bad timing.”
posted by FencingGal at 11:15 AM on January 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

This goes back well before the period you're probably thinking of but a classic example is the Spencer repeating rifle which was actually adopted by the Department of War of the United States during the Civil War, at a time when most military firearms would've needed to be reloaded after every shot.

But the repeating rifles weren't used at any great scale, even though the Union was mobilizing one of the largest military forces in human history from scratch and could've made them standard, because they were new and commanders were concerned that soldiers would consume ammunition too quickly.
posted by XMLicious at 11:15 AM on January 13, 2019 [6 favorites]

The world wasn't ready for the tablet PC when it was released.
posted by Calzephyr at 11:27 AM on January 13, 2019 [5 favorites]

XMLicious reminded me of the Patton saber, a military saber designed by George Patton (the WWII general) in 1913. It’s been described as “the best sword ever issued to an army,” but by the time it was issued, it was already obsolete because modern warfare no longer allowed for the cavalry charges it was made for. It was the last saber issued to the U.S. Cavalry.
posted by FencingGal at 11:31 AM on January 13, 2019 [8 favorites]

Similar to Mr. Dalloway, there is another Phantom of the Opera musical, called Phantom. It had the misfortune of being conceived around the same time as The Phantom of the Opera, and because Andrew Lloyd Weber is a much bigger name, it lost its investors and never made it to Broadway. I actually like it better than the famous Phantom - it’s a lot darker, befitting the material. But it doesn’t have the spectacle of Weber’s show.
posted by lunasol at 12:20 PM on January 13, 2019 [5 favorites]

A whole list of media affected by 9/11 is on Wikipedia - cd covers, music videos, song titles etc that didn't look good in the immediate aftermath.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 12:36 PM on January 13, 2019 [9 favorites]

Segway. Too early for its time.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:42 PM on January 13, 2019 [6 favorites]

Robert Bresson's Lancelot du Lac, one of the first films to ditch the fantasy elements and unrealistic glamour of previous King Arthur movies and focus instead on blood and filth and the grim reality of life in the middle ages.

Came out right about the same time as Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
posted by Naberius at 1:10 PM on January 13, 2019 [4 favorites]

the palm treo smartphone (2002) was around with an appstore long before iphone (2007, no apps until 2008) or android phones (2008).
posted by noloveforned at 1:25 PM on January 13, 2019 [8 favorites]

The Edsel is widely regarded as being just a bit late to the party--it was intended as a slightly upscale sub-brand, but by the time it arrived, the USA's economy was cooling off a bit, and demand wasn't there (it was also weird-looking).

Arguably Apple's Newton was too ambitious for the hardware that was available at the time. The same could really be said of all PDAs—until you could combine them with a phone and cellular data, they were a solution in search of a problem.

The TV show Babylon 5 anticipated bingewatching by about 20 years, with a story arc that covered the entire five-year run of the show. It got cancelled after the third season and picked up by a different network, so perhaps it didn't fail, but it probably would do better in today's media landscape. It also used CGI exclusively for outer-space footage (and relied on greenscreens a lot). The image quality was clearly inferior to the model-work that Star Trek was already doing (but allowed for much more interesting maneuvers), so in that sense it was ahead of its time too.
posted by adamrice at 1:36 PM on January 13, 2019 [11 favorites]

Infamous (about Capote), which came out just after the PS Hoffman movie Capote, bombed, as did Valmont, which came out just after Dangerous Liasons and had the same plot.
posted by pangolin party at 1:51 PM on January 13, 2019 [4 favorites]

The biggest flop of all time (financially) would be the Irridium satellite phone system that required launching 77 satellites...and then cellular phone networks sprang up while they were launching. They ended up with only like 5000 subscribers, which made the service cost ~$50,000/yr and the phones didn't work indoors. At one point in the bankruptcy they were trying to sell the satellites on eBay and couldn't even unload them for $1000. Google Irridium for all the gory details.
posted by sexyrobot at 2:07 PM on January 13, 2019 [9 favorites]

In the Babylon 5 and odd tech that didn't quite make it... The Amiga. Came out at the same time as the Mac. Totally superior to the IBM PC and the Apple Mac in general. But if you didn't go IBM for the existing business aspect, it was the Mac because Apple and advertising and packaging. The non-home computer niche it filled for a while was a thin slice of computing centered around video and sound and graphics. Amiga's with Video Toasters rendered Babylon 5. I blame the timing with the Mac and bad management.
posted by zengargoyle at 2:07 PM on January 13, 2019 [6 favorites]

