Analysis: The real reason Adobe ditched Creative Suite for Creative Cloud

Digital Arts | 15 May 13

The editor of Digital Arts discusses why Adobe's move to a subscription service has provoked such strong reactions, what the underlying reasons for the move are – and how to decide if you should move to Creative Cloud.

Adobe’s announcement last week that it’s set to stop selling its software in favour of renting it out inevitably riled up a large section of its users.  A petition on demanding the company return to offering Creative Suite alongside Creative Cloud currently has almost 13,000 signatures – while even some users who’ve been won over have found moving to the Cloud difficult.

The two main charges laid at Adobe over the move are that it’s denying creatives a choice they had previously – which is true – and that they’re a bunch of money-grabbing bastards who are trying to screw money out of their customers by forcing them to pay and pay and pay. And pay some more. It’s easy to write off these latter accusations as hyperbole and trolling, especially as you can currently pick up CC for as little as £16 plus VAT per month – but why do people feel this way?

Underlying these accusations are three factors, two based on cost and one that's more psychological in nature. The first is that, despite a relatively low monthly price, owners who don't upgrade regularly will pay more in the long run. One of our American colleagues has done the maths on this (math, surely. Ed) and found this is true for Design Standard owners who upgrade less than every 26 months. However, more regular upgraders – especially owners of the pricier suites – may end up saving money.

The second is the legitimate fear that once Adobe has moved enough of its users over to Creative Cloud, it will jack the monthly prices up and you’ll have no choice but to pay the extra. And without direct competitors to its suite of products, it’s not going to be like switching your energy or broadband supplier if you don’t like what you’re paying.

Even though Creative Cloud has been out for a year now, it’s easy to see the current standard price of £39 per month (or £55 per person for studios) as a lower-than-it-otherwise-would-be launch price that will increase once enough of Adobe’s customers have moved over. While most Digital Arts readers will get it for less than that per month – as you'll get money off for the first year if you’re a current Creative Suite owner – most of you will be familiar enough with the psychology of pricing to know that the ‘standard’ price of a new subscription service is about winning people over by suggesting they’ll never pay more than this. But it inevitably rises. When and by how much is impossible to predict, which means making an informed decision about whether to sign up tricky.

The third factor is simple. Many people prefer the security of owning something to that of renting it – especially in difficult economic times. Yes, technically, you’re buying a licence to use Creative Suite rather than the software itself, but there’s little difference in practice, and there's the feeling that whatever happens, the tools of your trade are yours and no one can take them away from you. Even if you’re running a medium-sized or even a large graphic design studio right now, if it all falls apart, you can take your Mac and InDesign into your back bedroom at home and start over again.

The rental model

So why has Adobe taken the risky step of ditching a tried-and-tested sales policy in favour of a rental system that has the potential to alienate its customers and send them off on the direction of tools such as QuarkXPress, Sketch or Media Composer?

The first possibility is that Adobe sees its position as unassailable and its portfolio of tools as impossible not to have. Certainly, Photoshop is a key component of many creative workflows, whether it’s used all day, every day or just to create or quickly manipulate elements for use in edits, models or designs. Ditto Illustrator. Most video editors and CG animators we know – whatever key tool they’re using – rely on After Effects. If you have to have these tools, at some point you’ll need to sign up to Creative Cloud, even if you never touch three-quarters of the tools on offer.

The second – and most likely – is that the era of the big upgrade is over. The Creative Suite/Cloud’s name-brand tools are mature products that have fewer and fewer must-have new features with every release. Yes there are some that make you go ‘wow’, but often that’s more in appreciation of their technical wonder than being something you’d use every day. It’s often the seemingly smaller features that make the most difference on a daily basis – such as InDesign’s donut – and it’s tricky to get people to upgrade just for these. Occasionally though, you do get a tool that’s both a wow-inducer and makes your life easier – Photoshop’s Quick Selection tool, for example – but is that enough to make you fork out for an upgrade?

The growing popularity of single-purpose, stripped back tools like Sketch, shows that rather than looking for an application that does everything, many users prefer something more tailored to their needs. It’s easier to develop these when you know you’ve got a guaranteed audience for them – which Creative Cloud delivers. Adobe has already made its first steps towards this with the Edge line of tools for web design.

Also, in areas such as web and mobile design, big upgrades are often less important than iterative development to support the regular growth of new coding approaches and standards. Not being tied to a yearly upgrade cycle should help with this.

