I think this is a good thing to discuss. About 10+ years ago the gaming industry started releasing unfinished games (usually for full price) as “beta” releases on a large scale. For some reason, that became such a successful business strategy that it is being adopted worldwide by many other industries.
As owner of multiple businesses (both products and services) as well as a customer of many companies, I see both sides of the coin. If you go to the store and buy a hammer and the head falls off while you’re pounding a nail, it was released too soon. A company should be expected to learn how to put the head on the hammer before charging money for it. But of course a piece of electronic music equipment is far more complex than a hammer, so it is not so simple to understand.
If we want to truly understand the roots of this debate, I think we have to step back from the Digitakt itself and think about the bigger picture. What reasonable expectation can a customer have when they make a purchase? Throughout history there was only one answer: what is advertised is delivered. Now there are two competing answers: what is advertised is delivered, and what is advertised is eventually delivered, probably, mostly.
The question then remains: is it a good idea to release unfinished products for full price (or a slight, often negligible discount), or to wait until the product is solid and polished before charging customers full price?
Ethically, no company should ever release a product that they know will definitely not deliver what was advertised–no matter the reason.
Financially, the changing landscape of business (especially online) nearly dictates a beta-release model due to the overwhelming benefits to the company.
So the question then becomes, should companies act in the way that is most beneficial to them at the expense of their customers (life blood of the company and whole reason for its existence), or should they act in a way that is more expensive/painful for the company, but treats the customers as the #1 priority?
Companies will always do what’s best for them, which is especially true for publicly traded companies. Customers will always want what’s best for them and won’t care too much about what’s best for the company itself. This is for the same reason: selfishness is built into all living things from birth.
So who gets to be selfish, the company or the customer? It depends on whether you agree with the golden rule of business or not: The customer is always right. Some companies like Virgin believe that “the customer is always right” and it is very clear. When there is a problem, they take responsibility, apologize, fix the problem immediately, and generally offer compensation for the inconvenience.
The alternative is “the customer is always an A-hole,” as per Ben Affleck’s character in Kevin Smith’s Mallrats film. Apple has based their entire company on the idea that “the customer is always an A-hole,” and it has worked for them very well so far. They have 0 respect for their customers and screw them over on every product in every way imaginable. But they make lots of money and people love their products so they get away with it…until people no longer love their products (which is happening as we speak).
Elektron has struck me since the beginning (original Machinedrum release) as a company that thinks “the customer is always an A-hole,” because every decision they make is centered around what is good for THEM, not the customer. I’ve never felt anything but mild disinterested contempt from my customer service experiences with Elektron, despite 100% of those problems being entirely their fault. Never once have they apologized, admitted fault, or made me feel like they care at all. They made ME pay return shipping for sending me a faulty machinedrum unit and it took 3 months to get it back after repair (and a $120 shipping fee because they sent me a broken unit). In other words, I dislike strongly their business practices, though I enjoy immensely their products (like Apple).
It’s an age-old debate. Back when most countries were ruled by kings, there were two competing theories for how to rule a nation: with an iron fist or an open palm. Both approaches have their strengths and weaknesses, but one thing is clear: the iron fist makes everyone hate you, so you’d better not ever make a mistake or the people will hang you in the public square. Elektron has made their own customer base hate them, despite loving their products. If they make one mistake too many, their customers will turn on them and it’ll be game over. Plus, there is a case to be made for treating other people how you would like to be treated. I doubt anyone at Elektron would appreciate the kind of customer experience they deliver.
As for the Digitakt, it was released too soon for “the customer is always right,” but just on time for “the customer is always an A-hole.”