The Amazing Marketing Power of Scott Kelby
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If you're not really into digital photography, you may have never heard of Scott Kelby, but he's quite the media dynamo in the on-line digital-photography world. He founded a Photoshop user's club some years ago, and seemingly has never rested since. As an example of his business savvy, rather than launching the club with a self-limiting name like “Tampa Photoshop Users Club”, he smartly called it the grandiose “National Association of Photoshop Professionals”, and it took off. Since then, he's got writing credit on dozens of books and instructional videos, and leads a whole self-titled media machine (Kelby Media Group) that chimes in with insightful, well-reasoned, and generally-upbeat commentary on every new development out there, and makes its own new developments from time to time with its own new product offerings. He's sort of like the David Pogue of the digital-photography world.

Scott's charisma, knowledge, and boundless energy has led him to become a well-followed go-to source of information for many in the digital-photography world. What I find amazing is that in a recent blog post, it seemd obvious that he blatantly lied to his readership while shilling a product he was connected to, and nobody seemed to care. Now that's marketing power!

Yesterday, Scott published a post titled “Breaking News: Imagine having Layers in Lightroom. Well, OnOne Software Just Did it!!

If you're not familiar with the subject, the technology he's suggesting has just been made possible would be a huge leap for photo editing workflow, and would overcome one of the major drawbacks of how programs like Adobe Lightroom and Apple Aperture allow you to work with your photos. It's a leap that many expect to be made sometime in the future (in five years?), but Scott's telling us that it's available now(!), via a software program he helped develop.

The initial comments on his blog post were from folks who took him at his word.... “I've been waiting for this”... “Hooray!!!!!!!!!!!!”... “Now this looks interesting!”... “Great job, OnOne”...

The only problem is that it's not true.

I'm more engineer than photographer, and particularly as an author of dozens of plugins for Lightroom, the technological unlikelihood of his claim was immediately apparent. I followed the link to the software's site to check out just how deep the integration with Lightroom really was.... and found nothing. No mention whatsoever about how the Lightroom integration was handled. If it was truly “Layers in Lightroom”, that would have been demonstrated up front with flashing neon, because it indeed would have been a major accomplishment.

From a technological standpoint, this was quite a ho-hum development. Basically, he's created a super-lite version of Photoshop that, like any other application, can be called from Lightroom to work on a copy of a photo. Its benefit seems to be a very simple user interface and it will certainly appeal to non-technical photographers that want more pixel-editing functionality than Lightroom provides, but it's of no interest if you already use Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, Paint Shop Pro, Gimp, or any of the other myriad of pixel-editing applications out there.

Once people started to realize this, comments started appearing that cited the destructive nature of the edits. Here, “destructive” refers to the fact that making edits actually changes pixel values, destroying the ability to go back and undo or tweak the changes. Photoshop is a destructive editor, while Lightroom and Aperture are purely non-destructive, which is a major point of appeal.

Anyway, comments starting coming in citing this huge shortcoming, and then people started whining about the price (the announced price is double that for the much-more-powerful Photoshop Elements). But what really surprised me is that no one (but me) called him out for what certainly seemed to be a bald-faced lie.

I'm sure that Scott knows full well that it's not “Layers in Lightroom” because he's an expert in this stuff in general and he helped develop this specific product, but perhaps the marketing potential of the lie was just too tempting to pass up.

My trust in him evaporated in an instant.

But I seem to be the only one. Is everyone else drinking his Kool-Aid? Does he have a reality distortion field that only I have escaped?

He really is a marketing genius (well, except for the whole lying thing). When I first saw the post and went to the application's site, it featured a picture of a smiling Scott Kelby pitching the software. At least I think it did... when I go now, he's been reduced to a bullet-point mention. It's interesting to see the difference in the site when visiting via his link and a vanilla link. Besides some marketing text, the whole purchase presentation is different.... if you come from Scott's link, you're not offered the option to buy the not-yet-available software, and the “pricing” link mentions that it will cost $160 when it comes out. But if you come in via the vanilla link, you're offered the ability to buy their whole suite of software for $500. Seems sort of odd, but then, I've never understood marketing.

