In Support of Adobe Creative Cloud

by Mark Grambau

This post is part of two responses from our team to the recent news of Adobe discontinuing its traditional licensing model. You can read the other post with opposing opinion here.

The design world is all aflutter with the news that Adobe is discontinuing traditional licensing in favor of software subscriptions. Many predicted this eventuality when Adobe began offering Creative Cloud last year, but the transition has come remarkably soon. Despite a few pitfalls and troubling possibilities, I’m largely optimistic about this shift.

The loudest shouting seems to be over price. Though Adobe has been releasing upgrades annually or biannually over the Creative Suite’s nearly ten year lifespan, many creatives go for several years without purchasing new or updated versions. CS6 Design Standard, the entry-level suite, cost $1,300. The next price tier was Design & Web Premium, which cost a whopping $1,900. I’d imagine the majority of general use graphic artists use one of these two suites. Upgrading a suite every few years would cost about $400-700, and would become more expensive the longer you wait. Costs for a few years of Creative Suite could very easily exceed $2,000.

A Creative Cloud subscription, on the other hand, costs $50 per month. That’s $1,200 over two years, or $1,800 over three. Adobe is offering discounted first-year pricing of $30/month for those running CS3 or later. With that pricing, two years becomes $960, three becomes $1,560. The cost of Creative Cloud is significantly lower within the first few years of use, and if you upgrade your software with any regularity, the gap remains small in the long term.

The picture changes again when you consider the number of services Adobe is bundling in with the subscription. About $150 per year can be attributed to Behance ProSite & Typekit. For a vast number of print designers, illustrators, photographers, and other creatives not focused on the web, these services offer a professional portfolio site to advertise their work & services. The 20GB of cloud storage is also significant. If you’re super confident getting around your computer’s file system via Finder or Windows Explorer, congratulations.

Even in the professional creative world, however, you’re likely in the minority. A seamless method to share and transport artwork is invaluable, especially as file sizes boom and email systems struggle to catch up due to their aging infrastructure. If Adobe continues to develop small, targeted products and make smart software acquisitions, Creative Cloud subscribers can expect a continuous flow of new services and features. Creative Cloud shuns the tool kit you’d buy every few years, only to watch it rust, and replaces it with an evolving utility that guarantees continued access to the latest and greatest.

If I’d like to see one thing change on pricing, it would be a “rent to own” option, similar to a car lease. Imagine paying the subscription price for a set period, say two years, after which you could buy out the suite for a set price. You wouldn’t get future software updates and your access to online services would end, but you’d retain the rights to the software and the ability to open and manipulate your files without further fees.

Steve’s point about alternative software and services is a salient one. We give a tremendous amount of power to Adobe by being so reliant on their software. If you’re upset over this shift in policy, you can and should support alternatives. Adobe needs competition. Pixelmator & Acorn are fantastic, inexpensive Photoshop alternatives, and Sketch is a great vector design app ala Fireworks. Aperture is a counterpoint to Lightroom. Google Fonts and Fonts.com can be used over Typekit, though Typekit can be used independently of Creative Cloud. The same goes for Prosite, though Squarespace, Dribbble, and Carbonmade are also excellent portfolio hosting and creative community options. Dropbox, of course, is perhaps the best cloud storage service in town. If you’re okay with shopping around from a lot of different vendors, there’s a strong alternative Creative Suite/Cloud to be built, and its just only going to become stronger.

The markets I see as most likely to adopt these alternatives are the education and consumer markets, specifically those that aren’t design and arts focused. Yes, $20 per month pricing is available for K-12 and higher education customers. It’s still a big expense – but then again, it’s always been. Admittedly, most of my fellow art students either depended on the school’s computers or had simply pirated the software for years. It was a back alley move, but for students scraping by on tuition and young kids seeking digital creative outlets, free access to Adobe software has played a pretty crucial role in empowering young users and building future customers.

I don’t condone software piracy in the slightest – I’ve paid for all of my software and media for years – but Adobe needs to be able to address this market. With Creative Cloud likely making piracy that much tougher, I expect many will migrate to Adobe’s increasingly viable competitors. Perhaps they could explore “pay what you want” or “pay what you can” structures, which may result in lower purchasing price but significantly higher sales. It’s a thought.

In the end, I’m glad Adobe is slimming down and focusing on higher-quality products, and am excited by all the growth in the market for alternatives to Adobe software. Business model shifts like this move mountains, and our industry could use an earthquake!

About Fresh Tilled Soil

Fresh Tilled Soil is a Boston-based user interface and experience design firm focused on human centered digital design