If this all seems largely web focused, it is – this area currently has the fastest development of new mediums that new creative tools are needed for. It’s also an area that Adobe doesn’t have a ‘must-have’ application in like it does with Illustrator and Photoshop for print design, and After Effects for video/motion work. Hopefully though, we’ll see new tools flourish in other areas, too.

I’m not convinced going Cloud-only is Adobe’s ‘New Coke’ moment, which a lot of strong opinions across the web have suggested, and that the company will return to offering full products in the face of negative reaction from the press, customers and/or people with loud opinions on Twitter. It depends on how convincingly it sells Cloud to its customers. Sell enough and it’s the right decision for a company looking at less revenue from a traditional upgrade path and wanting to be more flexible in what it offers in its software. Sell too few and we'll see some ‘after listening to feedback from our customers’ grovelling and a return to (virtual) boxed products.

Should you go Cloud?

So with this in mind, should you take advantage of the low-cost offers and sign up to Cloud? The answer is, as you’d expect, more complex than a simple, yes or no. Look at what you’ll gain – and what you’ll lose. If you’re a traditional graphic designer or small studio with CS4, 5 or 6, and have no plans to push into video or interactive design, then there are few reasons to sign up in the short term. The same is true for many independent video and animations professionals – especially if Adobe’s tools are supplemental to your main creative tool. And by waiting, you'll get some idea of if/how the pricing will change in the future.

Larger – or just growing – organisations who need to add more seats are just going to have to bite the bullet and sign up – but then if your company is of a big enough size to have bean counters, they’ll probably appreciate the set monthly cost (unless it rises rapidly). And at that point, you’ll see all the advantages of Creative Cloud – such as the wealth of products that allow you to develop your skills towards new disciplines.

Interactive designers of all ilks are both the hardest and easiest sell for Adobe. They’re the ones who need the new tools that Adobe is developing, and the most used to renting the wide range of development services such as Notable and Gridset – but they’re also the ones who might find it more economical to drop the equivalent of a month’s Creative Cloud each on Sketch, Pixelmator and their kind, then not have to pay again till it’s upgrade time again.


Chriish said: I disagree. I have used pirated versions of photoshop and lightroom for years. Mainly because i am an amateur photographer and only do it as a hobby and make no money from it. It is now on a monthly payment option affordable so i now pay £8 per month for PS and LR as i feel i should give something back to the company that helped bring out the best in my imafes when i couldnt previously afford to do so.

Modulo m said: I use Sketch or Affinity Designer on Mac, bye bye Illustrator.

Modulo m said: I stopped using Illustrator because I'm sick of using 15 year old technology.

Steve said: Good article. Many large companies and government agencies buy licenses one-time and then subscribe to support services that have a recurring annual cost. So a subscription service that includes the license and the maintenance/support services will not be a big change for all businesses. I think smaller businesses like sole proprietorships, independents, and consultants will have a harder time with the subscription pricing model. They will have to determine how to include the recurring cost of the subscription in their prices. It will need to be similar to how they include other recurring costs. Photoshop becomes a utility not a tool.

siylencedogood said: Adobe will have the business of corporations and other large businesses, but they'll lose the individual designers, contractors and self employed artists/studios who don't want to fork out $600 a year (per person for studios) when an older suite will do the job well enough until an "enticing and worthwhile upgrade" increases "demand" for the product thereby driving up sales and profit margins accordingly. As others said...this is forcefully creating a captive consumer base with no incentive to create worthy upgrades to the software or maintain quality development. It's certainly not going to stop those who previously used pirated versions as they weren't going to pay anyway and will always find a way to steal. It's just hurting the individuals who have been loyal to Adobe's products for years. I'll use what CS programs I physically possess until I no longer can, but I'll switch to Corel for everything before I go CC.