I wonder what Seth Godin would say? Actually, I don't, because I already know, as anyone with a conscience would.

There's a silver lining in this, though... it got me thinking about how to do layers in Lightroom, and I've devised a relatively simple (but slow) way to mimic layers within Lightroom to a strong degree.... one that preservers the non-destructive workflow that's so integral to Lightroom. I don't know whether I have the pixel-editing technical skill to bring it to fruition, but I know what I'm going to be working on for the next while.... 🙂

UPDATE: I did it

UPDATE #2: Scott responded to the criticism in a video, where he succeeded in being even more misleading than the first time.

The 30 most-recent comments (out of 40; see all), most recent last...

Thanks Jeffrey for calling this out. Like you I was skeptical and discovered that indeed it is not at all “layers in Lightroom” but simply a very lightweight external editor that does some masking. Nothing we cannot do already from Lightroom using PS. Marketing is a silly game. They do it well. I felt stupid for falling for it.

— comment by Jao on April 24th, 2011 at 12:00am JST (13 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

Good on you for posting this Jeffrey. The confusion this has caused has got them the advertising they no doubt wanted, but for them to stoop to deceiving their readers is disgraceful.

At least OnOne were a bit more careful, saying Layers FOR Lightroom, rather than Layers IN Lightroom. BIG difference.

If the product’s as good as they say, they shouldn’t need to resort to deceit. That said, it may come back to haunt them – this seems to have left a bad taste in the mouths of a lot of people.

— comment by Victoria Bampton on April 24th, 2011 at 4:50am JST (13 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

Thanks for blogging this, I dismissed the plugin as unnecessary since I have Photoshop, but it could sweep up some unsuspecting but less tech savvy folks.

— comment by Rob McAninch on April 24th, 2011 at 5:22am JST (13 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

Gread call Jeffery. I’ve thought for years that Scott is the master Digital Marketer. He has so many wheels spinning at any given time, I don’t know how he can stand up.

The email I got from NAPP subject line was “Private Invitation To View Perfect Layers”, appears like we are getting something special before everyone else. But in the body the wording changes to “onOne Software is inviting you and fellow NAPP members to participate in a very special public preview”. The real tell all was this email arrived at 8:06am then at 1:10pm I got the offer directly from onOne. So aI guess the “Private Invitation” was the 5 hour head start?

Let me be the first to volunteer to help test your new idea when you get to beta.

Love your blog, and your plugins. Also thanks for calling it like it is.

— comment by Dale Lewis on April 24th, 2011 at 1:54pm JST (13 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

I too follow Scott’s blog and he mentioned this plug-in a while ago. At that point there was no section for it on the OnOne website, so there was no actual information about it.

I must admit, it sounded really good and at that point I thought it would bring non-destructive layer editing to Lightroom.

Now that this public beta is out, it’s pretty much a bust. I realize that the UI is made to be simple, but for me (and probably for a lot of other photographers) this kind of add-on, strap-on or a plug-in if you want to call it that, just isn’t needed (especially for the asking price).

One “good” thing about this was to follow the comment section of that post to go “s**t side up” really quickly, which was funny to say the least.

I’m all for anyone who tries to push this industry forwards, publishing books, guides, videos etc., but for some reason I’ve never liked the man too much.

And if you follow the “Photoshop insider” – blog, there’s actually not that much information about Photoshop or even Lightroom. Plenty of adverts though, for products and their own classes, books and videos.

Good to see people who think on their own to stand up this guy once in a while.

And btw. Jeffrey, I’m really enjoying your blog (always open in one tab on my browser) and really looking forward to seeing what you can do with the “real” layers in Lightroom 🙂

— comment by Janne on April 24th, 2011 at 5:03pm JST (13 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

Jeffrey, kudos to you for the ‘expose’. I follow you and use many of your ‘plugins’, couldn’t do without them. I look forward to your new layers plugin. Hope I can be beta tester for you.
I am constantly amazed how much you do for the industry. I am going to make a tab on my browser open up your blog. I like the idea from @Janne.
YOU will always have my undying support.

