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Adobe Shifts to the Cloud With Subscription-Based Creative Suite

The powerhouse maker of Photoshop will begin selling its programs for a monthly fee. What does it mean for you?

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On Monday, software giant Adobe announced plans to fundamentally change the way in which it distributes its creative applications. No longer will the maker of Photoshop, Acrobat, Illustrator, and InDesign sell boxed versions of its flagship programs. Instead, it will focus on its Creative Cloud (CC) service—an online, subscription-based suite of Adobe products that launched in April of last year. Already, the service has garnered more than half a million members.

"Our plans for Creative Cloud are much greater than the applications themselves," Adobe wrote on its website. "Our vision is to remove friction from the creative process and make it more productive and connected."

Adobe CC offers full access to CS6, plus 20 GB of storage space, for $49.99 per month. Customers can alternatively purchase individual programs, such as Photoshop, for $19.99 a month. Now, compare those respective long-term fees of $600 and $240 a year to the boxed price of CS6 (more than $1,000) and Photoshop ($699).

"Our plans for Creative Cloud are much greater than the applications themselves."

Still, this move has been met with criticism from the millions of photographers, artists, and other creative professionals who rely on Adobe products. Some worry that a subscription fee allows Adobe to raise prices whenever it wants, while also harnessing greater control over when and how you use the programs.

For instance, as with boxed versions of Adobe applications, CC subscribers will be able to download two copies of the software, but they will not be able to operate these two programs at the same time. This could be problematic in professional environments, where simultaneous use of the software is necessary. Furthermore, while Adobe will continue to sell boxed versions of CS6, owners will not be able to update their already purchased software without subscribing to CC, because all updates will only be disseminated through the cloud service.

All this explains why an informal LA Times poll showed only 14 percent of respondents agree that Adobe's cloud-based software will be a better deal for consumers.

Even so, there are clear advantages to CC, and it’s easy to imagine how a few short-term frustrations will be whittled away over the long run. For some, the monthly fee is a more prudent way of buying important software.

"The regular monthly cost is easier for budgeting, even if it will cost us more in the long term," Tony Sokolowski, vice president of design at Vertigo Software, told The Wall Street Journal.

Buyers are even more likely to jump on the subscription wagon overseas, where boxed versions of CS6 can cost more than twice as much. Shockingly, News.com.au recently discovered that for Australian consumers it would be cheaper to fly round-trip to the U.S. to purchase a copy of CS6 Master Collection than it would be to buy it locally.

For some, the monthly fee is a more prudent way of buying important software.

Meanwhile, Adobe is hoping the shift to a cloud-based service will help curb illegal downloading of its software, much like digital downloading and streaming services have done for the music, TV, and film industries.

It’s not difficult to see the similarity between Adobe’s move to the cloud and the music industry’s (gradual, stubborn) shift toward digital and streaming media. Last year, global revenues for the recording industry were up for the first time since 1999—yes, for the first time in 13 years—according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. This was due mainly to the success of digital download and streaming services like iTunes and Spotify, which have helped to disincentivize illegal downloading among otherwise law-abiding consumers. While the music industry will never return to its bloated, speedboats-and-supermodels heyday of the 1990’s, it has returned to stability, and charted a course toward a more sustainable future.

It’s not difficult to see the similarity between Adobe’s move to the cloud and the music industry’s shift toward digital media.

With that analogy in mind, is it not feasible that subscription-based software will offer a similar win-win scenario for Adobe and its customers? Free information zealots are still going to find ways to pirate software. But just as consumers looking for an easy, legal way to get music are happy to pay $10 a month for Spotify Premium, so might artists and photographers looking for a more convenient, economical way to use Photoshop. Microsoft and Autodesk have already made similar moves toward the cloud with Outlook and AutoCAD.

Who knows? If Adobe is successful, maybe we can expect to see monthly subscriptions for Final Cut, ProTools, and Ableton. Hey, I’d buy that—maybe not for $50 a month, but definitely for $20… Okay, $15.