Nathan Cowles said: Very informative. My thoughts exactly.Ive been on a quest the past 2 months to decide if Im going to join adobe when I graduate in a few months. If in the next few months adobe does not make some significant changes to price I just cant afford it. The rest of the time ive been looking as reviews like this to see what is out there and my options.Ive found on my quest 3 good multi product alternatives to adobe for 2d work. All these companies are running sales off and on like mad. Do keep in mind that after cs 4 all the basic functions were established and adobe just started bloating products with pieces of other with few significant updates. So all of these 3 contenders can get the job done it just depends if you willing to pay for it to be better and how much.Serif, prosumer, 100$ a program but will need several, defiantly better than what you find at walmart and possible to do professional work with but that as far as it goes. Stared edition is a free permanent demo of based on their previous edition. Give them props for that. I compare the starter edition to cs 2 and the full version i can only guess is closer to cs 3 or 4.Xara, professional, 300$ designer X9 suite, good company and programs. They worked with corel for a few years on CorelXara a vector program that became part of the designer x9 suite so they know what their doing. Dont discount them because the price. Its a great in between corel and serif. You get what you pay for though. They get the job done. Try a trial version because they are a good contender worth trying. Probably equal to cs 4+.Corel, professional, 500$ CorelDraw x6 Suite, in most respects they are the next best company to adobe. Some of their products actually equal or exceed adobe which is quite a feet. They have a very interesting counter to Cash Cow. They have the standard buy cd/download a perpetual license + free mini cloud, standard + premium 100$/month for full cloud with things as updates and automatically upgrade to next version included, a few extra cloud tools, exclusive access to a few things and more goodies and the last is cloud subscription for 200$/year premium member ship. Id say their products are equal to cs 4-6 depending on which one.Personally all 3 are worth it. Im leaning to corel though. Just seem a bit more professional quality than xara. Such as xara includes 250 fonts a decent amount but corel includes 1,000 which for a graphic designer is money in the bank. A single weight like helvetica, regular, bold and italic is 3 "fonts" and that could cost 120-180$ so fonts are money.Can we leave adobe? Yes we can mr obama.

Jason A. Quest said: Creative Cloud has already been hacked. If they did this to prevent piracy, it failed.

FullMetalPhotog said: This is what is called the crack dealers economic model, get the customers hooked by keeping the prices low or giving it away, then raise the prices as they addicted and dependent.

Gandalf said: What happens if your internet server goes down, just when the cloud connects and you're in the middle of the work and the programme stops working?I've heard it happen to someone who had to travel to a place where there was no internet access, and the programme just stopped!

Hillary Klntohn said: I've never paid for an adobe product in my life...Including the floppy disc installs from days gone bye.....Why the hell would I start now?

C. Hays said: If Adobe insists on doing this despite pissing off all their loyal customers, I will ditch Adobe. I will do whatever it takes to ditch them. Period. Big companies going after our pocketbooks and FORCING us into their plans is utter idiocy. And they dont seem to care. Formula for failure in ANY company.

globescope said: I bought CS6 to get the video editing program because, as a Final Cut Pro 7 user, I detest Final Cut Pro X and resent Apple's discontinuing support of the program I prefer. I was getting ready to learn Adobe Premier but now I won't go to the trouble. I might as well grit my teeth and learn to edit on FCPX. Also, what good is cloud if you do a lot of your photoshop and video editing work while traveling to remote places or sitting on a cruise ship where internet connections cost a fortune?

cajhne said: If they make it available for Linux, I would probably subscribe. I've moved about 80% of my work flow to Open Source programs (GIMP, InkScape, Scribus) but the industry still requires compatibility with the Creative Suite. If Adobe can give me Cloud in code that works natively with Linux, that's a decent reason for me to upgrade.

Herbert Hendriks said: As you well stated the era of big updates is over. This is in my opinion the main reason why Adobe made the switch to cloud only.Where as in the past Adobe had to innovate their software in order to sell new versions of their Creative suites, nowadays, with the creative cloud concept, the need to innovate is vastly decreased because of the fact that they will get their money anyway. The CC subscribers can't go anywhere without forfeiting the ability to open and edit their work.The cloud concept will bring Adobe a huge profit on many levels, they have regular income, they can reduce research and development costs, no more dvd production costs etc..So the expectation of many CC subscribers to annually get new features could well turn out to be a big disappointment.

Bababonga said: Adobe has lost his Image as an reliable, serious and trustable partner.The way they point out their highlights and hiding the unacceptable failures is hard to accept. Losing full editable file access to clients files after subscription makes the word "Archive" useless in further digital future.This cloud has nothing to do with "cloud computing". Its an abuse of this term and also confusing. Many potential users understand it as they have to work in browsers or that they have to store their files in the web or even the apps are running via web. But it isn´t. Apps are running local as ever before. Files can be stored local (and in mind of performance they will mostly be stored local). There are only added some cloudy features (like a few sync-services / sell your art via web / adobe footage /...). But nothing essential. This could also be done by offering a stand alone app called "cloud".When my monitoring of web-site isn´t wrong, nearly 90% of usership is concerned or even confused. Also my business partners and colleagues.It´s to obvious what the real base for this move is: Forcing people into a new "pay monthly and for ever" distribution. Binding them to the software.May be, they see competitors growing to the left and to the right. May be, they want a more foreseeable income. May be they run out of innovation. May be they didn´t offer enough advantages with their updates (so that many didn´t). May be, May be May be. Nobody knows. But nobody understands. And the arguments of Adobe for the necessity of this move are very pale.Calling maximized income innovation isn´t the right way.A innovative company has to survive in real competition and not to be payed month by month anyway.I will never subscribe into dependencies like this. Point is behind.