— comment by gary little on April 24th, 2011 at 10:34pm JST (13 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

thank you Jeffrey. Love your blog and your plugins.
good luck for your work with layers IN lightroom. We are waiting for !!!!!

— comment by simona on April 25th, 2011 at 12:12am JST (13 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

Jeffery, first off I want to thank you for this blog post. What you stated about the hype and NAPP organizationare comments I wanted to write but you beat me to the punch. And I don’t have a blog. I fully agree with your analysis of the plug-in and more to the point, your comments about Kelby and company.

I have been a paying NAPP member since 2007. I’ve posted over 3700 times on the NAPP forums. I’ve been an instructor at a number of Photoshop World conferences until about 2009. They even inducted me into the NAPP Hall of Fame, at the time, I was very honored. I’ve been very impressed with Scott and his company based on its huge success over the years and how Scott built up a multimillion dollar company from humble beginnings. I’ve spent time in his presence in personal and professional situations and felt he was a good guy. Recently however, my feelings about NAPP have changed a great deal, not based on the fine members I’ve met and encountered over the years on the NAPP forums, but more with how the organization functions in terms of its message. Your points about NAPP being a club is IMHO accurate. I don’t see it as either an Association nor aimed at Professionals but maybe that’s just a disagreement about semantics. Its the focus of NAPP and the behavior of its visible staff that has changed, and not for the better IMHO.

What I don’t understand, nor can I find, is the mission statement of NAPP. I always (naively) figured it was about the open decimation of information and aiding its members. I don’t believe that’s the case anymore. I think its about growing and marketing itself and selling products. I’m OK with that if at the same time, its members are able to openly discuss digital imaging and question authority, learn and grow. The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. However, my experience on both the public blogs of Scott and Matt K or the private forums I pay to access, this isn’t in NAPPs plans. If you agree with them, if you act like a fan boy, all is fine. If you question the logic and advice provided, certainly publicly in a blog or even in a members only forum (NAPP), their attitude gets condescending and even ugly. I’ve witnessed this more so in the last year and wonder why adults who have opinions about image processing can’t discuss their ideas using salient and scientific examples. Well its their sandbox and if you disagree, go play elsewhere. In kind of reminds me of the old Groucho Marks joke about being a member of a club.

The recent blog posts on Scott AND Matt K’s blog site about this Layer plug-in are examples of how the emperor(s) while still having some clothing has less than he thinks. Did you notice too that both blogs have banner ads for this product? I think this recent example of blatant marketing hype, and the large number of smart readers who have dismissed the blog post could be a useful turning point for Scott and NAPP. But will we hear back from them with an explanation as to the hype? I hope so.

I think NAPP did and can play an important role in “our industry” and has lost its way. While we read “This (Layers product) is a game changer”, (their opinion which most don’t believe) its interesting to note the repeated posts from Scott and Matt that soft proofing doesn’t work for them and is not useful in a future version of Lightroom, despite disagreements from users on this opinion. These disagreements, actually questions about the opinions are dismissed or ignored. Questioning authority, asking for clarity and reasons for such opinions simply isn’t in these NAPP guru’s game plan. Perfect example was the one post I saw from Scott about this plug-in: “if its not for you, don’t buy it”. That’s not the attitude I’d expect from a respected authority. I’d expect Scott (or Matt) to explain why this product is useful, a game changer etc. Using sound, logical, empirical points to express the opinion. I’m not seeing that kind of discussion about this product or (using a recent example) the soft proof debate. I’m OK with people disagreeing with me, but I’d like to know WHY, based not on some religious dogma or what appears as a bias attributed to monetary compensation. Using salient points to debate an opinion may or may not change one’s attitudes but it does allow each party to learn and grow. That unfortunately isn’t the mindset I see from Kelby and company. Instead they give the impression you so well expressed here, that the decimation is only self serving. That’s a shame. Its not necessary. NAPP was and can be a better organization if it would change its focus.

