Why Adobe's Subscription-based Creative Cloud is the New Future

By Alvin Soon - on 07 May 2013, 1:55pm

When Adobe first announced its subscription-based service Creative Cloud in 2011, I was skeptical. Why would anyone pay a monthly fee to rent software when they can just buy it and own it? Well, this year Adobe's not even giving you the option - if you want the latest version of its apps, like Photoshop and Premiere Pro, they're only available on Creative Cloud. This time around though, I'm a believer.

I've been an Adobe user since Photoshop 4.0 (that's 4.0, not CS4). My wife and I have both used Adobe software for half our lives, and I can't imagine my computing life without them. We bought CS5 and use them when we bring work home (when we really shouldn't). But I also bought Lightroom outside of the Creative Suite, and love using it for my photography.

I get mixed feelings when I wonder about upgrading to the newest Creative Cloud suite for S$66 a month. After all, I already own a copy of CS5 for perpetuity, and I can still wring years of use from it (I don't use that many more tools after the basics like the healing brushes, dodge/burn tools and curves), so it's not like I really need to upgrade now.

But then I think about the companies I've worked for and the one I am still working for, and how it can take years for them to upgrade their employees' versions of Adobe software. It's a matter of cost, of course, but with the new subscription model, companies can push out updates to their users and have them use the latest Creative Cloud apps all the time, without having to fork out a substantial amount of money every two years or so (or more).

I don't know about you, but I would love that if I were still working in post. While Adobe doesn't always hit it out of the ballpark with their new features, most of them are built to help users do more with less work in less time; which means that designers get to go home earlier.

That's why I think a subscription-based model is the future, at least for small medium businesses and enterprise. You get to keep up with the latest and greatest tools, at a fraction of the cost. I don't have the prices for SMBs and enterprises to go with, but let's take a look at buying the CS6 box set versus subscribing to the Creative Cloud for the individual.

The CS6 Master Collection sold for S$3924, while a monthly subscription of S$66 gives you access to the entire Creative Cloud suite. It would take you roughly 60 months to break even at that price, or about five years. Adobe used to update the Creative Suite about once a year, so you would already have gotten five years' worth of upgrades by then.

If you didn't need the entire suite of Adobe's apps, you could have gotten CS6 Design Standard for S$1962 (30 months, or 2 and a half years to break even) or S$2868 for CS6 Production Premium (44 months to break even, or three and a half years to break even). If you only use Photoshop, you could have bought it for around US$600-$700, while with Creative Cloud you can subscribe to a single app for US$19.99 a month.

And the next generation of Adobe apps comes with Typekit integration for print - you can download and use fonts from 175 professional font families at no additional cost. Not only is this incredible value, it opens up whole new worlds of possibilities for designers, and saves time by not having to propose buying new typefaces and submitting a budget.

It would be great, of course, if Adobe could offer both a perpetual license of the new CC suite as well as the subscription model. And users who are always on the road may be really inconvenienced, the new CC apps ping Adobe's servers once a month to check for payment, and will lock up if they don't get a positive response after a grace period of seven days. While you can call Adobe support if you really don't have internet connection around that time, it's an additional hassle for legitimate customers.

But I also recognise that it would be difficult to track and develop two different versions of the same app, especially as one version relies ever heavier on integration with the cloud to provide new features. If you let the past hang around your neck, it'll only slow you down - sometimes you just have to bet the farm on the future, and commit to making it a good one as you go along.

There's always a price you pay for progress, the only question is if the benefits outweigh the costs. It's never been cheaper to be an Adobe user and keep up with the latest technology, and I can't imagine a future where apps aren't connected to the cloud and share content across devices. That's why I believe Creative Cloud's subscription-based model is the future, as ambivalent as I am about joining that future.

P.S. It still feels like we're in the early days of figuring out what really constitutes digital ownership - do we own an ebook the way we own a paper book, for example - and the pros and cons therein - if you don't pay to own software, but subscribe to it, you can get perpetually new versions of it instead of just a fixed version, but you end up with nothing if you ever stop paying. As always the market will speak, and time will tell whether or not Adobe's move is a step forward or a step back in working out this new digital world.

Alvin Soon

Alvin Soon / Former Deputy Editor

I like coffee and cameras, but not together.

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