Monday, August 24, 2015

The Dying of the Pono Player

What started out as being a great idea has become a boondoggle:

Neil Young’s music tech startup Pono is struggling with funding issues, which is slowing down the company’s international expansion, the rock legend revealed in a Facebook post. “We are trying to set up stores in multiple countries and are restricted by a lack off resources,” Young wrote, adding that Pono wants to expand to Canada, the U.K. and Germany: “As soon as we have the funds, those stores will open. We wish it could be faster than that.”

Young launched Pono with a Kickstarter campaign in early 2014, raising more than $6 million for the company’s portable HD music player on the crowdfunding platform. Earlier this year, Pono expanded sales of the player to select retail stores, and Young said that the company has sold “tens of thousands of players,” as well as hundreds of thousands of HD music tracks through its music download store.

He also said that running Pono “hasn’t been easy.” Young has been serving as the company’s official CEO ever since it parted ways with prior CEO John Hamm a little over a year ago. The company has been looking for a new CEO for some time. Said Young: “We have no proven business leader at the head of our company, but the search continues for one who could do it to our liking and understand what our goal is and how big it is. We are still looking.”

There will always be a high-end market for music players. There isn't much more you can claim the Pono would be viable for because the technology simply does not rival anything out there while being demonstrably more expensive.

As I've said already, the Pono is not giving you anything you can't already get from a phone or an MP3 player; in fact, you're getting less because the Pono doesn't let you adjust an equalizer to accommodate your preferences. It's a high end device for delivering expensive, exclusive music. You're getting less because you have to enter the Pono's "walled-in garden" and pay for tracks that are "lossless" when really, all you need, is CD quality. You can get that from Spotify (horrors!) or by ripping MP3s at 320 kbps. You can take your own music collection and load it onto a Zune if you can still find one.

You're not going to change anyone's mind on this. It's why ordinarily smart guys pay $50,000 for a vintage guitar that doesn’t sound as good as a $1,000 Paul Reed Smith.

MP3 player manufacturers know that the device is the delivery system; the money is in getting you to buy your music from them. That's why they make those things so complicated. All anyone really needs is a hard drive that's small and that plays music that you can fiddle with until it sounds good to you. There's no money in that because the real money is in selling you shit you already paid for. Hello, albums, goodbye cassettes, hello CDs, goodbye DVD audio. Hello iTunes, goodbye to MP3s downloaded off of newsgroups. Hello remastered and expanded version, goodbye original version of CD purchased in 1994. It's all a scam.

It's not a magical piece of special equipment that will allow only Baby Boomer ears to hear incredible music. It's not an exclusive ticket for people in the know to demonstrate that their highly refined music-loving ear is superior to yours because they once worked in a recording studio for a month as a janitor. It is a mechanical device that delivers music that you have to pay more for. That's all. I would think that if it really were that special, someone in the business world would step up and run the company.

I love Neil Young. But someone sold him on a business idea that is really only viable for a select and narrow market. The Pono is for people who believe they are superior to all other humans through belief not science. The Pono is a status symbol, a Maserati when a Hyundai will do.

No comments:

Post a Comment