Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Adobe says: The picture is now complete.

This is how Adobe's newsletter from this morning starts. And indeed, the picture is complete now, just see for yourself:


That is the price US designers have to splash out for obtaining the new CS3 Master Collection. Since Adobe announced the first CS3 products earlier this year it became clear that creatives outside the homeland will be facing an increasingly unfair pricing policy. Even though there were various petitions with over 10,000 signatories to reject the proposed pricing structure or at least provide a sound explanation for the drastic increases, Adobe hasn't changed much and only provided mushy arguments as reasons. The prices below are correct as of today (July 18, 2007)...

countrylocal priceprice in USDincrease
Germany / France / Spain2,999 EUR$4,14266%
UK1,969 UKP$4,04362%
Australia4,455 AUD$3,91357%
Switzerland4,227 CHF$3,52941%

Some explanations offered by Adobe include:
  • It costs Adobe 5 times more to manufacture and manage inventory in Europe because:
    • We must maintain different sku's for each language version to support different labeling requirements, support information, and sales requirements.
    • We maintain smaller quantities per language, in keeping with market sizes, which increases costs for printing, inventory management, and inventory disposal.
  • The costs associated with our value-added reseller channels are 25% higher.
  • We maintain 2.5 times as many field marketing employees in Europe as in North America to support our creative business at a certain level of quality across local markets. However, the revenue per employee is smaller, so the overall costs per unit of revenue is 4:1 in Europe compared to North America
  • Variable marketing expenses are 46% higher
  • Development costs are approximately $2.5-$3 million per language for each of the 14 languages Adobe Creative Suite supports.
However shocking these figures are, I guess some of them are somewhat valid points. But they also lead to even further questions. For example how does a 57% higher price in Australia fit in? Why is the Swiss version (German & French) 25% cheaper than in Germany or France? And using the reasoning given, why does it seem like Non-American, but English-speaking customers are subsidizing the higher cost of other localized versions, whereas US customers don't (after all the US version is also offered in French and Spanish - without any price increase!)...?

This all wouldn't be this bad or as important wasn't it for the fact that Adobe pretty much "owns" the Creative industry of the world. The industrialized world that is. There're major territories where the pricing of such tools is prohibitive and does nothing but encouraging piracy. Also, by superimposing the conceptual framework, metaphors and features of their products onto the creative process Adobe effectively shapes the ideas and defines the benchmark & quasi-status-quo of what is (supposedly) be possible and can be realized by a mass market of designers. Of course every tool has this effect, yet no other player in this market has as much impact on the resulting outcomes as has Adobe.

There's nothing wrong with Adobe's tools per se: they're very powerful and generally well thought out. For me the problem is that for years, a lot of designers have been conditioned (by using mainly the same tool(s) on a daily basis) to unconsciously restrict their thinking and creative output to the style choices invisibly encouraged by the metaphors and features of Flash, Illustrator & friends. New features added to these packages are quickly turned into the latest design fad by the starved minds of designer-consumers whose attention span shortens and desire for ever new features leads to ever faster release cycles.

I dare to say, along with Mac PowerBooks, Adobe products are the chosen drugs for the vast majority of creative professionals today.

Proprietary software has (at least) 2 negative aspects:
  • pricing policies and (group) licensing costs
  • lock-in effect (people building livelihoods on top of particular tools)
All this really makes me think how important an investment into a better open source tool chain is for the creative minds of the world (and especially to those Europeans). How much money could be saved and re-channelled into the actual creative process and design research if there was a set of free tools, able to compete qualitatively with current proprietary software. Community owned and focused, development costs of new features (localization and documentation too) can be (and is) distributed to a much wider group of people, and as result products wouldn't become as bloated & suffer the level of feature creep, Photoshop (for example) has suffered in recent years... Various successful open source projects for the creative worker have been in existence for quite some time, however in order to realistically compete they need more global interest of both users and developers willing to give their time to the improvement of these tools. To most individuals, the cost of these tasks (ranging from advertising, user feedback, education, bug reports, UI design to development and testing) will be negligible compared to the prices quoted above.

There're numerous successful examples showing the Open Source concept works well in practice also in the creative market, most notably Blender, InkScape, Gimp - Processing - all have very active communities which are involved at various levels of support & development. Of course, proprietary products have very large and active communities too, however these are restricted to feedback & discussion and else have the privilege of being passive consumers. Very creative indeed! I still vividly remember the regular furore caused by new product improvement announcements (actually the lack of such) on various Macromedia Director mailing lists... This mentality simply doesn't exist in the Open Source world.

One of my colleagues found this great quote by Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon:
"Most people, unleashed, are innovators. We're this great species of tool-using animal who likes to make our world better. The companies that can unleash that particular animal instinct are the ones that will thrive."

I fully agree with this and I find it plain weird the so called "Creative class" is full of consumers who like to swallow those bitter pills and at the same like to call those people who actually are truly innovative and creative, geeks.

If you want to see for yourself what's possible with current Open Source solutions today, check out Ubuntu Studio, the multi-media edition of the most user-friendly Linux distribution to date.