A B-school Professor’s Take on the Adobe Creative Cloud Decision

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.


3 thoughts on “A B-school Professor’s Take on the Adobe Creative Cloud Decision

  1. plevyadophy


    A very well written piece ………except for the oft repeated myth (which benefits Adobe and causes angst amongst photographers) that, to quote you, “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”.

    Take a look at Serif,they have an entire Suite that easily challenges, and in some features surpasses what Adobe have to offer. And the good thing is, they have three ranges of their Suite: the FREE Starter Edition (which I am currently trialling), the very cheap Essentials Edition (akin to Abobe Elements but with additional products that offer other creative outputs), and the premium X edition.

    Here’s a look at the premium Photoshop alternative: http://www.serif.com/photoplus/x6/in-depth/

    You also have Photoline (which you can use on a 30-Day trial basis): http://www.pl32.com/

    Both products take Photoshop Plug-in, but as far as I can tell (based on my use of the Free Serif product) the Photoline product is more compatible with later plug-in technology/versions (it works (to a degree) with the Digimarc watermarking plug-in,whilst the free Serif product I am testing does not (perhaps the paid-for version will (i intend to write to Serif and find out)).

    It also seems to me that the Serif Suite is much broader and capable than what Photoline have to offer.

    As for “widely accepted”, what do you mean by that? To my mind, if you are talking about acceptance of software (which is nothing more than a tool) then that is an irrelevance; it’s just a tool to produce an end product and it’s the end product that matters (much in the same way my mechanic can use any tools he likes, I just don’t care so long as my car is fixed (the end product)). As long as we are able to provide our clients with files they can work with (and this is the only area of “acceptance” that matters) it doesn’t much matter how we created those files. The software packages I have mentioned above both produce .PSD files (as do other products I have not mentioned).

    I think we should all look at the alternatives and not think the world has come to an end because of Abobe’s decision; after all, as Thom Hogan (http://www.bythom.com) has rightly pointed out in a few of his recent blog posts on this Adbobe issue, we have all over the years had to re-evaluate what tools we are going to use either because a product we were once using is no longer made or because the operating system no longer supports it. This Adobe issue is simply an opportunity for us all to reassess our needs, and if needs be to change our workflow so that it is not, or is less, dependent upon one vendor.


  2. Michael Weeks Post author

    Thanks for your insightful comments.

    This is the first I’ve heard of Serif, and I certainly hope it gains traction in the marketplace. More competition is great for consumers. One big hole that I can see from a quick review of the website is that the program doesn’t support Mac systems.

    In my mind, to be “widely accepted” a program would need to support all the major OS platforms and have significant market penetration to generate complementary products. For example, complementary third party training products (think Scott Kelby videos) as well as seamless integration with plug-ins.

    Serif and Photoline may emerge as market contenders (Adobe has certainly given them an opening), but they’ll have to innovate and not just imitate to garner significant market share. See my post today that mentions hybrid products as an opening for companies like Serif.

    All the best,


  3. plevyadophy

    Big hole re OS

    Unlike some, I don’t see not supporting Macs as a big hole. The fact is, unless the market has changed last I looked, Macs account for little more than 5% of all desktop computing.

    In some niche areas of photography, emphasis on niche, Macs are commonplace. But in the great scheme of things Macs are insignificant. To my mind, it’s just fashion. No-one, and I stress no-none, has ever said to me anything other than “why aren’t you using a Mac; if you are serious about photography you’d use a Mac; all pros use a Mac” to which my replies are “because I don’t see a need to and don’t want to” and “not true” and “not true”. To my mind most, and I would be brave and say nearly all, photographers who use Macs do so blindly, like sheep; they are just following what others do because they think they should. There was a time, long ago when it would have made good sense to switch to a Mac OS, and I nearly did, because Microsoft was so rubbish but that is no longer the case (although, I may be speaking too soon because with Windows 8 they seem to be going back to their old ways!). I have yet to meet anyone who can make the case for Macs other than the reasons I hightlighted above, none of which make a real sensible case in support of Macs. So not supporting 5% of the computer userbase isn’t a big hole really.

