On Which Side is the Bread Buttered?

It must have seemed like a good idea at the time. The latest releases of Adobe Acrobat and Acrobat Reader 8.1 include a button and a menu option that allows users to “Print to Fedex Kinkos.” Here’s the quote from Adobe’s website :

“As people increasingly communicate and collaborate across the Internet, Adobe Reader and Acrobat enable more trusted communication and collaboration with PDF, reliably reaching people around the world,” said John Brennan, senior vice president of the Platform Business Unit at Adobe. “By enabling FedEx Kinko’s Print Online functionality with Adobe Reader and Acrobat, people can simply and conveniently access FedEx Kinko’s printing services, which provides more options for working with PDF files — including professional printing and shipping via FedEx, right from the desktop.”

Simple enough. Adobe chooses to give preference to Kinko’s as an output provider to the exclusion of the remainder of the U.S. printing industry, which controls oh . . . probably about 96% of the commercially printed volume that does not land at Kinko’s. Here’s the question: Should the rest of us in the printing world have a problem with this?

Before Poor Richard weighs in, let me state the obvious. The rest of the printing world does have a problem with this. Adobe’s decision to give preference to Kinko’s as a print provider has unleashed an expected firestorm of protest from printing associations, franchises, and independent printers (see the NAPL/NAQP response).

It is very tempting to look at Adobe’s decision as just another random act of corporate stupidity. Let’s face it, we come up against this sort of thing every day. Joe Executive, way up in the pearly white tower, makes a “strategic” decision and all of a sudden an entire customer base is pronounced “non-essential.” Wasn’t this the character of Coca-Cola’s near fatal decision to introduce the “New Coke” as a total replacement for their established core product? But let us not succumb to temptation . . . this situation’s different.

First, Adobe has a defacto near-total dominance position in the design, prepress, printing and (conventional) publishing world. They have either developed the best software or purchased it (Macromedia). For example, until only a few of years ago, printers had a choice between Adobe’s Pagemaker or Quark Express for page layout programs. Quark, with slightly better functionality, actually had the edge on Adobe in the design market. This all changed with the introduction of Indesign and the Adobe CS. Quark simply didn’t keep up and exacerbated the problem with a series of heavy handed customer relations failures. Adobe gained market dominance. At this point, printers cannot leave Adobe Indesign because it is the page layout platform of choice for all of our customers.

Second, if we did leave, do we have a place to go? Certainly not to Microsoft Publisher. Corel is still around, but it only runs on the Windows platform and just feels kind of clunky. Many of us are also locked into heavy investments in .pdf techology. Adobe Acrobat and .pdf are in a sense the Rosetta Stone program and format that lets printers achieve any kind of uniform and predictable output from the great mish mash of stuff we receive. None of us would voluntarily choose a return to the vagaries of native file output and all of the errors, problems and cost that ensued from that process.

What does this all mean? Effectively, Adobe can do whatever they please.

At least for now, the printing world is locked into Adobe products and there are few (read no) viable alternatives. We can fuss and fume about Adobe’s decision, but we really have no place to go if we leave. Adobe has taken a calculated risk for some short-term gain and lost the respect of a very loyal customer base in the process.

Adobe may also have a bit of trouble with the consequences of their choice of preferred vendor. One comment on a printing forum suggested that the Fedex Kinko’s link would be better suited for the Known Problems section of the Help Menu. For many of us, Kinko’s has just not been much competition. In our market, they are actually an occasional source for customers who need a broader range of capabilities than our local Kinko’s provides.

Adobe has chosen a side of the toast to butter, with the not altogether unrealistic expectation that the unbuttered customers will just have to put up with it.

At least for now.

In the rapidly changing world of technology, it doesn’t take long for software to go the way of the Betamax, LP records or the land line phone. And royally ticking off a large portion of your customer base doesn’t do much for goodwill or loyalty. In fact, it tends to make agitated customers pretty receptive to the next best alternative that comes along.

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2 Responses to On Which Side is the Bread Buttered?

  1. Adam Slutsky, CEO, Mimeo.com says:

    I applaud Adobe’s effort to support simple, seamless access to online printing services, but they should embrace a model where many providers can operate on an even playing field. In the end, such a model will bring increased awareness to the value of online on-demand printing, create a new revenue stream for Adobe, bring incremental revenue to the best players in this unique space, and most importantly, best serve the needs of everyone’s customers.

    It is important for people to know that there are real options available to them. Mimeo.com competes successfully against FedEx Kinko’s for business in the printing of documents using Adobe products. Print buyers want choices and will always demand superior high quality products and services.

  2. […] link the print dialogue in Acrobat directly to FedEx/Kinko’s (see Poor Richard’s post On Which Side is the Bread Buttered?). The rest of the industry screamed and threatened and Adobe backed […]

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