Thanks for your note… I learned a lot. I must clarify one thing, though: my use of the word “club” was not meant to be a pejorative, nor to imply that I know much about it. I’ve never paid much attention to it, but I know it seems to be a big organization grown from (as you say) humble beginnings. The concern of my post is not about the NAPP, OnOne, nor Perfect Layers… it’s about Scott and what seems to me to be a huge and shockingly-apparent violation of trust and integrity. Everyone makes mistakes, and he had an opportunity to fess up and try to redeem himself, but based upon the one followup-comment he placed on his post, I don’t think that’s going to happen. —Jeffrey

— comment by Andrew D Rodney on April 25th, 2011 at 1:43am JST (13 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

I was drawn in to see the Layers too. Then quickly disappointed. Now uninstalled.
Glad that I ‘registered’ with a through away email, I anticipate much more junk in my mail to come.

Lately I have become more supportive of NAPP and Kelby training. I find them good value.
But Now, for sure, I will check my wallet after every site visit.

— comment by royreddy on April 25th, 2011 at 2:12am JST (13 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

I suspect you are right, especially after seeing this quote below. FWIW, on the NAPP forums, another poster wrote something to the effect that they wonder why Scott is saying its so great, probably because they pay him to. Another NAPP Staffer then wrote: Scott doesn’t say things because people “pay him well” – he talks about products that he likes and uses. So I suspect if that’s true (the banner ads not withstanding), he’s probably very proud of this product based on an interesting quote I just found:

“Through our partnership with the National Association of Photoshop Professionals and from invaluable insight gained from Scott Kelby, we’re excited to get the Perfect Layers Public Preview into the hands of digital photographers everywhere,” said Craig Keudell, president of onOne Software.

— comment by Andrew D Rodney on April 25th, 2011 at 3:53am JST (13 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

At a trade show Scott’s brother sold me a membership to NAPP promising to give me access to lots of lightroom goodies not available otherwise and it just simply wasn’t true. The Kelbys, all of them, are just in it for the money. Plain, Simple, Fact. Don’t, won’t and will never trust them.

— comment by James on April 25th, 2011 at 11:41am JST (13 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

I’m no photo editing whiz, but I agree with you.

I already own Photoshop and I guess I’m missing the point behind the whole idea of what OnOne is trying to market. I looked at the plugin and doesn’t work like an external editor would? Don’t you end up with a copy, or non-destructive file, just as you would with using Photoshop from within Lightroom? As I said, I’m no whiz and pretty much ignorant on the whole matter. If the “vanilla link” you mentioned is $500, that’s $200 less than a home version of Photoshop which has loads more abilities than Perfect layers will ever have. Are people looking for a light weight plugin/application to use along with Lightroom? I don’t think the high price will be able to compete with the other applications out there. Kind of weird to me, “Let’s dumb this down and stick a big price tag on it.”

I don’t know if any of what I said makes sense, but it was on my mind.

The copy destroys your ability to go back and change your prior edits and still have them applied to the subsequent edits, so in this case “non-destructive” is good, but that’s not what an external editor does. And I think the $500 price tag is for a suite of stuff of which Perfect Layers is one part. —Jeffrey

— comment by Earnest Barr on April 25th, 2011 at 7:17pm JST (13 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

FYI, I’ve released my new plugin here.

— comment by Jeffrey Friedl on April 25th, 2011 at 7:46pm JST (13 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

I must admit to being curious about all the hype about Perfect Layers, and as a NAPP member got the same email as it appears everyone else did, but I thought what the heck … its free (at the moment) so why not give it a try

I think it took me less time to uninstall it than it did to download it, and I’m still scratching my head as to what real purpose it serves … to me it seems to be a hastily cobbled together, clumsy piece of software more designed to empty your wallet than aid in post processing … and if you use Photoshop … then why ?

Truth be told, I’ve never been a fan of OnOne software, except for Genuine Fractals/Perfect Resize (which I think is rather good) and this tends to reinforce that opinion

I guess I’ll just put Perfect Layers into the Kelby Empty Hype Basket along with “Kelby Training will be available on the iPad in January 2011”

— comment by Chris Belyea on April 25th, 2011 at 10:15pm JST (13 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

Another day and as expected, nothing back on the blog other than some posts from the NAPP rank and file from RC Concepcion basically defending the original blog post and totally ignoring the questions about Elements as a better, less expensive and more powerful option. Comments are now apparently being moderated too.

