Cats, bags, and DJ gear — the problem of leaks 1

“You really want me to upload this to Amazon?” asked the NI employee incredulously. The response, still ringing in their ears left a scar that will never heal… “Sure — what can possibly go wrong?”.

Everything. That’s what, as I’m sure said employees have had screamed into their ears via tense phone calls from Berlin.

The Kontrol S8 is not just another controller. It is the distillation of NI’s future thinking workflows. It is foolhardy, risky, brave, and revolutionary all at the same time. Looking like the spawn of a hundred bad forum Photoshops, it is a product, nay a paradigm shift that is making waves across all corners of the online DJ community, and inspiring challenging articles amongst our own ranks.

Thus the S8 is a huge deal, but I imagine that NI would have preferred to handle it with great care and not have it splattered across web browsers everywhere. But as witnessed many times over in the past, cats do not willingly go back into bags in the online world. So let’s chew over what S8gate tells us about the industry, how it works, and just how damaging leaks can be.

But why can’t they just tell us?

I once read, unsurprisingly on a forum, that the poster couldn’t understand why manufacturers don’t just tell us what they’re working on next. I’m sure we’d all love getting the lowdown on the next slice of tasty DJ pie served up in front of us. But for everyone else, this idea flies in the face of business common sense. Why? Because people would stop buying the current product, leaving retailers and distributors with dead stock and no revenue. Their competitors would take the idea, make it better, cheaper and faster too. And without revenue from the existing product to fund the new one, and probably a fraction of the sales once it finally hit anyway, this new product would barely make a dent in the massive losses suffered by having to take dead stock back.

Not only that, the retail chain relationships would be damaged, making it even harder to sell something in a market that would have a couple of similar but better and cheaper products, probably with wider profit margins for the retail chain too. So the current product is killed dead, the retail and distribution relationship is broken, and the future product is in the hands of the competition. Essentially the manufacturer kills their business with noble intentions. But you knew that anyway.

Sometimes it’s good to give away ideas, so that others might make them happen and maybe make them even better. But when they’re keeping the lights on and roofs over heads, it’s best to  keep them to yourself.

And the above description is entirely true for leaks.

Playing the game

I’ve been very open about this in the past, and I’ll underline this again. Most “leaks” are official and fully sanctioned. We are invited, and sometimes suggest giving you dear readers a glimpse — sometimes pictures, video, or even cryptic between-the-lines hints — at the immediate future. Done right, it creates a buzz. But we wouldn’t insult your intelligence by being coy and pretending not to know when we do. And if we’re not in on it, we’re free to speculate along with the rest of you.

There are times however when red hot info just can’t be contained and leeches its way out into the public domain, effectively making it fair game, unless you’ve signed an NDA of course. NI has had a particularly rough ride in this respect, because everyone wants to know what they’re about to serve up to the masses. But the trail of information isn’t as simple as being delivered to your inbox from the product designer, and that trail has been out in the open for months before buyers get to see the final product.

The trail starts with the manufacturer, and it has to decide on who gets to see the info upfront. The retail chain has clear commercial needs, so the distributors and retailers get the inside line someway ahead of everyone else. Suppliers outside of the company involved in creating all manner of production items (packaging for example) also know, as do the DJs who have been asked their opinions at some stage in the process, or asked to make a demo video. The media also gets notice — sometimes months, but with increasing regularity a matter of minutes in advance.

So you can immediately see the problems of keeping things confidential when so many non-manufacturer people are in the loop.

Cats, bags, and DJ gear — the problem of leaks 2

Grape vines, rumour mills, and the internet

Did you hear about Pioneer’s new CD-less CDJ? Yeah me too, for bloody years. And we have the renders to prove it. Ideas become bad and good photoshop mockups, which in turn stick in the consciousness of readers, and eventually become an “I heard that…” thing backed up with pictures that have long since lost their source attribution. And suddenly a throwaway image becomes a fact and gets published. Adding a question mark to a headline doesn’t make gossiping OK either — it just makes it valueless click bait. Brad Pitt to play Bob Marley in a biopic?. It’s all over Facebook. Exactly.

I’m not exactly innocent of this myself, if unintentionally. I created the above image for a story, and it went relatively viral, causing GAS afflicted DJs to pester their nearest outlet because of something they saw on their favourite and trusted DJ gear website. I soon corrected this, but it shows how easy it is to cause a kerfuffle online. Let’s see of this goes viral again.