    Other OSes, in terms of market share, are a total irrelevance also e.g. Linux etc. Although, to be honest, I would love to see Mac,Linux and others gain a far larger market share to give us all even more options. But I guess it’s one of those chicken-and-egg situations; the software developers say they won’t develop for an OS because it doesn’t have sufficient market share and the minority OSes can’t get larger market share if there aren’t enough applications compatible the OS to entice users. :o(

    So it comes back to my earlier point about re-evalutating tools. Are some people not looking at Serif because, they feel tied to Macs because they are supposedly “creative” and if one is in the “creative industries” one “must use Macs”? Or are there some real useful and objective reasons for not looking at it and similar programs (other than the obvious one,which is a given anyway, of the intitial cost of switching e.g. hardware, replacement applications etc)?

    This Adobe thing means we all have to think long and hard about tools we use; and yes, those of us, like myself, who are in bed with Microsoft should now take a long hard look at what we do and what we are doing it with and decide honestly whether or not it’s in our best interests to stay put or to now move over to Macs or some other OS (providing of course, the tools we want are there).

    Imitate or Innovate

    Yes, I agree with you to an extent. However, I think a lot of these other companies (Serif , Photoline etc) are first imitating on the basis that most people think, often without even checking, that the other stuff ain’t as good as Photoshop. So first these other companies have to make their products as good as Photoshop and Lightroom etc, which inevitably means a certain amount of feature copying, in order to get a little traction in the market place by convincing doubters that they are as good as Photoshop, Lightroom or whatever, before going on to innovate. Additionally, Adobe has the advantage of having a product that is now part of the English language (people talk of an image having been “photoshopped”) and therefore deeply ingrained within our psyche; other vendors are going to have to overcome this somehow and it’s difficult. I think our reviewers and journalists do us all a disservice by not highlighting often enough the alternatives out there and forever discussing things in terms of Adobe (for example, describing a post-production process, not in generic terms but rather in specific Adobe terminology thus further ingraining the notion that there is nothing else but Adobe).

    I was an early adopter of laptops (enduring over the years much mocking from friends and colleagues), and this situation with Adobe reminds me a great deal of the early days of laptops. Adobe has created something of a monopoly in the image creation industry. What I think needs to happen, as happened with laptops, is that the industry needs to get together and settle on a standard (with laptops that meant 2.5inch hard drives, SIMM memory modules etc etc). For us this would for example mean a standardized file format for say layered images; if it transpires that the industry chooses the .PSD file format then so be it, but it would at least ensure that all software vendors have access to that standard no matter how many revisions there are to it and never again will photographers be in a panic that they won’t be able to open their files unless they pay a lifetime tithe because there will always be tool to open those files. Given our worldwide reliance now on digital media, I think this is very important; we really can’t afford to have one company’s fortunes, marketing decisions or whatever impact us all so heavily.

    As far as Lightroom is concerned, I nearly succumbed to the seduction of the Adobe corporation but have now found a wonderful alternative in Zoner Photo Studio (a non Mac OS product) and, like I said in my previous post, I am also trying to work out which product to go for in place of Photoshop. I have evaluated it twice before, and I guess now is the time to do so again, and that is to look at my OS to see whether it’s time to move (but as currently, there are only two-and-a-half OSes to consider, the half being Linux, and very few packages work on all these OSes, changing from one OS to the other still leaves one a hostage; but I guess, we will all have to take it one step at a time, so first lets try and stop ourselves being a hostage to one software package and maybe down the road we can see how we go with regard to getting ourselves unshackled from a particular OS). And going back to Lightroom for a moment, those Thom Hogan posts I mentioned in my last post are well worth a read, especially his remarks regarding creating a filing system that isn’t dependent upon the Lightroom catalogue (something, luckily for me, I have been doing for years without even thinking about this “hostage” issue).

    Warmest regards,

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