PonoPlayer: When Millions of Dollars Add Up to Nothing

Neil Young's Pono Player Kickstarter FundingNeil Young Artist Signature Series Pono Player

would you rather listen?

The many stories I’ve told you here about business change and Influency have included quite a few examples of the way things work in the music business and other media businesses. Last week, although I’ve shown some love for both his understanding of his place in the music business and his music, I came down pretty hard on Neil Young’s new Kickstarter funded Pono Player.

As I said, I dig Neil Young. I like Kickstarter, too. But as I get more and more involved in our new change-the-media-business-for-the-betterment-of-artists project VideoNetworkOne and find myself even more interested in the way changes happen in media than I’ve always been, I can’t help but notice what a misconceived notion the Pono Player is despite Neil Young’s great intentions. And with a bunch of music luminaries aligned with Pono and Neil Young I figured the issue deserved another look.

500 folks who contributed to the Pono Player Kickstarter campaign will be receiving limited-edition Ponos “signed” by Neil Young. And not surprisingly, that particular bonus item disappeared quickly. But a bunch of other famous musicians are in on the fun at Pono. In fact, a few of them are bigger—sometimes way bigger, if with less longevity—than Neil Young, but not all of the limited edition, musician-branded Pono Players are sold out.

Arcade Fire, Beck, and CSN Pono Players Limited Edition Pono Players Featuring Dave Matthews, Foo Fighters, CSNY Limited Edition Pono Players Featuring Herbie Hancock, Nora Jones, Lenny Kravitz

Pono Players Featuring James Taylor, Tom Petty, Willie Nelson Pono Players Featuring Pearl Jam, Patti Smith, My Morning Jacket

And this is where the flaws in the Pono Player’s business model start to show. The artists who are on board are presented on Pono’s Kickstarter page in alphabetical order; that’s certainly the best way to handle the over-sized egos that folks with large followings inevitably possess. And this reveals some interesting, if inconclusive, things about the folks who want limited edition Pono Players signed by their favorite artists; it’s not necessarily about the order, nor the longevity, nor the disposable incomes of the people ponying up for Pono Players. What the results seem to indicate is that people who buy limited edition Pono Players are completely unpredictable.

What that means is that unless Neil Young’s goal for the Pono Player is to make a few million dollars and walk away, his team has failed to consider the marketing consequences of producing a music player that’s too large, shaped clumsily, too expensive, and falls outside the realm of what people are doing with digital music now; most people have moved on from dedicated music players holding music downloads to playing music through their phones, over the Internet. Which the Pono Player can’t do.

That’s too many misunderstood variables for the Pono Player to have any success after its pre-production financially-comfortable-and-technology-savvy-fan-participation-based Kickstarter campaign. Pono won’t change the music business or any other business; it will just … disappear.

The Pono Player’s way-higher-than-people-are-used-to-paying price is actually the least important part of this problem; Apple’s proven that; they’ve tricked a zillion people into paying three times more for their computers than the computers are actually worth. What’s wrong with Pono is that it’s a novelty, not a viable product. And novelties pay off through a short window; they don’t represent change and thus don’t create Influency.

Considering an Influency play of your own? Do better than Neil Young and the Pono Player; contact me here.