The enjoyable Banvard’s Folly (Google Books link) describes the Beach pneumatic transit subway system and a dozen other before-the-right-time inventions.
posted by lasagnaboy at 2:58 PM on January 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

UNSUB - An NBC procedural that was the forerunner to all the "Criminal Minds" type shows, but ten years too early.
posted by KazamaSmokers at 3:34 PM on January 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

The Pontiac Aztek - the first crossover vehicle with a lot of innovative ideas inside. Owners loved it, but the public couldn't deal with the styling. Five years too early.
posted by KazamaSmokers at 3:36 PM on January 13, 2019 [5 favorites]

Archos harddisk mp3 players, came out in 2000. I owned one and it was amazing. IPod came out in sept of 2001.
Archos had a way better price point, but marketing won out.
posted by AlexiaSky at 3:44 PM on January 13, 2019 [4 favorites]

For all its politicization, Solyndra is a test case: Their major innovation (among a few more), was developing solar panels without polysilicon, which was massively expensive at the time. Turns out, when they came to market, the price of polysilicon dropped from $400 a kilogram to $30 and coincided with China starting dropping government subsidized solar panels into the market.
posted by General Malaise at 4:04 PM on January 13, 2019 [6 favorites]

There are those who say that the musical Chicago was this way, when it was first released. It's cynical as all hell, it skewers the media and the whole "getting famous for notoriety" thing, and in the 1970s that didn't fly very well. It got mixed reviews when it first opened and flopped.

But then in the mid-90s it got a concert presentation as part of an NYC "Encores" concert series, which showcases musicals which the producers feel are underappreciated. And in the 90s, that dark cynical attitude just worked, and people started talking about giving it a full revival. That revival opened in November of 1996 and is still running as we speak.

I saw it with Bebe Neuwirth in 1997 and it kicked ass.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:28 PM on January 13, 2019 [7 favorites]

BetaMax. Amazing innovations, far better than VHS tapes in functionality, but the timing of the launch and the slightly cheaper VHS price point meant this got binned really quick.

The original Microsoft Surface (2008) was a $10K coffeetable-sized touch screen. The linked article claimed it was mostly marketed to corporations, but I clearly remember endless commercials of it being pitched as something so grandma could look at shared photos bigger and get scans of kids artwork and so on. But it was SO different from existing computers and phones that it didn't actually appeal to either of the target audiences. I think had it been launched a few years ago it would have done a lot better. Grandma is used to the iPad now.
posted by ananci at 5:02 PM on January 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

BetaMax. Amazing innovations, far better than VHS tapes in functionality, but the timing of the launch and the slightly cheaper VHS price point meant this got binned really quick.

My understanding is that Sony kept a tight rein on the licensing for BetaMax because they didn't want porn dirtying up their corporate reputation. So all the porn went to VHS, and the rest is history.

For a while in the early 90s one of the communities keeping Beta afloat was hardcore anime fans. I drifted through those circles for a while and people had all their collections on BetaMax tapes because the picture quality was better. They would buy matched pairs of Beta decks to dupe tapes, and there would be these copying fests where people would daisy chain two dozen decks and copy stuff around the clock all weekend. How close you were to the original source deck in the chain was an indication of your social status in the group.
posted by Naberius at 5:49 PM on January 13, 2019 [12 favorites]

In the late seventies & early eighties, an appitite surpressant / weightloss candy was marketed with strong initial success. It's name? Ayds.

Losing weight with "Ayds" just didn't have quite the same appeal during the AIDS crisis.
posted by wires at 7:36 PM on January 13, 2019 [7 favorites]

In the early to mid 90s SyQuest removable-disk hard drives were used by publishing, artists, and musicians to store and transfer large files. Their largest drive was 800mb.

In the mid-90s the Zipdrive became available at a much cheaper price and became the most used removable media to store and transfer big files.

