By Eliot Van Buskirk of Evolver.fm.
Neil Young has been recording his music in the high-resolution music format that the PonoMusic store will sell for quite some time, according to what he told SXSW attendees last night. Many other artists and labels, however, have not been doing this, which will render Ponoâs catalog of high-resolution music fairly anemic relative to other digital music stores and services.
So, how does Pono expect to compete with Amazon and iTunes, not to mention the increasingly popular on-demand subscriptions services that offer tens of millions of songs for $10 per month? Who in their right mind would switch to Pono â especially when it costs $15-$25 per album and requires a special $400 player?
Nobody. And Pono itself has no delusions about that.
Instead, Pono seems to view itself as a sort of portable record player. The same people who listen to and discover music on the streaming services and then buy high-resolution vinyl records of their favorites, Pono hopes, will buy PonoMusic files in order to be able to carry high-resolution versions of that music around with them, implied the companyâs CEO at yesterdayâs âIs 2014 the Return of the Home Stereo?â panel (more on that here).
âOur context really is that itâs âdifferent horses for different courses,â and itâs the context of how you listen to music that matters,â said Pono CEO Jon Hamm. âIâm a Spotify user. I have a Sonos system. And I also obviously love Pono. It just really depends on what music you want, for when youâre listening.â
As such, Pono does not plan to be part of the music discovery process, and does not expect to be anyoneâs only music service. Instead, Hamm sees it as another option people might choose if any of their very favorite albums happen to be available there.
âWeâre going to let these guys take care of discovery and those kinds of things,â said Hamm, gesturing towards Spotify director of platform marketing Tim Grimsditch, âand I donât think thatâs our role in the industry. What our research says is that people love the music they love more than you would believe. Everyone probably has their desert island albums or songs even, that if forced to take a hundred songs, or ten albums with you for the rest of your life, youâd know how to put that list togetherâ¦ I met a guy the other day who has seven copies of Cat Stevensâ âTea For The Tillermanââ¦ Weâre going to try to fill out catalogs of artists that really have incredible catalog following â The Rolling Stones, Neil Young â you know the names, people with more than 15 or 20 significant albums.â
Thereâs been a lot of debate about whether Pono will actually make music sound better. The company exceeded its $800K Kickstarter goal on the first day, indicating that at least some music fans have been willing to accept Ponoâs premise. According to both Hamm and Pono founder Neil Young, one must hear the device in order to appreciate it; once the first units are slated to ship in October, music fans will have a chance to hear it for themselves, and decide.
Photo: Eliot Van Buskirk