The View from Adobe and the Field

On January 4th, we posted a PrintCEO blog notice that Adobe had decided to discontinue the worldwide Adobe Partner Connection Print Service Provider program, effective February 4th.  Since that time, we spoke with Adobe and connected with a number of people in the field, both through live conversations and dialog on the blog.  This was important, since the Adobe announcement came as an email through its PR agency, rather than letters to customers or a formal press release, although we do understand that all authorized and premium members received an email about the program closure.  We wondered, as did many of our readers, what was behind this, why Adobe chose to do this now and what it means for Adobe’s commitment to the printing industry.


From the Adobe side, we spoke with Lynly Schambers-Lenox, Senior Product Marketing Manager for Print Service Provider Program at Adobe, and Marc Madenwald, Group Manager, Worldwide Partner Programs.

The first question, of course, was to what extent Adobe attributes the need to terminate this program to the economy or contraction in the printing industry.  Adobe’s statement indicated that falling membership was a driving force in this decision.  Both Madenwald and Schambers-Lenox indicated that neither the state of the economy nor consolidation within the printing industry helped to ensure the program’s survival.  Remember that the program at one point had three levels: Basic, which was free, but which ended in 2008; Authorized, which was $595 annually; and Premium for $995 per year. Adobe was unwilling to share exact numbers with us, they did indicate membership was in the range of 3,000 worldwide. These were largely Authorized members, and only a very small percentage, less than 100, had opted for the top level Premium program.   For that extra $400 for Premium, members received a software upgrade from Design Premium to Master Collection, extra technical benefits including unlimited technical support and troubleshooting, as well as eligibility for on-site training, the ability to participate in development lifecycles with Adobe and the ability to co-host a customer event with Adobe—quite a bit of value for $400.  Makes it surprising that there were not more Premium members, although Adobe informs us that many of the Premium members did not fully leverage a large percentage of the benefits they contracted for.

Top of mind for our readers, as reflected in most of the 18 comments to my blog post, is what the transition plan will be.  Schambers-Lenox, who has responsibility for marketing to the print segment, said, “In terms of transition, most of the details are finalized and we hope to notify all of the print service provider members by the end of January at the latest.  There is a plan in place for both Premium and Authorized members that I think will make them happy.  We spent a lot of time thinking about how we can provide these same kinds of services outside of Adobe.  We will work closely with Printing Industries of America to do this.  We have always had a close partnership with them, so they will be involved in the transition.”

According to some Premium members, they have already been contacted to participate in an invitation-only Adobe Influencer Program that presumably will preserve at least some of the Premium features of the program.  How the transition will roll out with the Printing Industries of America is unclear; one assumes that to participate, printers would have to become members of their local Printing Industries of America chapter if they are not already, but no one is confirming that yet.

In terms of ongoing support for the industry, this was the only program that Adobe had that was print-industry specific. Schambers-Lenox asserts, “When the details of the transition plan are announced, printers will realize there are benefits.  We always think about the print segment when we build products.  Printers are very influential in terms of getting agencies and freelancers to get on board with upgrades.  We are not turning our back on printers; we continue to be committed to the print segment and it is really important that people don’t think Adobe doesn’t care about the industry.  We do.”

Madenwald added, “With the strategy we are taking with Printing Industries of America and other regional industry associations around the world, we think this will help us better address the print segment.  We don’t believe the program was doing everything we wanted to do to address that segment.” Since any strategy with Printing Industries of America would only encompass the U.S., we wondered what would happen with the rest of the world.  Madenwald indicated that outside of North America, membership was very small, and in areas where there was a larger presence, such as Japan, Germany and Australia, Adobe is putting in place similar arrangements with their regional associations.  In areas with smaller memberships, according to Madenwald, transitions will be managed by Adobe’s local field marketing team.

Printers Talk Back

That may be so, but many of the members who posted to PrintCEO blog or contacted me personally don’t see it that way. Of course, those who are invited to the invitation-only group, whatever that turns out to be, will have a different view. Adobe provided contact information for two members, a Premium level and Authorized level as I requested, and I did speak to both of them.  One caveat, though:  The Authorized member we spoke with had been part of the program since its inception with Aldus, before the Adobe acquisition, had an extremely close relationship with Adobe despite the fact that he didn’t opt to move to the Premium level, and he has already been invited to join the Influencers group.  Thus, his remarks will likely not reflect the general feeling of the base of Authorized members.

