The Micro-Economics of Creative Cloud

Dock Icons on Mac for Adobe CS6Today, Adobe launched a new subscription service called Creative Cloud: For $50 month, you get access to the full Master Suite (their most expansive collection of design, publishing, video-editing and audio-editing programs), plus a host of other exclusive programs, standalone programs like Lightroom, and 20 gigabytes of cloud storage. I'm generally skeptical of subscription apps, especially ones as heavy duty as the Adobe Suite. I much prefer to buy shrinkwrapped software. When you purchase a physical copy of software, you actually own the right to use the programs, the price can't be increased on you once you've bought in, and the terms of the license agreement can't be changed mid-stream. And I'm always skeptical of storing information on the cloud, if only because I don't always work from places that are internet-ready: Whether cutting video on-site in a rural middle eastern village, trying to get ahead of a deadline while riding the metro to work or stopping by an office that doesn't have public wifi, I'm away from the cloud often enough to consider it a major inconvenience.

But even I have been excited for Creative Cloud, which is why I was so puzzled by the reaction a lot of internet commenters have had over the past few months.

"[The student pricing of] $360 a year is not student-friendly," said one commenter. On another forum, there was vitriol from people indignant that they would be asked to pay the full price of $600 a year for a host of programs when they only use one or two. Others were angry that they'd need to continually pay month after month rather than just incurring a one-time expense. On the New York Times website, a commenter wrote angrily about the Creative Cloud plan, saying that he was going to switch his employees over to freeware that "did the same things better."

That's when I realized something foundational about the blowback: It's not coming from the target audience. The Creative Cloud is aimed at professionals (and companies) that use the full range of Adobe products, or might be willing to try more of them out if they had the chance. The organizations that either upgrade every time Adobe releases a new Creative Suite or else wish they could.

The freeware-loving commenter specified that he was switching his operation over to CutePDF, indicating that the only part of the Creative Suite about which he cares is the PDF-creation capabilities offered by Adobe Acrobat. Others, complaining about needing to pay $50 a month when all they want is one or two programs, are overlooking the fact that they can either continue to just buy the one or two programs they want in a shrink-wrapped version or they can subscribe to just the specific programs they want for much less money. There's no need for them to even be worrying about Creative Cloud.

So why am I excited for it?

I work for a relatively small non-profit. (Actually, I work for a church.) Our board is very specific about the methods by which they want to accept donations, so we only take donations by cash or check, and only accept them in person. They want to build relationships with donors, and are willing to sacrifice cash on hand for the sake of ensuring that the people donating understand the life, vision and goals of our church for our city. They're skeptical of opening up online donation portals and just taking donations from people who stumble upon our website. So, we have a small budget, and less than a quarter of it goes to operational expenses like salaries, office supplies and print production.

However, we're also trying to expand the variety and quality of print materials we produce, increase our leveraging of digital media and are considering video production. Right now, we are running on CS4 Design Standard, but the Master Suite of CS6 would suit our needs well: We'd immediately go from just using Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign to using Dreamweaver, Muse and Fireworks, too. Over the next year, we'd likely start integrating Flash, Premiere and After Effects into our workflow. Audition would open up opportunities for us that would be closed off otherwise. And tossing Lightroom into the mix would make life even easier.

But the up-front upgrade price would be a huge barrier to entry. And even though shelling out whatever the latest upgrade price for the Master Suite is every two years (usually, what, $1,000?) amounts to a smaller overall expense than a $600/year subscription, turning the cost into a regular, predictable expense makes budgeting for it much easier.

For anyone already using the Master Suite and upgrading at every benchmark and mid-stream release, or for anyone who wishes they had MasterSuite tools but finds the upgrade price a barrier to entry, it seems to me that Creative Cloud is for you.

Everyone else: Relax, and just don't buy it.

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