Cedric said: I'm still content with CS 2, and I'll try to keep using it as long as possible. Cloud, as awesome as it is, seems a bit of a waste to me. I love Adobe, and I see their reasoning, but it would make more sense to keep both CS and CC running.

Giant Stuffed Animals said: I have been reading all comment from manydifferent websites. Everyone seems to look at this as a black/white issue (alladobe or all not adobe) While I can see the problem of perpetual costs ofrenting software there is at least one bittersweet solution: rent only asmuch as you need to. I'll explain. Say you are a design/ad firm with 100perpetual seats. Use editing alternatives GIMP etc. to do as much work as youcan then have dedicated public workstations with the rented CC suite on them.So say that a project needs photoshop specific features which no other softwarecan do but only for 5-10% of the projects development time. That means each ofthose 100 seats would only need it 5-10% of the time. So consider justthe needed computers: say 10 computers with CC on them. So just to keep themath simple I'll use the $50/mo US pricing. The ad firm would be out $500/mo(50*10) as opposed to $5,000/mo that is an order of magnitude.

Len Williams said: I upgraded to CS6/CC for one reason only: Adobe Muse, their new web design software that's finally arrived to replace their long-absent GoLive product. It's a great web development tool but is still essentially in beta and is missing a lot of features. For example, its forms widget still doesn't have radio buttons, checkboxes or pulldown buttons. Most of the other features, however, are amazing and speed web design, prototyping and construction by leaps and bounds. In a couple of years Muse will be software that will make other development tools look like toys. I personally dislike the subscription model. I was still using CS4 until I upgraded, simply because there was nothing about the later versions that was a must-have.

Bob said: I'm laying out pages in CS4 at the moment because the company I freelance for work in CS4. They have no intention of upgrading. They use CS4 because they're very busy people and they find that it's stable. Upgrades are risky and often glitchy - not what you need on a busy mag with tight deadlines. Stability to most designers and companies is much more important than having access to the latest software - most of which, let's be honest, we won't even use. I can understand this having a bad effect on Adobe's revenue stream, fair do's, but I'm really not sure that Creative Cloud is going to benefit many people really, except Adobe.

richardginn said: The main reason to move to the cloud is that they get a monthly check from you. Too many people stuck on older versions of Adobe Software that they are not upgrading after each release comes out since it works well and it does everything they need.That is causing profit problems and money generation problems for the company.They have a full shot at going under if the Creative Cloud idea is a bust.I am not the Adobe Creative Cloud model person. I need a rent to own model.

Bob said: Excellent piece. Of course the other reason is to prevent piracy, which, let's face it, is still pretty widespread. In fact I wouldn't be surprised if that wasn't the main reason.I'm a freelance designer and I'm sticking to CS6, (CS5 and CS4!). Sometimes we have to wait a long time to get paid - often as much as 60 days - and if say, two or more clients mess up and lose your invoice and you suddenly find yourself properly skint and not able to keep up with the subscriptions, then not only would you be skint but also bereft of the means of putting it right! Sod that.

KC said: RE: the "mature product" thing people keep spouting: do people really not see a lot of room for improvement in the Adobe products.Yes, they work, and work well, but there's a myriad of things in each one that can be improved upon.Moreover, while InDesign will probably remain the most "stable" feature-wise (it was just given a 64-bit rewrite), the rest - especially the video and web products - will need to keep pace with rapidly changing format and delivery standards. Especially in the cases of those products, the era of the "big upgrade" is far (very far) from over.As far as the pricing, the "all-in" price is fine, but there could be smaller tiers of products for those with more specialized needs. People who think the products are overpriced are thinking Photoshop should cost the same as Microsoft Office, rather than the same as professional-level software in the same class as the Adobe stuff. No matter how you pay for it, Premiere and After Effects are still less expensive than Smoke, Avid Media Composer, and other professional video editing products with which they have to compete on features.

John V. Keogh said: It's maths - short for mathematics - which tells me £16 per month is a lot and £39 is outrageous, but CS has been obscenely priced for years so I don't think Adobe will listen.(" skills in to new mediums" should be " skills in new mediums" or even media.)