Earlier this year Adobe committed to a customer strategy that can accurately be described as bold.
The Creative Cloud offering rather abruptly shifted the Adobe customer relationship to a subscription model, with access to most Adobe software possible only with payment of a monthly fee. We are now month to month. Depending on who you talk to, it is an incredible deal with vastly improved fexibility or a loathesome burden with handcuffs.
With the passing of several months and the release today of the first major interim update since that time, it seems clear that Adobe has no plans to reverse course, and so we decided to revisit what was a hot topic of debate a few months ago. The basic facts and factors haven’t changed too dramatically, so the idea is to gauge where the community is at with Creative Cloud, particularly now that Adobe has had its first chance to deliver on the initial promise of an improved customer experience with CC.
This article avoids anonymous opinions on forums and hagiographies from marketers (full disclosure: I have done a lot of work with Adobe over the years). I decided to trace what seem to be the themes that were common to more than one interviewee, to get the flavor of where Adobe’s customer base in post-production is at. Represented are freelancers and employees or owners of major studios in Hollywood, New York, and Europe, along with such far flung regions as San Francisco and Sydney. Credits, with twitter handles, are included at the end of the article.
I also asked Steve Forde, Adobe Product Manager of After Effects, to respond.
WE ARE NOT DISPLEASED WITH THE SOFTWARE ITSELF—WHY, IT MAY ACTUALLY BE IMPROVING
“I have 10 apps on my machine. I'd say Lightroom was the big discovery, previously I'd been a Bridge / Photoshop kinda guy.” – Matthew Law
“The video end of the suite in particular seem to be taking this in the best way, i.e. delivering an almost immediate response to critics and addressing some of the longer running issues rather than making new features.” – Dan Lucyszyn-Hinton
“Updating is better. Traditionally, Adobe updates have been cumbersome and annoying. Now they seem much less intrusive. I don't fear them any longer.” – Barry McWilliams
“I do not see improvements right now that I can relate to the subscription model or ‘cloud’” – Martin Weber
It is early to say for sure, but what the teams within Adobe love about a subscription-based customer base is that rather than targeting new customers with big, brand-new never-before-in-Adobe features for each annual release, they can make the improvements they’ve always wanted to make, that serve the people who they want to keep subscribing.
Here's what Adobe's Steve Forde has to say:
“After Effects is a 20 year old application. For each release (Creative Suite was on an annual cadence since CS5) and our job on the After Effects team was to make some 'significant' feature(s) updates along with minor improvements once per year with the in hopes that it would be enticing enough on the 'tin' to encourage you to upgrade over the previous release.
Creative Cloud changes all that. Frankly, from the After Effects team perspective, Creative Cloud gives us the opportunity to do things in the application we have wanted to do for 20 years. Now we can deliver features faster to you than once every 18-24 months, which was the past Creative Suite perpetual release cadence. In fact, our job now is to not just come up with innovative new features that offer more creative capability, it is to 'retain' you as a customer month by month. Since our customer (you), can cancel a subscription at any point if you are dissatisfied for whatever reason, we must make continuous improvements to features and workflow already in the application and deliver these new features more frequently. We’ve quickly adopted this new rhythm, as evidenced by 20+ new Premiere Pro features released in July and more than a 150 new updates across our video tools coming this fall.”
So while the jury may seem still to be out with just one round of updates having followed the initial CC offering, it sounds as though development within Adobe has shifted significantly, and the next year or two will reveal the true results.
TERMS OF SURRENDER ARE NOT FORTHCOMING
“It’s rare to work with the latest version of anything in this town” – Shane Ross
“Q: Do you buy the premise that Adobe can provide better software with this model?
A: There's a compelling argument there…But it relies HEAVILY on my believing that Adobe is a “good” (meaning moral) company. I don't fully believe that. I don't fully disbelieve it either. Adobe's actions will prove it one way or the other.” – Barry McWilliams
“Customers became cattle. Adobe finally showed their true face. We don't count. Adobe's cash-flow precedes over how thousands of businesses run their business. Which is why it failed in European and Asian markets. We're not so keen on indentured servitude based models. America has a different history there. Anything goes as long as the near future is covered, long term effects and past events don't count.” – Frank Jonen
Shane’s point may be the most significant. It’s understandable that Adobe would want its customers to work with the latest versions of its software; for one thing, it significantly reduces support and compatibility issues that can plague older versions. But Creative Cloud is only a no-brainer for companies that upgrade with each major annual release, or even every other annual release.
The old model is to be paranoid, and never upgrade until it’s absolutely necessary for the bottom line of the company. This may help explain why so many studios still run Final Cut Studio. But imagine if apps for iOS or other mobile platforms were only updated once every 12-18 months. Increasingly, the risks could conceivably become higher with the status quo, even if that's not currently the case any more than it has ever been.
Meanwhile, one group that hasn’t received a satisfactory response from Adobe is the casual user base. This isn’t just people who only use Photoshop once in a while for personal projects, it includes people who work day in/day out with Adobe software but only occasionally work freelance, in their own studio. Having been one of these people at various points in my career, I can say that there are times when upgrading seems like a no-brainer, and other times when the home studio barely gets any use, but it’s still more than handy to be able to jump into even an older version of an application.
