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The New Face of Adobe

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By Gordon Meyer
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Adobe recently hosted its MAX conference, celebrating creativity and the way Adobe products often work as creativity tools.  Considering how extensively Adobe products are used by creative professionals not only in the entertainment industry, but also in the fields of advertising, web design and publishing, it’s good marketing for them to host events like this to build user enthusiasm in much the same way that Apple has done over the years.

While you’ll find my official recap of the MAX conference here on the P3 Update website, I want to talk about a new business model that Adobe introduced at MAX.  These conferences are often used to showcase new products and this year is no exception.  But this year, instead of Creative Suite 6.5 or 7, Adobe has pretty much changed gears, rebranding the suite “Creative Cloud.” Like the CS product line that preceded it, Creative Cloud includes pretty much all of Adobe’s popular applications, including new versions of Illustrator, Photoshop, Premiere and After Effects.  But you won’t be able to go to your local software store to buy Creative Cloud in packaged media format. Moving forward, Adobe has taken a page from Microsoft’s Office 360 playbook and is now offering Creative Suite strictly on a subscription basis.

From a user’s perspective, there are major pros and cons to this approach.  On the plus side, your upfront cost is considerably lower than the $2,100 that Adobe’s CS6 Master Collection would run.  You just pay $50 a month for access to all of the components, which means it would take over three years’ worth of subscription fees to equal the purchase price.  Even better, you’ll automatically get upgraded as each new feature and refinement becomes available.  But the down side is that you’ll never own your copy outright. Once you stop paying that monthly fee, you won’t be able to use any of the Creative Cloud components.  Done.

There’s no doubt that, for some people, the subscription model provides the best value, especially for those who routinely purchase upgrades to their software so they regularly have the newest version.  This of course also assumes that every upgrade that Adobe sends out to users does, in fact, improve the user experience. 

But what if, in their zeal to come out with a new version of Premiere, for example, the new version is noticeably worse than prior versions, as power users of Apple’s Final Cut Pro discovered a few years ago when Apple introduced FCP X. Not only were dedicated FCP users outraged at the reduced productivity of the redesign, they actually went back to older versions of the program until Apple fixed their mess.  But with Adobe’s subscriber and cloud based model, you may not have the option to stick with an older, more stable version of their software.  At least FCP users could go back to Version 7.

Subscriber based computer software is a whole new business model for the industry, which means there’s a learning curve involved for both the publisher (in this case Adobe) and the end user.  Adobe has lots of incentive to successfully transition to this business model as it greatly reduces the risk of bootlegging and provides a steady and consistent stream of income.  On the other hand, if they screw things up and end up pissing off enough of their customer base, within a year or two, we may see the re-introduction of boxed product that users can physically own – or at least the option of paying a onetime purchase price for a collection of installation discs.

I anticipate that studio bean counters are watching companies like Adobe very carefully since studios have historically never really liked the idea of consumers owning copies of their intellectual property outright, even though their home video divisions have generated billions of dollars in revenues over the years using a sell-through business model.  As it is, thanks to cloud based technologies like UltraViolet, the studios already have created a precedent for essentially permanently renting, rather than selling their titles.  Even though, in theory, once you register your UV copy of a movie, you have permanent access to that title, what happens if a UV server dies?  Or if a studio decides to arbitrarily change its Terms of Use agreement so that what was once a permanent license for home use suddenly has an expiration date unless a renewal fee is paid?

Once upon a time, I would have loudly proclaimed that the public is so conditioned to being able to actually buy software like movies, games and computer programs that they’d never even consider the kind of “permanent rental” model that Adobe is launching with its Creative Cloud release.  But time has also proven that consumer buying habits can and do evolve over time, so I wouldn’t be surprised if at some time in the next few years, one or more of the studios adapt the Adobe model for consumer distribution and test market some kind of permanent rental model.

As for me, call me old fashioned, but whether it’s a movie or a computer program, I like having software I actually own a copy of.  And I suspect that I’m far from alone.

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Guest Sunday, 23 November 2014
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