It costs a lot of money to get an electronic hi-fi product to market. So much money that in the past only very large companies – or very dedicated individuals – were able to manage it. These days, thanks to the modern miracle that is crowd-funding, anyone can raise the money to build a product, often within only a few days. No more need for expensive bank loans or pesky shareholders or worse, demanding business partners: Just crowd-fund it.
That's what a company called Kreyos did when it thought a waterproof, voice-activated smart watch would be a good idea. Lots of ordinary people also thought it would be a good idea too, and quickly contributed $US1.5 million (using the Indiegogo platform) towards building that watch. But when the company finally delivered the watch to its backers ('way beyond the promised deadline, by the way) it was not the watch it had promised to those people who had paid their money. The final product was not waterproof, lacked support for either Google Now or SIRI, and did not have the promised voice control for emails, messages and making calls.
Gizmodo said the Kreyos was textbook example of how crowd-funding could go wrong: 'Crowd-funding, like any gamble, preys on your hopes and dreams. Sometimes, you get the wonderful dream device you deserve. Other times, you get a million-dollar pile of shit, like a smart watch that can't tell the time,' it opined.
But I guess at least all those people who backed Kreyos got their watch, even if it was, according to Gizmodo, a 'pile of shit'. Many crowd-funded projects just vanish, leaving backers out-of-pocket, and a stunning 84 per cent fail to deliver their product at the time promised.
Many big-ticket audio products are now being crowd-funded, the most famous of which is arguably Neil Young's 'Pono' music player, which raised $US6,225,354 during its crowd-funded stage. By all reports it's a great machine, but the Pono Music platform does not deliver what it originally promised, which was 'better than CD-quality sound.'
One problem I am seeing with some of the manufacturers trying to crowd-fund hi-fi and audio projects is that they're not only crowd-funding the costs of manufacturing the product itself, but also all the research and development costs. As in: 'I have an idea for a product, I don't know if it will work, or be better than other products you can get for the same price (or even less) but if I crowd-fund it, I not only won't be investing a red cent of my own money to find out if it's viable, but will also be able to pull a larger-than-normal salary at the same time.'
Most crowd-funding organisations have built-in safeguards to try to prevent this happening (I know, because I have two friends who crowd-funded projects, and the hurdles they had to jump were quite mind-boggling) but these safeguards don't always work, because although there are many people using crowd-funding who are honest and trustworthy, there will always be some who are happy to rort the system to earn a quick buck.
I am certainly not against crowd-funding. I have personally invested money in two audio-related crowd-funding projects as well as one unrelated to audio that I think will not come to fruition, so I will lose the money I have invested, but the idea was so good that I had to give them a chance of turning into reality. But my advice is that if you are thinking of putting money into a crowd-funded audio product, don't let your heart get in the way of your head, because in most cases you'll find that a better product already exists, likely at a cheaper price, and it will be a product you can touch, feel – and listen to! – before buying, plus once you have purchased it, you'll have access (and legal recourse) to a full warranty and service back-up.
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