If you are reading this, then it's highly likely you don't need to take any such exam, theoretical as it may be. For two reasons; firstly you do read stuff, and secondly, you bother to get past a headline and take in detail before making a judgement. So I may be preaching to the proverbial choir on this one.
A few years ago for one April Fool's Day prank Pro Tools Expert ran a story that said Avid was going to start requiring people to take a pre-purchase exam before they could buy Pro Tools. It had the desired effect with many taken in hook, line and sinker. Some said it was a good idea and others said it was outrageous and elitist.
As I've said it wasn't real and once people realised then they were talked down off the ceiling and calm was restored.
So why this question again now? It started with some conversations I've recently had with those who make and sell gear. In fact, one of the conversations I have with a lot of manufacturers and that's this one.
The lower they take their prices, the worse the customers get.
What this means is as the prices drop, the support requests go up. The entitled forum warriors appear who haven't read the manual, and they can't work the product. Soon they claim said brand stinks and is run by scum. Before the brand knows what is happening, they are spending 90% of their time on 1% of their brand new, bargain basement customers.
People even complain about free stuff, take it from someone who recently launched a free plug-in. I'm not talking about people who come up with useful feedback (version 2 of Snapshot is coming soon), but I'm talking about people who don't read the f*cking manual (as if Snapshot needs one). They seem to find it easier to email you or post some shitty comment on Facebook than getting their facts straight. One can only assume there is a parent following them around at home to make sure they put their clothes on, eat something and shower now and again.
Gear has never been cheaper or easier to use, but for those making it, that comes at a price, more support calls, and more people who can't even manage that, so they resort to running down a brand to any moron who will swallow their tale of faux woe. Reading forums and social media, you can see there are plenty of people who will join in once one of these kicks off, choosing to believe the rantings of a complete stranger than the brand who is getting trashed. Do me a favour, next time you see one of these then ask the poster if they have; checked the product spec, got the appropriate gear to run said product with, read the manual, reached out to the brand in a reasonable way and so on and so forth. I wrote an article some time ago describing how to complain.
Secondly, I spoke with another friend who makes some excellent high-end analogue studio gear. He told me he was no longer continuing. When I asked why he said that too many people were buying the gear, costing a few thousand pounds, he shipped around the world, only to spend a great deal of time with people complaining it didn't work, when they were not using it correctly. Now the first place to look when there is a problem like this is pre-sales information. Did he explain the product well? Yes. Did he define the specification? Yes. Did he show how to connect it up? Yes. The only thing he didn't seem to make clear was the minimum understanding a person should have of recording and gear before buying one!
These complaints were costing him thousands of pounds and a lot of his time. Remember for fully working gear, which once returned to him is no longer brand new and can't be sold as such.
Now let's be clear, every business that makes stuff expects a certain amount of returns, some legitimate because of defects and some to cover the laws of returns covered by consumer law. That's part of the cost of doing business, anyone entering into the world of selling stuff needs to understand that.
However, does this mean that manufacturers and software developers should bear both the financial and reputation cost of those who buy something without fully understanding what they are buying and how it works?
Someone Has To Pay
In the end, we all pay. Support departments are tied up dealing with these kind of issues meaning legitimate support enquiries end up in the queue. Remember there is no 'moron filter' on their support systems, although thankfully many companies now make it harder for you to find their support people, they give you FAQs to check and other fences to clear before you get to a real person. Much of this is to cut costs because quality support staff cost a lot of money, but some of it is to try and corral us into a support system that can sort the wheat from the chaff.
Now to my original question; let's assume all brands gave excellent pre-purchase information. I work with a lot of brands in this sector, and I know they work very hard pre-product launch to make sure you get the information you need to inform your buying decision. For example, a press release, that's the information the press gets to announce and explain new products, often beforehand and under embargo on significant launches, will usually take days. A press release can sometimes take weeks as it passes through the hands of copywriters, fact checkers and others who make sure it is factual and precise. In my experience, a new product launch takes on average two years, longer ones over 5, shorter ones a year. Rarely are their new developments that run into months, I'm talking about software here too. The care and attention to detail that takes place before you ever hear about something are impressive. Yes mistakes happen, misinformation is put out, but they are the exception, not the rule. So I know that the audio recording world works hard to make sure things work and you know what you are buying.
So assuming they do all I've just said (and they do), what if they put the same kind of hurdles we are often presented with when seeking service and support at the pre-sales stage?
The answer is that fewer people would buy it. I know this is true because we run the Pro Tools Expert deals store and when you purchase something you have to go through some stages of including your purchase details and credit card information before you complete the sale. About 30% of people never complete their purchase. Now there are of course those who have card issues or come to their senses and think the wrath of their partner outweighs the gratification of another plug-in, but some bail because the process is too lengthy and they just can't be arsed.
What it if I told you that 30% of those who started that same process for a free plug-in also don't complete it?
So perhaps there is something to be said for making buying stuff harder. However, buying stuff is easier these days with things like autocomplete browsers, Apple pay and Paypal. These systems are designed to reduce the inertia of purchasing; I think this may be a bad thing both for consumers who buy things without thinking and the seller who has to pick up the cost of that thoughtless transaction. There have been many times in the history of selling items on the deals page of this blog when the first thing we know about a customer issue is an email from Paypal saying the customer has reported a unauthorised transaction. A little digging reveals this not to be the case, but someone who either bought something and then repented at leisure or has an easily solved situation, had they raised the concern appropriately.
Are You Sure?
Of course, the idea of completing a pre-purchase exam is never likely to happen. But the democratisation of the recording industry through the introduction of cheaper equipment, fluid payment systems and instant downloads of software may not be helping either manufacturers, store owners, or the rest of us.
Service and support cost a brand a lot of money; it's a precious commodity we all value and sometimes need to rely on, we should all expect a certain level from any company which sells us stuff. Thankfully some of that is enshrined in law. When service and support are abused by the ill-informed and entitled then ultimately we all suffer. We all end up having to pay either in time and money, often both.
It's never been easier to find out stuff before we buy things, we have over 500 video reviews on our YouTube channel, plus written reviews and comments. There are forums filled with those who have purchased gear and share their experiences, so even if a brand is not forthcoming with data, you can usually find it somewhere, if you are bothered to look.
Should there be a pre-purchase test before we are allowed to buy some gear? Perhaps not, but there is a case for making buying gear harder not easier, I think we would all benefit from that.