That news is ominous enough, but even after a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $6 million (way beyond the goal of $800,000), Pono went back to the well with another campaign on Crowdfunder that exceed its goal of $4million by 179%, and it now stands at more than $7 million. The company still continues to raise money as the campaign will continue until the end of September.
All this raises a number of questions, such as:
- Can the company actually raise enough money to put together both a music delivery service infrastructure and hardware manufacturing?
- Will there be any money left over for the ever-so-important marketing?
- Are there enough masters actually available at 192kHz/24 bit to make the service viable?
- Who's the target market, and will they spend $400 on a player?
- Will anyone abandon their phones to return to a dedicated player?
- Do enough people actually care about high-quality audio to make a market?
- Can Pono go up against the big guns of the industry (Apple, Google, Amazon, Spotify, Pandora, Sony) who have much deeper pockets?
- Will people want to go back to downloading files again?
- Will people actually want to pay for music again, especially at $15 to $25 a pop?
While it's admirable to try to bring high-quality audio to the masses, this has proved to be a losing business model in the past. The average person wants convenience, not quality, and that has always won throughout the history of the business.
Plus I believe that unless the player is supplied with an excellent set of headphones, perhaps the average user won't hear enough of a difference to make a purchase seem worthwhile.
If Pono's expectations are limited to just the audiophile market and a little beyond, the company may have a chance. But if it intends to go after the mass market, that's a recipe for disaster.
This all goes to show that it's never easy to launch a startup, even for someone like Neil Young.
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