THERE EXISTS A HALFHEARTED LONGING FOR GREENER PASTURES
“Yes, I feel like a renter. I touched on this above. It's more onerous than renting, however. When I'm renting a home, for example, there are thousands of other homes, as nice or better, should I decide that I don't like where I live. There are not thousands, not even a half-dozen, professional alternatives to Photoshop & AE.” – Barry McWilliams
“Freelancers have not upgraded, don’t want to spend more money than before, and update only when they can’t open a project anymore.” – Danny Princz
“Our strategy is to find alternatives until early 2015. We might considerably reduce the number of maintained Adobe licenses.” – Martin Weber
Adobe is in a unique position among graphics software companies. Other companies may have managed to charge far more per-license, but there is more than one category in which no credible opponent threatens to unseat the Adobe offering, and yet the landscape can change quickly.
Competition can be good for everyone. It makes the leaders work harder, it inspires new development ideas, and it makes customer value paramount. Adobe would seem to have awakened the competition if indeed it is not giving its customers what they want, and perhaps that is good for Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, and the other applications that have not faced a serious challenger in some time.
DAMMIT JIM, I’M A DOCTOR, NOT SOME HUE IN A RAINBOW
“I'm one of the folks who understands that you only license software, you don't ever technically 'own' it. In practice however, if there is no DRM, and you have the binary on your system/on disk, they can't really enforce a revocation of the license — it's owned de facto, if not legally. You'll always be able to launch and run it.” – Christopher Harrington
“It's why I use text files when I write, so that I am beholden to no writing program. With the subscription-based tools, I feel utterly beholden.” – Barry McWilliams
“On average we would skip every other release, sometimes maybe even two releases. With CS 5.5 where XDCAM support was broken there was little incentive to upgrade and we did not upgrade to CS 6 as Adobe's push to CC was clear. With CS 6 being a dead end there is no intention to upgrade to it.” – Martin Weber
Lost in the argument against the subscription model is that there may be more to Creative Cloud for users than just comparing it with the model of buying the software you need at a premium, and only when you need it.
Steve Forde, again:
“It's a brave new world.
Technology is a commodity. In fact, inter-connected / networked technology crossing multiple devices and platforms is the new normal. Our goal with Creative Cloud is to weave together traditional desktop applications with interconnected services that has the sole purpose of satisfying the demands of you, our professional user. Fonts, files, storage, and synchronization are just but a few that we have introduced via Creative Cloud – and I firmly believe you should expect a whole lot more.
The point is, your clients / employers demand you to provide more with less – and we need to enable you to deliver. At the same time, the opportunity for creative expression is also at the hands of anyone who is willing to invest the time. It is no longer in the realm of only those who could afford the (what used to be) very expensive kit (hardware and software). Creative Cloud subscriptions allow us to dramatically reduce the barrier of cost to a wide audience without sacrificing the financial stability of Adobe.”
ADOBE’S DESIGNERS AND ENGINEERS ARE GREAT, BUT THEIR COMPANY AS A WHOLE MAY NOT ALWAYS COMMUNICATE SO CAREFULLY AS THEY DO, INDIVIDUALLY
“Getting feedback *directly* from product managers and team leaders says a lot about the character of the company.” – Christopher Harrington
“I was in contact with our authorized Adobe dealer and Adobe sales representative from the very beginning when Adobe started with the cloud service (before CC). Neither was able to answer my questions and explain the service. Also with CC Adobe was not able to provide any meaningful answers. Their team subscription came late in the process with little merits and an added costs and they have been changing rules along the way. Before that we were not even able to take part in CC in a meaningful way. They are still unclear about how to exit the subscription (consequences are not clearly stated, no time limits are given, the legal issues for companies are not clear). Also, when buying through authorized dealers there is an extra administrative and legal layer including the commitment to audits by Adobe within 30 days of notice for as long as 2 years after ending rental with the obligation to prove purchases etc.” – Martin Weber
The contrast between the two quotes above speaks to the difference between how the public views the teams that make Adobe software, and those who communicate information about such nuances as comparative pricing, extra benefits for teams and groups, and why the subscription model is not an instant fit for everyone.
EVERYONE HAS THEIR PRICE
“Creative Cloud for teams is € 70 rather than CC for individuals at € 50 (all before taxes). That's € 1,200 per year more for 5 seats just to be able to license more than one seat. I think we should rather get a rebate.” – Martin Weber
Finally, there is definite skepticism as to where the Creative Cloud price will stabilize, and whether the pressure will be for the price to increase or decrease. Not everyone worldwide pays the same price for Creative Cloud, and yet there is no question that a price exists that would satisfy the vast majority of Adobe customers worldwide, even on a monthly basis.
Meanwhile, the one change that the most people want to the existing model is a buy-out; the ability to plateau with a given version of the software by having subscribed for a sufficient period, and the guarantee that those versions will at least be able to open files in their format for a given period. The period most often proposed is five years.
Five years is a long time in the current world of computing and software. If Adobe is right, the need for upgrades and services will far outstrip the conservative approach that would allow anyone to park a given application for half a decade, or even a year or two. If the price is a bargain and the quality of the offering for dedicated users rises, Adobe’s chances of success are assured, but at this early date, the jury of public opinion still finds many in the “undecided” category.
Barry McWilliams @barrymcw
Chris Harrington @octothorpe
Dan Lucyszyn-Hinton @dan_hin
Danny Princz @rendernyc
Frank Jonen @frankjonen
Martin Weber @martinweber
Matt Law @foughtthelaw
Shane Ross @comebackshane
Steve Forde @sforde