It seemed like a good idea at the time, but based on a couple of personal experiences I would have to say that as a fulfillment house of physical product, Topspin turned out to be unusable. Like so many Silicon Valley companies, as soon as you cross over into the physical world, these guys just don’t get it and worse yet, don’t know how to manage it, account for it, deal with inventory, or communicate with their ultimate customers–the artists.
So nothing unusual about that, but the problem is that Topspin held itself out as being capable of dealing with all those things. There were three problems we encountered with the physical side (I have it on good authority that the digital side was promising and well designed–from which I would conclude that the company should have stuck to their knitting.) This was before the sale to Beats and before the sale of Beats to Apple.
1. Taking orders from fans that were not fulfilled. In one situation, we were forced to use Topspin by a major label which seemed weird. (I won’t tell you which major label, but let’s just say in retrospect, I’m not surprised.) Topspin’s order intake was very clunky (and I’m skipping over a tale of woe there), but the worst part about it was that they took the fan’s money and only sent the product after the manager jumped all over them a couple times. If they had dedicated customer service folk, we couldn’t tell (and that is soooo diplomatic).
2. Product Return was Difficult: Getting any inventory of physical goods sent to Topspin was very difficult and time consuming.
3. Accounting Was Funky and Clunky: It was very difficult to get a straight count from Topspin, plus the company charged administration fees that were never agreed to. Nightmare.
Recall that Topspin is now somehow part of Beats. I am hearing all of the above from independent artists who are having a very difficult time getting anyone from Topspin on the phone. Of course, I’m reminded of Facebook’s outgoing message: We’re an Internet company so we communicate by email. There is no voicemail.
Here’s the problem: All of the indie artists I speak to seem to believe that their days with Topspin are over and they (A) want to be reimbursed for the sales they fulfilled out of embarrassment in situations that Topspin took the money for but never sent product; (B) they want an accounting from Topspin for any sales they did make (which the artists have never received); and (C) they want their product back, usually CDs, or they want to be paid for the cost of producing the product.
Topspin is in the typical position for an Internet company–none of these artists are owed enough money to make it worth suing, but all together the artists could be owed quite a bit of money.
The other problem with Topspin is that when you take somebody’s property and promise to hold it and follow their instructions, you assume what is arguably a fiduciary duty to treat that somebody in a special way. That is called being an agent for your principal. (This is kind of a bailment for those writ pleaders reading along.)
And here’s a hot tip for Topspin: If you take somebody’s property and don’t give it back when they ask for it we call that theft. And as we all know, theft is a crime.
So there’s people who deal with crimes like this where someone–yes, even a venture backed dot com now owned by Apple–steals a little bit from a lot of people. These people are called district attorneys.
And you know what? Funny thing is I know some of those people. How about that for a coincidence, eh?
Here’s what I ask from our readers. If you have had these kinds of problems from Topspin, I’d like to hear from you. Leave a comment and let me know or DM on Twitter @musictechpolicy.
Thanks, let’s crowdsource this mofo.