Several members of the Harp-L internet mailing list have written to the list to say that they’ve received messages from Harrison Harmonicas, makers of the much-heralded and unquestionably innovative B-Radical harmonica, to the effect that the company has been sold. Many of the people who put down hundreds of dollars for a B-Radical harmonica or two haven’t taken shipment, and it’s unclear at this point whether they will, or whether the instruments they eventually get will be the same ones they paid for. (Harrison’s website makes no mention of these events, but enough people have written to Harp-L to make it clear that it’s happening.)

Harrison’s email to these customers says that the company basically ran out of money, and of course underfunding is one of the leading causes of failure in new businesses. The customers, some of whom apparently sent their money in pretty recently in response to the company’s claims that delivery was imminent, are understandably upset.

When I started using computers in the mid-1980s, I learned through harsh experience that it’s never a good idea to pay in advance for a product that hasn’t yet been delivered. If you do that, you’re not buying a product, you’re investing in the company, and investments by definition are a lot riskier than buying a product that’s in full production. Until the product is widely available through established sales channels and in adequate supply, there’s no way to know if you’re going to get what you think you paid for.

I’m not saying in any way that the people who paid good money for a B-Radical are responsible for their own misfortune. Their loss is the company’s fault. I’m saying that their sad experience is a reminder to us all that there’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip, and investing in a new company whose products haven’t yet come to market is a big risk no matter what kind of product you’re talking about.

Fortunately for harmonica players, there are other sources of good instruments out there. And maybe the company that bought Harrison Harmonicas will add to those soon, and the people who spent good money for B-Radicals will get the instruments they wanted. In the best of all possible worlds, that’s what would happen next.