Good news reporting depends on sources — solid verifiable sources that should hold up if scrutinised. But when someone on a forum says they spoke to a fiend who knows a guy who works near a Guitar Center, you really do have to take this info with a generous scoop of salt and not publish it as a fact. I’ve lost track of allegedly discontinued products that weren’t at all, just because one retailer decided to stop stocking it. And my assorted inboxes are strewn with “manufacturer x is making product y” stories. And most of them are just that — unsubstantiated stories. Apart from Pioneer’s PLX-1000 turntable of course — everyone knew about it well in advance.

This leads to another issue — the DJ industry itself. Reading the constant flow of news and reviews, and witnessing the steady stream of new gear being displayed at trade shows, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the industry is vast, and populated by tens of thousands of people. News flash — it isn’t. There are just a handful of companies, with small teams designing and producing new product, and a fair amount of it gets made on the same production lines too.

They’re linked by a handful of suppliers, retailers, and factories, who all talk to each other, both on and off the record. And you can be sure that at some point, that off-the-record chat over a beer will be shared with someone else who has more beer than the last guy. And despite appearances, everyone in the industry knows everyone else. Often they’re friends because they may have worked together in the past at every level. Yep — even the industry itself is one huge leaky bucket.

Cats, bags, and DJ gear — the problem of leaks 3

The Non Disclosure Agreement

No, not the solemn oath to never play tracks from the UK’s latest wunderkind ever again, but the legalese-filled bit of paper that companies make you sign when they let you into their circle of trust to get the inside line on their new shiny. Essentially it says that if you tell anyone anything, they’ll unleash the legal kraken on your sorry arse in perpetuity. My guess is that while people sign them, they’d never be enforced, because generally speaking they never really let you see anything that they couldn’t afford to be leaked anyway.

I’m not aware of anyone in the DJ industry being sued for breach of NDA, which perhaps is an issue in itself. If people know that nothing will happen when they leak, the NDA is effectively a consequence-free empty threat. And I’m pretty much at the point where I’m not going to sign them anymore, and will happily wait for the press releases — firstly because an NDA says “we don’t trust you”, and secondly because it’s just more fun and spontaneous to explore the story with the DJWORX community when we get it. I’ve paid good money to travel to see secret stuff, signed NDAs, only to see the news broken before I’ve even got home, which does rather make me feel like the whole exercise is a waste of time and money, unless there is a genuine benefit for the DJWORX readership.

If you upload it, they will find it

While grapevines twitch well ahead of launch, it’s always an online leak of text and pictures that gets the word out. Some large retailers have famously posted out physical mailers with confidential info enclosed, but generally the secrets leach out via retailer websites, which in turn make it to forums and blogs. Shops get information ahead of time, and because they want to get your doubtlessly GAS fuelled money the very moment the new shiny is announced, it has to be uploaded and ready for you to hit the pre-order button with seconds.

Often, info is uploaded to a manufacturer’s website a tad too early. I’ve found things that I shouldn’t know about with just the merest amount of URL tweaking or going deep into Google based on a few choice rumoured product names and keywords. The bigger companies employ people whose job it is to manage this flow of information who generally keep a lid on secret stuff. Others however are less savvy in this respect.

Sidenote: As I write this section, I’m searching for a way to blend “curiosity killed the cat” and “letting the cat out of the bag”, but this particular bit of metaphor mashing isn’t working out. Shame – it could have been Pulitzer worthy.

Oh the irony

I couldn’t help but smirk to myself when the S8 leaked out of Amazon — not the leak itself, but the source. This wasn’t a trigger happy retailer, or an unscrupulous blog — it was mighty well oiled NI machine itself, compounded by being on the world’s biggest shopping site. They may as well have left the S8 in a bar frequented by tech bloggers a la iPhone 4. If it makes NI feel any better, Apple just leaked details of the iPads that are being announced today. Nobody is immune.

Summing up, leaks are inevitable. Sometimes they are heavily orchestrated in a kind of “I’m leaving this file on my desk and going out for an hour” way. Other times it’s a favour to a media outlet to give them an exclusive. There are times when it is a genuine mistake, but all too often leaks are utterly irresponsible with complete disregard for the commercial implications of blowing expensive launches, for nothing than buzz, kudos, traffic, and clicks. Perhaps if manufacturers were to get tougher with their assorted partners through the chain when leaks occur, maybe they might not happen quite so often. And perhaps a little bit of tightening up of internal processes wouldn’t go amiss either.

One thing is for sure — it’s going to happen time and time again. Because that’s the internet. Let’s hope that S8Gate serves as a lesson to all.

Over to you

Do you like leaks and teasers? Would you prefer the wow factor of everyone knowing everything at the same time? Has a leak ever stopped you from buying a product over another?


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