Adobe’s new subscription-based pricing structure for the Creative Suite (CS6) and Creative Cloud scare me a bit – not because it’s not a great deal, because of what it signals about the way that software might be priced and purchased in the future across the market. At face value, the Creative Cloud sounds great – $50/month for immediate access to the latest version of just about everything Adobe makes, and then some. That’s if you sign up for a full year, which comes to $600 annually, per person. Month to month plans are $75/mth. Photoshop alone retails for $699, so for a lot of creative professionals this seems like a no brainer. Even if you commit to a year as an individual, and cancel after 6 months, you’ll only owe 50% of what’s left on your contract to get out (6 months would cost you $300 + $150 = $450 ).
Adobe is smart. By making the entire suite affordable, they’re counting on you locking yourself into a product that they can license and maintain in real time. So what’s the big deal?
Well, for starters, now you’re renting and you don’t actually own anything. That might not be a big deal if you’re part of a large organization with a big budget, but a lot of small teams and freelancers are bootstrapping to their eyeballs and need the flexibility to get in and out of commitments cheaply and easily. Agreements like this means having to carefully plan cash flows and usage a full year out, or you could be paying big bucks just to NOT use or have access to the software anymore. For instance, if a team of 5 creatives all have Creative Cloud licenses for a year, and things change 6 months in, the team owes Adobe $25 bucks per month, per person for the rest of the contract just to quit and disband – that’s $750 in license fees that they’re still on the hook for. Again, in the case of a small team this might not seem like a big deal. But what happens when most of the marketplace has moved to a subscription-based “software rental” model, and you have to pay similar quitting costs for 3, 5 or even 10 licenses for each team member? That could be a significant concern for small teams who used to buy and own software, and are ok with upgrading every 2-3 years because they don’t need the newest releases and features of every application they use to get their work done.
To sum up, what I’m concerned about isn’t what Adobe’s doing specifically, I’m more concerned about the fact that they are a market leader and how this model scales for individuals and teams. The traditional model of buying and owning, while less affordable in the beginning, seems like it comes with less baggage and a huge upshot if projects go sour because the consequences are simple and the costs are easily manageable (mostly fixed).
This makes me wonder if there’s any room for a creative payment option that allows people who have subscribed for long enough to buy the current version of the software that they’re on (and not receive future updates etc?) at some point in the contract to avoid ex-renters remorse after shelling out quitting costs.