Adobe’s Cloudware Announcement Stirs Pricing and Privacy Concerns

Adobe Corporation, these are two words that every contemporary photographer, architect, artist and designer knows well. And it would not be an understatement to describe Adobe’s suite of software applications as ubiquitous to everyday 21st century life. For as is the case with Google, America Online (AOL), Yahoo, Youtube, WordPress and other iconic Internet technology brands, Adobe’s presence seems to be everywhere—fundamental threads to the digital fabric of cyberspace.

Adobe, like all these aforementioned companies, has enjoyed a rapid rise to fortune and fame. Youtube—a digital video sharing company, which did not exist until 6 years ago—epitomizes these phenomena. Because within 4 years of its creation, Youtube accrued a net value reaching a billion dollars.

Prior to now, in the course of history, what other companies could claim such mind-boggling profitability?

Others, like AOL, have seen their fame and fortune fall as fast as it rose. Although, it’s recent merger with The Huffington Post may change that…perhaps.

And there are still other companies who now find themselves bogged down in an administrative quagmire, perhaps as a result of a constantly changing technology sector in the market place, and it might be as well because of overreaching ambitions.

Yahoo’s company rollercoaster speaks to this. The once highly-profitable media company is now in the midst of a major shake-up at the executive level. To this, the company has taken a financial beating in 2011, and that, if nothing else, may serve as a note of caution to other companies treading deeper into unfamiliar territory.

No one knows for sure where all this will lead. However, and of its own will, Adobe now finds itself at what could be defining crossroads that may either continue to solidify the company as a brand to be envied; reassuring its place as a formidable market player.

What is this determining factor? It’s that Adobe has issued recent statements announcing its decision to evolve its CS bundle of iconic products from software to cloudware. And the reaction from core users has been swift.

As the president of the National Association of Photoshop Users (NAPP), Scott Kelby certainly has something to say about this. Writing in an open letter to Adobe—published this past November—to express his concerns and to make a plea, he wrote in part:

I represent more than 70,000 Photoshop users around the world. However as I’m writing this open letter to you today, I would say that most of our 70,000 members have no idea about the upgrade policy changes you just announced, or about how these changes will affect them.

From the information I’ve gathered, it appears to me that this new upgrade policy for the next version of Adobe Photoshop and the Creative Suite (presumably called CS6) will leave a significant number of your customers with no affordable upgrade path to Photoshop CS6 or the Creative Suite.

I feel the timing of this new pricing structure is patently unfair to your customers (and our members). Here’s why: You didn’t tell us up front…

You’re playing hardball with your customers—either upgrade twice or you’re out. That’s not the Adobe we know.

I have always felt that Adobe was very customer centric, and that their decisions were based on what’s best for their customers, but in this particular instance I can’t see how…[this]benefits anybody but Adobe.

You never go wrong by doing the right thing.

So while Adobe seems excited about this, their cloudware decision is already raising serious concerns from loyal users of Adobe products, with some speculating that Adobe’s ambition could have a reverse effect; creating a negative cascade that could haunt the company for years to come.

It’s a bold risky move for Adobe, and like Kelby, Stephen Burns is another heavy-hitter in the world of digital art and design. Burns is a veteran photographer, college instructor and author of numerous books on Adobe Photoshop. He’s also the co-chair of the San Diego Photoshop Users Group, a demo artist for Wacom tablets and an annual forum leader with SIGGRAPH. And in a recent Skype voice interview, he shared his thoughts and concerns on the Adobe cloudware decision:

Max Eternity (ME): How long have u been using Adobe?

Stephen Burns (SB): Since 1996, when they created version 2. I started using it because I was a professional photographer at the time, and I started to play with the concept of digital photograph and visual art. When I purchased a copy Photoshop, it was kind of an experiment to see what it was about.

ME: You’ve been using Photoshop for many years now, and have also written many books about Adobe Photoshop. The company has created many new products since the origin of Photoshop, but what about this decision to go to cloudware—what are your thoughts on that?

SB: The pros of Adobe making this licensing move is so that everybody will be on one version of Photoshop—pricing will include the upgrades to CS6. The con to that is that not everybody has a need to upgrade, because every individual and company using Adobe has its own unique workflow. Some are printers and others are photographers or designers, and they all have varying needs. The new version may fit the majority, but also the pricing structure is going to be a little too pricey, in my opinion. I hope that Adobe realizes this and is more sensitive to their pricing structure.

ME: We both know of Scott Kelby’s compelling open letter to Adobe. Does what he say resonate with you, and to those who you’ve been speaking to on this? What are people saying?

I believe that by adobe implementing this change at the very last minute before this new version is about to be released, gives the users the sense that users are being held hostage.

ME: What are some particular concerns?

SB: You have to pay what we tell you to pay, is how it comes across. Because, we [Adobe] have a monopoly. I’ve spoken to several user groups on this and that’s what they are saying. We love their products and we are excited about what they are doing.

Listen, we all understand the need to make money—a profit. But we just don’t want ourselves to be hurt as a result of a company being able to make more money.

ME: What’s the solution here, about pricing?

We want a price that we can afford without being stressed, so that we can participate in this exciting change. I think the attitude toward digital art forms is very positive, but at the same time we need to be able to participate in this new exciting frontier without being hurt financially.

So there’s a concern that this move [solely] benefits Adobe, rather than the users. Perhaps they feel that since [they] are the one’s making this new software, there’s a fee that [they] have a right to charge.

Still, we just need to come to a consensus that we cannot be hurt financially to participate in this digital experience.

ME: Okay, but in addition to the pricing isn’t there also an issue with privacy. Aren’t there security vulnerabilities that occur with cloudware that doesn’t affect software?

I think that Adobe should rethink the concept of the cloud for the Creative Suite, and not make this mandatory. Artist want their content protected, and [putting] their art, and their privacy, on the cloud brings that into question.

Naturally, artists are afraid of this.

A lot of things can go wrong, in addition to Adobe succumbing to government pressure to influence what Sdobe puts [allows] on its cloudware server.

ME: Right, this is something that AT&T, Comcast and other big telecoms became colaborators in—assisting the federal government in spying on American citizens.

It’s an issue of censorship and that’s what artist are afraid of. What happens when nudes or sexual explicit content gets put on the cloud and under pressure from the government or some religious organization, Adobe says we can’t do that.

I’m with Adobe in a lot of ways, but I caution them, because they are a monopoly—that they don’t get bitten by the greed bug.