For all members, one of the biggest benefits of the program was free access to the software for one PC and one Mac, and upgrades that helped them affordably stay current with the market as well as with their customers who might already have upgraded and wanted to take advantage of the latest and greatest features.  It also enhanced the printer’s role in encouraging the creative community to upgrade.  It is not clear how a transition plan will affect this benefit.

Premium member Scott Cappel of Sorrento Mesa Printing said, “I would hope Adobe will continue to listen to the industry, and through Printing Industries of America, I think they will do that.  The people hurt the most are the small quick printers who don’t have the resources or see the need to be a member of Printing Industries of America.  They do have the software which minimizes the impact, but they will likely have to upgrade on a regular path like the rest of the marketplace.”

Cappel says he does not believe that Adobe has abandoned the print space.  “In the end, I don’t think this will have that much impact on the print space,” he says. “It was a nice ride while it lasted, but the industry is changing and we all have to adapt.  It is what it is.”

Cappel was in the minority with this opinion, however, based on the responses we received. While this is certainly not statistically significant if overall membership numbers are as we estimate, but out of 18 comments on PrintCEO blog, most viewed the move negatively, expressing shock and dismay, with such comments as:

  • The discontinuing of the program is a trend in marginalizing print.
  • …it shows printers have less clout with Adobe and does not bode well when your industry loses influence with a major provider.
  • …having paid the annual membership fee for 3 years, I’d say both Adobe and I came out ahead—apparently, I’m wrong.
  • For Adobe to do this now, in this economy, is a stab in the back, since it was really the printing industry that helped get Adobe on the map. 

For those who made the effort to contact Adobe directly when they heard about the discontinuance, some report being satisfied with the response, at least in the short term, with one small printer saying, “Sometimes the way a negative is handled is more important than the problem itself.”  But a recurring refrain was that this move put Adobe in the same class as Quark, who had a reputation in the past for not appreciating its users, a reputation the company has worked hard to set aside in recent years.

Adobe’s Vision for the Future of Print

Schambers-Lenox indicated that Adobe has been presenting its vision for the future or the print industry thorugh speaking opportunities and industry events.  As of this writing, we have been unable to get specifics about that vision. Adobe indicates a preference for making the full presentation rather than providing a general statement.  WhatTheyThink will be following up with Adobe to see whether we can obtain more detail here.

The economy has given a sharp blow to the profitability and viability of many businesses, and the printing industry may have been affected more than most, especially considering the competition it was already facing from the growing use of alternative (non-print) media. It is fair to say that no one expects the status quo to go on forever, especially in the face of the deep recession we have been going through. Many companies across all industries are cutting programs and other costs in an effort to keep costs in line with economic realities. We hope the transition plan is solid and will meet the needs of the printing community, especially the smaller printers who are most at risk from a double whammy of the economy and elimination of programs like this that helped them stay afloat.

While the program has been terminated, Adobe is still providing continued support for the industry in the form of:

  • Adobe Print Guide.  This is a free resource that printers can rely on to print and produce jobs correctly out of Adobe Creative Suite software. Adobe will be updating this to support future versions of Adobe Creative Suite software.
  • Adobe continues to demonstrate leadership and innovation with its PDF-native rendering technology, the Adobe PDF Print Engine (APPE), currently deployed in the leading PDF-based prepress solutions.
  • Keeping information current on to communicate key information to printers about Adobe Creative Suite software solutions and print technology such as PDF Print Engine.
  • Continuing to develop products that address the needs of printers.  As an example Creative Suite 4 included:  Live Preflight in InDesign CS4 as well as the Separations Preview,  Multiple Art Boards and  Bleed support features in Adobe Illustrator CS4.
  • Adobe continues to support printers through various community co-hosted events.
  • Adobe is active in print-related Industry bodies such as the “Ghent PDF Workgroup” (industry best practices), CIP4 (Job Definition Format, JDF), and the International Color Consortium (ICC). Adobe continues to play a leading role in evolving the PDF/X series of print interchange standards. Adobe took the lead in developing PDF/VT, an emerging ISO standard for the exchange and printing of graphically rich, personalized content.
  • Adobe maintains close working relations with leading printer vendors and print eco-system players to streamline all aspects of print workflows.

While there are likely good financial reasons for terminating the program, it might have been more beneficial to Adobe to wait until a full transition plan was in place and ready to be rolled out before making the announcement.  Leaving all of this uncertainty floating about in the industry is not a good thing for Adobe and its relationship with an industry that has unarguably brought many benefits to Adobe.

Meanwhile, we are waiting for the next shoe to drop and will continue to inform our readers as new information becomes available.