The feeling I’m getting is, “We (Scott, NAPP) are right, those that don’t agree are whiners or just don’t understand“. RC Concepcion went overboard (one or two comments, dismissive and incorrect would have been enough). At least pull the 3 banner ads!

Let me state again that I’ve nothing against the software (I haven’t tried it, nor do I use Elements, so I really have no opinion on a comparison). My concern is is for the person (Scott), the deceitful message, and for the strong focus on the software instead of the trust issue.. —Jeffrey

— comment by Andrew D Rodney on April 25th, 2011 at 11:18pm JST (13 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

Agreed, I too have nothing against OnOne, they have some cool products and I’ve met some of their people over the years who are great. I think they, like many readers got suckered into this by Scott and NAPP. My disappointment is solely with that group, a group I at one time had a great deal of respect and admiration for. Deceitful message says it all. Its a damn shame.

— comment by Andrew D Rodney on April 25th, 2011 at 11:35pm JST (13 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

Capture One and Bibble have layers built in. LightZone has always allowed multiple instances of its editing tools to overlap as layers. How is it possible for Lightroom to lack native layers support still ? Is this limitation due to software architecture or is it maybe adobe’s strategic decision to force users to depend on Photoshop for certain features ?

I’m not familiar with those particular apps, but I’m guessing they allow you to edit one image at a time, like Photoshop. Photoshop has layers, but it also is limited to working with one image at a time. Lightroom is designed for working with thousands of images at a time. That’s the difference. Also, Lightroom is still new, and still lacking many big features that people want, of which Layers is just one example. Photoshop is at version 12 or so, Lightroom 3, so it’s still early for Lightroom. If Adobe had infinite resources (time, engineers, money) it’d all be done, so I guess this just illustrates that they don’t. 🙂 —Jeffrey

— comment by FerLopez on April 27th, 2011 at 5:45am JST (13 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

Thanks for the post. I agree 100%. I have nothing to add to the discussion, except perhaps that I wasted half a day coming to the same conclusion. I have been wary of Kelby since buying “The Digital Photography Book” which I found to be an enthusiastic combination of hucksterism and simple-minded-ness.

— comment by Kirby Krieger on May 2nd, 2011 at 11:05pm JST (13 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

Looks like Matt posted an update this morning over at Lightroomkiller Tips:

Wow, what a disingenuous “apology”. The backlash was not over a grammatical mistake, but over the huge “NOT POSSIBLE BEFORE BUT NOW IT IS!!!!!” fanfare that Scott brewed up for the announcement. It’s that fanfare, combined with the misleading “IN Lightroom”, that people are angry about, because it’s not true. I can’t believe someone as expert as Scotty Kelby could have crafted this misleading fanfare in error. Again, my complaint is not about the software, which may well be just dandy for some people, but about the misleading message that Scott Kelby crafted. Reading the followup that Matt wrote makes me ask “Wow, just how stupid do you think we are?” It seems designed to weed out those who don’t adhere to blind faith. —Jeffrey

— comment by Steve Dominecki on May 3rd, 2011 at 5:31am JST (13 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

I agree with Steve, the issue is the Kelby uber hype of this product all while taking in revenue from banner ads, then getting pissy with anyone who questions this hype. It went viral in the NAPP forums too, with most people agreeing it was hype. Then the NAPP rank and file (RC and Dave Cross) came in and did what you see Scott and Matt doing, being dismissive with anyone who doesn’t agree with them. Got me banned from NAPP (saving me from stupidly paying $99 next June). These guys just don’t get it. They have to be right and if anyone disagrees, instead of discussing it, they become disagreeable and censor (Scott locked his blog comments for that day he hyped OnOne)! Then he spent like 20 minutes defending all this on his Web TV show, The Grid ( What a total waste of time.