As multi-gigabyte capacity computer disk drives became available, backing up with Zip disks became less economical. Inexpensive recordable CD and DVD drives, followed by USB flash drives, eclipsed the Zip drive.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 8:08 PM on January 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

General Motors' electric car, the EV1, in 1996. 20 years too early. There was a documentary about it called Who Killed the Electric Car?
posted by rabbitrabbit at 7:37 AM on January 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

The Last Action Hero. I'm just speculating here, but I think if it had been released in the last 15 years it would have been a huge hit. The extreme meta-irony of the premise was too weird in 1993.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 8:32 AM on January 14, 2019 [4 favorites]

There were a couple of aircraft trends over the past 20 years or so that flopped. The first was the very light jet, coupled with the air taxi paradigm. Small (under 10,000 pounds), single pilot jet aircraft capable of moving six or eight people around 1,000 - 1,500 nm. Cheap to operate (relative to other bizjets, anyway), cheap to buy (again...), these were expected to be a huge market for small air taxi companies - imagine on-demand or quasi-scheduled service to and from small airports all around major metropolitan areas. Rather than spending $200, driving in to Logan, flying to Newark, and driving out to North Jersey you could save a couple hours, spend $800, fly out of Norwood, and land at Linden. The first of these jets started getting certified around 2005-ish. The market completed fell out once the recession started and travel budgets tightened - the very rich kept their current private jets, the market for air switched to flying JetBlue.

The other end of the spectrum is the sport pilot/light sport aircraft combo which seems to have suffered a failure to launch (sorry). Similar situation - the new regs were published in 2004, a bunch of the general aviation manufacturers came out with new designs to meet the light sport category, and then the recession hit. There were a few other factors, also - the sport pilot license was very appealing to folks who otherwise couldn't meet the medical requirement for a private pilot license, but then the FAA relaxed the medical requirements. There were also design and production challenges with the light sport models that meant they were slow to be introduced to the market. Critically, though, many of the new light sport planes weren't that much cheaper than other, more capable aircraft on the used market (and your workaday pilot isn't going out and buying a new plane anyway).

I guess it's yet to be seen if either market recovers; it seems like the air taxi business is setting its sights on drones now but I'm skeptical about that becoming viable in my lifetime.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:06 PM on January 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

The 2009 movie Jennifer's Body has started to experience something of a cult renaissance over the past year or two, and a prevailing theory as to why the movie was marketed so poorly by the studio (targeting "horny teenage boys" rather than the teenage girls for whom the movie was made) and panned so hard by critics when it originally came out is that we just weren't culturally prepared for a feminist horror movie that dealt with the types of themes this movie did.
posted by helloimjennsco at 12:42 PM on January 14, 2019 [4 favorites]

Cyndi Lauper got completely eclipsed by Madonna. This grinds my gears.
posted by bendy at 4:53 PM on January 14, 2019 [6 favorites]

David Hasselhoff's 1994 paytv live concert music special in Atlantic City. While he had a sucessful music career in Europe, this was to ignite his American career. During the concert people decided instead to watch a low speed pursuit of a white bronco suv.
posted by Sophont at 12:10 AM on January 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

Dishwasher as we now know it was invented and marketed in the 1920s. It was not a commercial success, allegedly because women liked the quiet time after a meal spent hand washing dishes.
posted by Dotty at 11:29 AM on January 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

Sunburnt: " You probably know that new music albums are released on Tuesdays, so I'm sure they weren't the only ones. "

Mariah Carey's Glitter soundtrack released that day and also tanked.
posted by Chrysostom at 2:56 PM on January 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

The Treo was by no means a flop, though. It was THE non-Blackberry phone for a long time, at least in terms of phone tech. They were introduced in '02, and Palm-based Treos persisted in the marketplace for FIVE YEARS.

It's really an example of an early success, not an early failure.
posted by uberchet at 9:15 AM on January 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

Oh, the NeXT cube. If you're sitting at a Mac now... Jobs had that working in the '90s. It wasn't awesome enough to beat Sun or SGI, but it was some really cool stuff hipsters are using today. It flopped.

I used to use a NeXT cube shipping box as my laundry box and carried around the little NeXT screwdriver that came with the machines and saw Jobs give his stage presentation of this miraculous thing. The hardware was about the same as the Sun 3/50 and Amiga (buffed out), just sorta average. But the OS was something pretty cool and led eventually to that hipster Mac people are using right now.
posted by zengargoyle at 5:11 PM on January 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

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