May 13, 2013
Adobe’s recent decision to move to the cloud for its Creative Suite programs has caused a great deal of consternation among creative professionals and hobbyists alike. Scott Kelby found himself in the midst of a mini-storm after his comments were seen as supportive of the move. HDR Guru Trey Ratcliffe called the idea “pretty crazy” on Google+. Forums such as those on Digital Photography Review have been inundated with conversations criticizing the move.
Most of the discussion on the merits of the decision by people like Scott Kelby and others has focused on the cost versus benefit for current customers. Is it worth $50/month, $20/month, etc., depending on your needs? I think this misses the fundamental issue that underlies most of the angst over Adobe’s move to the cloud. The problem boils down to one thing; we just don’t trust Adobe.
Exit, Voice, and Loyalty
A brilliant economist wrote a great little book in 1970 that distills the problem for Adobe. Albert Hirschman’s book Exit, Voice, and Loyalty shows how firms must balance exit and voice to achieve loyalty from their customers. The concept is that consumers must feel that they have voice with the firm in order to develop a meaningful relationship with the brand. The possibility of exit (i.e. buying a competing product) enhances a firm’s willingness to listen to the voice of its customers.
Adobe has been notably tone-deaf in its response to customers over the past few years. Even Scott Kelby (President of the National Association of Photoshop Users) admitted that his voice had little impact on Adobe’s decisions in a recent webisode of his show “The Grid.” How will the average consumer have an impact on Adobe’s direction if Scott Kelby can’t? Moreover, there is little alternative choice in the photo editing marketplace. There are a few open source alternatives (e.g. GIMP), but none are really widely accepted. Additionally, switching costs (in both time and money) for photographers with large investments in plug-ins and related software would be significant if they left the Photoshop fold.
While there have been no full featured alternatives to Photoshop for many years, customers have had an “exit” option of sorts. They just refused to upgrade to the next edition. Personally, I have been using CS3 for many years and have been perfectly happy with it. I recently upgraded to the Creative Cloud version and frankly I haven’t seen a lot of difference in features or performance. As time goes on, my exit options will diminish. All I have is a CS3 version that will eventually stop working with the latest operating systems. I could easily squeeze 5-7 years out of a version of Photoshop. Rather than listen to its customers, Adobe has chosen to limit the exit options. This does not bode well for customers or Adobe.
Hirschman points out that firms become inefficient over time and the risk of customer exit increases the importance of listening to customers’ voices and improves efficiency. Without exit or voice firms become tone-deaf and inefficient. That is the real fear that photographers are expressing — a tone-deaf and inefficient Adobe with no alternatives in the marketplace.
Next: Adobe’s empty promise of innovation
Note: Albert Hirschman’s gem Exit, Voice, and Loyalty is still in print and available at Amazon.