During the past year Kickstarter has become an integral part of quite a few audio firms' successful marketing plans. We've seen some spectacular numbers from LH Lab's Geek Out and of course Pono, but is Kickstarter all roses with no brickbats? Nope, it is not.
The primary premise behind Kickstarter is that by "investing" early adopters will get a better deal than if they waited till the item was offered to the general public. But this has not proven to be true in many cases. Let's take Pono, for instance. The earliest adopters got prices as low as $239 verses the $400 "list" price, but those slots filled up quickly, and most of the Kickstarter patrons went for the limited-edition signature models which were priced close to or at list price. For the six-month wait (for some even longer), a different case finish and a couple of high-res demo tracks, that's not much of a discount.
And then there's the psychological phenomenon called "indexing." Indexing is the strong human tendency to lock onto a price and use it as a gauge for current and future price comparisons. An example would be a $1 lightbulb. Let's say its list price is $2.99, so that $1 price is a substantial discount. But what if that $1 price is the price you see everywhere for the bulb? Indexing means that the $1 price will make it very difficult for you to consent to the $2.99 price because you are used to paying $1. Same with Kickstarter projects -- once something is pegged at, say, $239, it's hard to feel good about anteing up $400 for the same thing. I watched this happen on the Pono Kickstarter page -- the $239 slots filled up within a day but the $400 slots remained open for weeks and in some cases, months.
What does indexing mean after the Kickstarter campaign is complete? It's hard to get the suggested list price for something that has been available at a discount for months. Kickstarter cannibalizes early-adopter sales as well as makes it hard for retailers to see decent margins on potential future sales. And you folks who planned to sell your early-adopter Ponos for a profit, good luck with that.
But for me as a reviewer the most pernicious aspect of Kickstarter is that professional reviews are not part of the Kickstarter paradigm. Every time I have requested a sample from a Kickstarter project the answer has been the same: "After the program is ended and the units have been shipped to KS patrons we MAY send out review samples." If I had wanted to review the Pono or a Geek-Out product in a timely manner, the only way I could have done it was to opt into the Kickstarter program and buy one. So for me and for MANY other pros the there will be no review of Pono or Geek-Out products. The only early reviews you see are from patrons. In Pono's case this has come back to bite them on their Kim Kardashian-sized ass...
The first Pono reviews from KS patrons have been largely raves. But the first reviews from "professionals" have come not from the audiophile press, but the gadget press, who not only don't understand the product, but are strongly biased against it. But with no professional audiophile publications or sites with reviews to counter the bubbleheads' negative reviews, those are the reviews that we are seeing at the top of the Google searches. That is a self-created PR nightmare.
My advice for Pono and other current and future Kickstarters: Don't forget that one bad review from a professional reviewer on a high-visibility website will counter a thousand raves from amateur enthusiasts. By not sending out review samples to pros you may garner more initial KS sales, but you are playing with fire in that if the first unsolicited pro review is negative it can kill your product deader than a 50-year-old AA cell.
So Kickstarter patrons, perhaps that super deal you're perusing isn't so super after all.
Kickstarter moguls, don't like professional reviewers? Don't think you need professional reviews? Perhaps, you, too, should think again.