Thanks for the link, I hadn’t seen that. Truly he’s a marketing genius. I posted a followup discussing the video here. —Jeffrey

— comment by Andrew D Rodney on May 3rd, 2011 at 11:01pm JST (13 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

This certainly has been an interesting conversation. I have disliked Kelby’s books on Photoshop Elements and Lightroom to the point where I decided I would never buy another one of his books. I have discussed this in several Lightroom forums, stating that I think his coverage of the Elements Organizer and Lightroom Library Module was misleading, off target, and just plain bad advice.

I stopped reading Kelby’s blog for the same reason.

And now, in this thread, I learn just another reason to avoid Kelby products.

— comment by Paige on May 9th, 2011 at 11:35pm JST (13 years, 1 month ago) comment permalink

Today I just received an email from Mpix, advertising onOne Layer product as Lightroom “plug-in”, and all that hype. No doubt this was due to Kelby’s marketing influence, as he is one of Mpix ambassador. But coming from my favorite printing company.. its just sad. 🙁

I’m not an Mpix customer, but received it as well for some reason. —Jeffrey

— comment by Chan on May 10th, 2011 at 11:40pm JST (13 years, 1 month ago) comment permalink

Interesting, both Scott and Matt’s blogs no longer have ad banners for the OnOne product. You suppose they got a clue how poor this looked, hyping a product then placing ad banners on the same blog page? Maybe the little bit of heat generated here and elsewhere on the web got these guys to think about what they say and do. Or they just moved the goal posts over to the Mpix gang?

— comment by Andrew D Rodney on May 11th, 2011 at 2:44am JST (13 years, 1 month ago) comment permalink

“My trust in him evaporated in an instant.” — Pretty much sums up my thoughts. Anything on his blog from now on I will take with a huge grain of salt.

my admiration shattered into pieces.

— comment by eli on May 28th, 2011 at 3:07am JST (13 years ago) comment permalink

Interesting – I thought I was alone in my thoughts on the Kelby group & products, glad to see I did have a clue and ‘dumped my kool-aid’ a while ago.

— comment by JP on July 3rd, 2011 at 10:03pm JST (13 years ago) comment permalink

1000 x thanks for this valuable artcle

+ i did learn a lot here about how Lr and PS working together (layer edite)


— comment by musc on July 16th, 2011 at 5:14am JST (12 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink

I am in the New Haven, CT USA area. Came upon this post in a round about way. I am a amateur and realtively new to DSLR. Only join NAPP last May. I have always wondered about the Cult of Personality in all the Kelby stuff. Another good example of the way they do the Spin is yesterdays The Gird (Sept 15, 2011). I guess your blog post does not surprise me at all. As a newbie I plan to try your plugins in time. So did you see that the OnOne Suite is now stand alone? Truth in advertising.?

— comment by JD on September 16th, 2011 at 3:36am JST (12 years, 9 months ago) comment permalink

This is really big, i’ve always admired Scott Kelby, I guess people nowadays will do anything for money. Thanks to you now we know that we need to be cautious next time and not waste our money on useless things. Scott Kelby’s integrity is tarnished, people really do abuse their fame. Your plugins are great by the way and are very helpful. Keep it up!

— comment by Sherry Molina on December 5th, 2011 at 10:50pm JST (12 years, 7 months ago) comment permalink

Now look at KelbyOne. All the talent laid off. Customer service is very poor. Let us see how long they can last. Connecticut, USA

— comment by JD on March 16th, 2016 at 2:40am JST (8 years, 3 months ago) comment permalink

I just came across this blog entry. I do software product management, and various aspects of marketing are key parts of my job role. I would never dare to mislead my customers. At the very least, my colleagues would censure me. But I would be causing “brand damage” to my company and to my personal reputation. My management would be extremely displeased once they learned and understood what I had done.

Now Kelby isn’t a product manager, he is a photographer who is now a successful entrepreneur. Good for him. His books are read widely. But if he starts selling snake oil, then I can’t trust anything he says or does, including blurbs for new books.

Good for you for calling him out. And shame, shame, shame on Kelby.

— comment by Phil Burton on September 10th, 2018 at 4:09am JST (5 years, 9 months ago) comment permalink
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