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Brand Loyalty: From Coke Classic to Lightroom Classic

Pleasing customers isn't always easy in a changing world. Coca-Cola learned this back in the 1980's when they changed the formulation for their flagship soft drink. Adobe seems to be learning this as they try to change the licensing model for the industry standard Lightroom program.

I'm old enough to remember a world when Coca-Cola as a company was synonymous with Coke as a soft drink. They hadn't yet branched out selling dozens of varieties of Coke and other beverages. Where I grew up, Coke was the good stuff, although we often had to settle for Shasta and other, similarly lower priced alternatives. My parents wanted to save money. We didn't drink Pepsi Cola, simply because it wasn't Coke (what us kids wanted) and cost more than Shasta. Coke had built its brand by building a nationwide distribution chain and by purchasing exclusive rights in numerous restaurant chains across the country. Nobody I knew drank Pepsi, but whenever I did have the occasion to try it, I found I preferred Coke. I was used to the taste of Coke, after all. Once I was old enough to buy my own soft drinks, I bought Coke.

Then came the day in 1985 when Coke announced they were changing the formula for Coke to be "bolder," "rounder" and more "harmonious." Whatever the company intended that to mean, all I heard was that they were messing with something that didn't need to be changed. Coke was Coke, and was perfect just the way it was. Alas, I didn't have a choice, and the reformulated Coke went on sale. I can remember buying a case of the "good stuff" before it disappeared completely. My stockpile didn't last long.

Despite what may have seemed at the time though, Coke didn't change things just to mess with me. They were losing market share to Pepsi and felt the need to do something to remain competitive. Coke was already losing sales from the influx of diet and non-cola beverages entering the market, but the threat from Pepsi seemed more serious as it cut into their core business. And so, they launched what later came to be called "New Coke" to compete head to head with the sweeter taste of Pepsi. Supposedly people preferred it, based on a bunch of taste tests and market analysis. That may have been so in some areas, but decidedly not so in other parts of the country. The country was split. It remains controversial just how much the new taste was to blame for the failure as opposed to the simple force of inertia of longtime fans' taste buds, but it didn't take long for the company to realize that the new Coke formula had given them a new problem. Public opinion was turning against them. And so "Coke Classic" as born. The rest, as they say, is history.

Fast forward to the ongoing saga of Adobe Lightroom and the Creative Cloud subscription model. Over the past few years, Adobe has faced pressures from lower cost alternatives such as PaintShop Pro and CorelDRAW (and later ON1 and Affinity Photo), and even free programs such as Gimp. As their flagship programs continued to mature, many users were opting to upgrade less frequently. At the same time, software piracy was also eating into revenue, forcing the company to develop ever more elaborate licensing schemes. With the company losing sales on the front end, and upgrade fees from existing customers, they boldly embarked on the Creative Cloud subscription model, forcing customers into tighter control and ongoing financial commitments if they wanted to continue using Adobe software.

While many users resigned themselves to mixed blessings of getting new features but at a cost, others weren't so happy, with at least some deciding to jump ship. As with New Coke, the most vocal users were the dissatisfied. Few who preferred New Coke made their voices heard. Just as I seldom see people writing articles about their love of the Creative Cloud change from Adobe. I've certainly written about the change, but I wouldn't say I like it.

Adobe's introduction of the Photography Plan back in 2014 made the change more palatable for many of us. For a fairly reasonable price (though not everyone would agree), users could get both Photoshop CC and the boxed version of Lightroom. The solution wasn't perfect, but it was better than the ala carte pricing to get both programs under the initial pricing scheme for Creative Cloud. Not everyone was happy of course, but Adobe kept most of them in line with a commitment that "future versions of Lightroom [would] be made available via traditional perpetual licenses indefinitely." Lightroom versions 5 and 6 were the boxed (perpetual licensed) versions of the first two iterations of Lightroom Creative Cloud. Certain cloud-centric features weren't available this way, but few would have expected them to be since they had chosen to remain outside of Adobe's cloud initiative.

So now three years later, Adobe has announced another change. Obviously assessing that the once rowdy natives had been calmed and quieted, they would like to take the next step towards Cloud licensing and convert the remaining Lightroom boxed customers to a Creative Cloud plan. I think they are interested in what their customers want, but they're also interested in their profits. Whether they realized it upfront or not though, their move has again made the natives restless. Users who feel betrayed are complaining. Loudly.

Yet "indefinitely" was never meant to imply "forever." If we've learned anything since the advent of digital photography, change is inevitable. While a license to use Lightroom 6 is indeed perpetual, Adobe's commitment to providing future updates wasn't. "Indefinitely" merely means "for some indeterminate time" into the future. And apparently the end of that time is now. Whether everyone likes it or not.

So, no Lightroom 7. Instead, Adobe this week announced two new versions of Lightroom, confusingly named Lightroom CC and Lightroom Classic CC. What we on the Photography Plan have known as Lightroom Creative Cloud is equivalent to the new Lightroom Classic CC, and Adobe will be offering a new program called Lightroom CC. Confused? I would suspect so. The new CC version (not Classic CC) is even more tightly bound to the cloud and only optionally stores images on your local computer at all. And both new versions will be licensed under the Creative Cloud program. Neither one allows you to buy it once and use it indefinitely. Or forever. Or whatever I mean.

Yes, those who opted to stick with Lightroom 6 can continue to do so. Their license is indeed perpetual. But they won't get future upgrades from Adobe, at least as things stand right now. There is no Lightroom 7 waiting in the wings. As they did when this whole Creative Cloud thing started, Adobe has tried to clarify things since their announcement. They claim that customers have been "overwhelmingly" choosing the Creative Cloud Photography Plan already so their announcement merely aligns Adobe's investments with what their users want. It's hard to say at this point what Lightroom 6 users will do.

At least Adobe didn't say these new versions would be "bolder," "rounder" and more "harmonious." As with New Coke and Coke Classic, it's possible that enough of an outcry could cause Adobe to revise their plans, but it is doubtful that this would forestall the change indefinitely. I mean "forever." Or something.

Date posted: October 22, 2017


Copyright © 2017 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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