It’s been about two years since Good e-Reader launched a successful Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign for a 13.3″ e-ink Android tablet, and just over one year since our last look at the campaign’s status. But in the intervening months, some questions have arisen about the campaign’s status, and a number of readers have suggested the matter merits another look. And after having taken that look, I am forced to agree.
I will admit that, early on, I was pretty optimistic about the prospects for such a device. I even got the story Slashdotted, which might well have resulted in a number of further backers. There simply wasn’t anything like that available at the time—or at least, nothing that had the full Android capabilities the Good e-Reader device was intended to have. And if this was the only way to get such a device, I thought it might well be worth doing. Certainly, if I’d had that amount of money free myself, I’d have strongly considered kicking it in. And so the tablet funded, and Good e-Reader launched another campaign (this one on Kickstarter) for a smaller version of the same tablet. (This campaign subsequently tanked, with only $18,000 of the hoped-for $48,000 pledged, but Good e-Reader was able to start selling the model anyway via Indiegogo.)
Now it’s two years later, and the Indiegogo campaign page and the Mobileread forum thread about it are full of comments from unsatisfied campaign supporters who still haven’t received their tablets yet—some of them with two-digit order numbers, placing them among the first hundred backers. Some backers also claim that the Indiegogo campaign has deleted negative comments from the Indiegogo page, and the same forum member observed that one of the campaign’s runners actually changed his Indiegogo profile to remove his name from it. Some of the MobileRead comments are from backers who have been able to receive refunds, while some have had difficulties. (Refunds have to come from Good e-Reader itself, as Indiegogo’s terms of service indicate it cannot provide refunds on campaigns that have already completed.)
And in what may be the final straw, Good e-Reader has started selling the 13.3″ reader for $599 on its own site, while possibly as many as 155 of the 620 backers who placed $699 orders from the Indiegogo campaign have not yet gotten their devices. (The most recent comment from Good e-Reader editor Michael Kozlowski on the Indiegogo campaign, 1 month ago, indicated that 3/4 of the orders had been fulfilled.)
I’ve reached out to Michael Kozlowski asking for comments, and he has replied:
Almost everyone has received their e-reader on Indiegogo. We keep sending out new units to people all the time. There is just a tiny vocal minority that has not received it yet. I am expecting a new shipment in the first few weeks of May, where even more units will be sent out to people on Indiegogo.
Our latest shipment was delayed by about 1.5 months because we developed an Android 4.4 update, bringing it from 4.04 that shipped on the tablet inititally. The OEM has to to put it though countless rounds of certification to insure everything is working properly.
Indiegogo remains our highest priority, but there are more 6.8 e-readers outstanding than 13.3, which is why we have never discounted this model.
He added in a further email:
To be honest we have too many 13.3 coming, not only will all the remaining units on Indiegogo be fulfilled, but we have so many extras.
He didn’t say exactly how many orders have yet to be fulfilled, but if “almost everyone” actually has received it, and they have “too many” tablets coming, the shipment in May should be the end of it—and the $599 sales on the Good e-Reader site would account for those extras.
Crowdfunding is Not Pre-Ordering
It is worth remembering something that all too many people forget: crowdfunding is not pre-ordering. It’s investing. You’re not buying stock or kicking in a million dollars in venture capital, but you’re still putting your money up in the hope that you’ll get something out of it—and unlike with pre-orders, that “something” isn’t always guaranteed to arrive. You pay your money and you take your chances.
Even as optimistic as I was, in my original post about the 13.3″ reader I did advise caution:
That being said, in some respects it seems a little too good to be true. As with any crowdfunding project for expensive hardware, I do have to counsel caution. Even granting Kozlowski has the best intentions, hardware Kickstarters can often run into unanticipated obstacles along the way, especially when their runner is inexperienced. For example, Robert X. Cringely recently posted a look at a number of unexpected excess costs accrued by his sons’ Minecraft server Kickstarter. It’s not impossible that something similar could happen here.
There have been plenty of ineptly-run crowdfunding campaigns through the years, both for high-tech devices and for media. A couple of years ago I looked at the one for Lawrence Lee Rowe’s Tempus Fugit revision, which ended up earning all of $77 toward its $25,000 goal.
Then there were the campaigns associated with the TV series Robotech, one of which I looked at on my personal blog. Robotech owner Harmony Gold ran a campaign that asked for $500,000 to animate a pilot episode of a new TV show, which was considerably more than they should have needed and it only drew about $195,000 before Harmony Gold pulled the plug less than a week before it was due to end.
But arguably worse was a campaign run by Palladium Books for its BattleTech-like Robotech RPG Tactics miniatures game, which initially succeeded beyond its wildest dreams—it took in $1,442,312 on a $70,000 goal. But the campaign ended up being unable to fulfill the rewards it had promised to its backers before Palladium lost the Robotech license.
Siembieda said that his company burned through the $1.4 million in Kickstarter funds three years ago. Palladium’s current revenues don’t provide enough capital to actually finish making the product line it promised back in 2013.
The reward fulfillment was torpedoed by unexpected manufacturing costs, and more so by the higher-than-expected price of shipping all those miniatures. (At one point Palladium sought investors to front it the $625,000 it needed in order to complete the campaign, ultimately unsuccessfully.) Stresses having to do with the campaign, and complaints by unsatisfied backers, even led one of the game’s designers to attempt suicide in early 2017.
All of the static and fan complaints these campaigns generated didn’t go unnoticed by Harmony Gold. Over the last couple of weeks on my Space Station Liberty Robotech podcast, I learned that Harmony Gold’s current licenses of the Robotech intellectual property to game companies expressly forbid the use of crowdfunding campaigns. I suppose the burned hand learns to fear the fire.
There was even one Kickstarter hardware campaign that succeeded to the tune of $3.4 million, but failed so badly to produce any products that Kickstarter itself hired a journalist to produce a report on what went wrong. So, it’s not exactly unexpected that some projects that succeed nonetheless fail to ship any product. At least Good e-Reader has filled nearly all of its orders so far, according to Michael Kozlowski, and he says that the rest should be completed soon.
In any case, the two year delay has broadened the number of market choices available. When the Good e-Reader campaign kicked off, there weren’t any comparable products on the market—so if you wanted a 13.3″ e-ink Android tablet, Good e-Reader was the only game in town. But in the years since, products like the Onyx Boox Max 2 have become available. The Boox Max 2 can offer much the same capability as the Good e-Reader, with some even better features such as Bluetooth capability and a more recent version of Android, for about the same price. And they’ve even got a smaller version, which Onyx has promised they’ll send along to me for another review when they have one available.
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