Monday, May 14, 2012

Are Software Subscriptions A Good Idea?

Last week Adobe rolled out their Adobe Creative Suite 6 update, and on Friday they started up their Creative Cloud. The "Cloud" is a subscription model for the Creative Suite. For $49.95 a month ($29.95 introductory for the first year for existing CS users) you get access to all of the Creative Suite software.

For users, software subscriptions offer the following advantages:
  1. You're paying a monthly charge rather than the full up-front price (upgrading from CS5.5 is $379.)
  2. Adobe says they'll be making available interim releases throughout the year. You also automatically get access to both Mac & Windows versions, as well as foreign language versions of the software.
  3. Easier installation and transfer from machine to machine.
  4. 20GB instead of 2Gb of storage on the Cloud.
  5. Some additional features and software not available through the regular software purchase.
For Adobe it promises a number of advantages too:
  1. A regular income stream
  2. A mechanism for releasing more frequent updates
  3. It locks users more tightly to the company (if you decide you want to switch to another platform and stop subscribing, you won't have access to the software.)
  4. The subscription model may be able to reduce software piracy.
So good for Adobe, and good for customers. Of course there are downsides. You need to have an active connection to be able to keep using the software:
Do I need ongoing Internet access to use my Creative Suite applications?
Because your Creative Suite applications are installed directly on your computer, you will not need an ongoing Internet connection to use them on a daily basis. However, you will need to be online when you install and license your software, and at least once every 30 days thereafter. The software will alert you when you need to connect to the Internet for a license status check.
It also means that subscribers are locked into paying for the software continually. They can't choose to skip an upgrade (or two or three) if they're fine with the current capabilities of the software.
If I decide to stop my membership, will I still be able to use my Creative Suite software and the other components of Creative Cloud?
When you cancel a month-to-month or annual membership purchased directly from Adobe or let a 3- or 12-month prepaid membership purchased from a retailer expire, you will no longer have access to the CS applications, other desktop software, and services that are components of Creative Cloud.
Ultimately, you have no control over costs beyond a year out. If Adobe increases the subscription cost 15% each year, you can't just choose to take a break, as you'll loose all access to the software:
Will the cost of my membership ever increase?
When you purchase directly from Adobe, the cost of an annual membership will not go up during the 12 months for which you are subscribed. It is possible that the cost of the month-to-month membership will increase, but if it does, you will be notified and given the opportunity to cancel.
And while the more frequent updates sound like a good idea, it does raise the question of quality control, and whether you want to constantly update your software; though Adobe explains that you don't have to update to the new releases immediately, and can continue to use the previous versions.

Even now, Adobe allocates resources to their applications as they gauge demand and interest and they don't do major updates to all of their applications with every major release. There's been a big focus on video editing the last couple of updates, but that may not continue. As one example, their web development tools Flash and Dreamweaver have been less of a focus recently, and may ultimately be replaced by new tools like Edge and Muse. Adobe will keep developing, but they may abandon tools you're using now. If they do, you will have to keep paying to continue to use those older applications, even if you decide to switch to a competitors product.

But perhaps my biggest concern is what it could mean for innovation. Right now, Adobe is dependent on existing and new customers being attracted to the features in the next release. But if they lock a significant portion of their user base into the subscription model, that pressure will ultimately be reduced.

And while Adobe might not see it this way, and may have no plans to change their development cycles and resources, who knows what might happen a few years from now?

I'm not suggesting that this is the plan, but it is a possible long term, unintentional consequence of this change to subscription plans.

Adobe Creative Cloud / FAQ


  1. It's a way I can afford to have the programs. As long as the fee is reasonable, I'm all for it. I sure as heck don't have enough to buy the software out right. . . and then if a new feature comes out; do an upgrade to have it. No. . . I like the monthly option.

  2. I can see your point to your argument that locking in users on a subscription could create a situation for Adobe to get lazy with the interdependence of users. This possibly could cause Adobe to reduce the priory of innovation over it's income stream.

    if I was a betting man I'd said that's not likely. It's possible but in the end the user will win out. If Adobe starts to clearly lag in innovation there will be other vendors around eager to grab market share.

    In addition, I think more and more consumers software vendors will be moving to this 'services' model that encourage subscription over purchase. The reality will be there will always be both types ways to access vendor software.

    What I see in the high end professional IT world is a huge move toward 'software as service' models. The infrastructure is there now with cloud computing and they benefit with lower cost of delivery AND MUCH FASTER turn around in software updates (i.e., bug fixes and innovation).

    As the playing grounds levels with more and more software vendors offering subscription models then all the vendors are faced with greater competition coming up with faster better feature sets because they can release them quickly all at once.