Adobe Creative Cloud for Consumers?

Last week (17 May), Adobe finally released its much anticipated, Creative Cloud subscription service. The service, which the company describes as a "digital hub", offers end-to-end use of Adobe's slew of professional tools, giving users access to its latest bundle of applications in Creative Suite 6, as well as previews of the newer Adobe Muse, for website design, and Adobe Edge, for creating animation. Perhaps more notably, its cloud functionality allows users to store and share their work by syncing over the web, as well as keeping up to date with patches and service packs. Though Creative Cloud is not entirely cloud-based-the applications are downloadable and licensed for as long as the subscription exists-that aspect of it is among its biggest draws.

But as is often the case with Adobe products, affordability has hijacked much of the public debate about Creative Cloud. The service has a standard price tag of £46.88 per month with a one-year commitment or £70.32 per month without a contract (and nearly half that amount in education pricing and for users upgrading from earlier versions of CS).

Creative Cloud's annual subscription cost of £562.56 (or £843.84 without a contract), as compared to the £2,223 price tag for a full purchase of the CS6 Master Collection, offers users a considerable discount. The concept of software-as-a-service, which Adobe has pushed to another level by offering high-end software like CS6 on-demand, is one that will likely grow in popularity. It softens the blow of what would otherwise be a large initial investment by turning it into manageable monthly instalments and adding other integrated functionality that makes it easier to swallow as a service rather than as an upfront purchase.

For designers or photographers or other creative professionals whose livelihoods depend heavily on Adobe products, a monthly payment of £46.88 makes financial sense, unlike having to pay a much larger sum of money upfront. Therefore, Creative Cloud offers an incentive to purchase the software legally, acting as a piracy-deterrent for professional users who may have been priced out of owning legal versions of the Master Collection up until now. In that sense, the perks of software-as-a-service are clear for both user and manufacturer.

But for the average consumer, for whom Photoshop has largely come to be perceived as the only viable option for simple tasks like cropping vacation photos or retouching red eyes, even the discount of Creative Cloud is a steep and impractical cost.

This significant slice of the user base consists of hobbyists or consumers who want to use the software recreationally and may be willing to pay a reasonable monthly or annual fee but are priced out by Adobe's professional- and enterprise-targeted pricing. By failing to offer stratified services aimed at the average consumer featuring lower, or at least more variable, price points, Adobe continues to exclude potentially large numbers of its market. The result is that, over the years, the company's best known product has also become one of the world's most pirated.

By proxy of its sheer Goliath status, would-be competitors like GIMP and the web-based Pixlr, who might otherwise take a bite into Adobe's consumer market share, have little leverage. Though they might offer the same, or better, functionality, such applications or websites are almost automatically discounted, simply by virtue of not having Photoshop's brand recognition.

Adobe, like Microsoft before it with Office, has demonstrated a legacy of overestimating its power. By denying potential users different levels of access to software and support through which they could to pick and choose what is appropriate for their needs, Adobe is, in essence, making the piracy of its products appear to be an attractive option for many. Like Apple and iTunes did with selling singles instead of forcing consumers to purchase entire albums, Adobe should offer consumers the option to access individual applications for a considerably lower price. The company should look at the larger picture, rather than what it may appear on the surface to be a negligible slice of the market.

While we don't condone piracy and believe software should always be purchased legally, we would be remiss to ignore the fact that piracy of Adobe products is rife and the fact that much of that piracy could be avoided. If the company were to adopt a more flexible approach to the pricing and availability of its software, the legal option would be more feasible for non-professional users - after all, who wouldn't want the support forums, webinars and other benefits that Adobe offers its registered users?

Piracy is something Adobe acknowledges as a problem, but the company has not demonstrated a real commitment to addressing it, relying instead on more aggressive licensing strictures, for which there are always work-arounds and which do not build goodwill with the public. Moreover, Adobe's behaviour in other arenas further prompts piracy.

For instance, its history of outrageously higher pricing in international markets is alienating to virtually everyone outside of the US. The UK pricing for Creative Cloud is more than 30 per cent higher than the US, and that much is consistent across most other territories. And a full purchase of CS6 is nearly $1,000 more expensive in the UK than it is in the US. Adobe attributes this to the higher price of doing business in non-U.S. regions but whatever the company's justification, it still leads to piracy.

Additionally, the company's response to the news that CS5 contained a bug that led to a security breach was another example of how its actions can lead to piracy. After it was announced in a security bulletin earlier in May that a bug in the software empowered hackers to control computers remotely, the company's original suggested solution was for a paid upgrade to CS6. That is, rather than fix the security problem to protect its customers, Adobe suggested they buy new software. It has since been resolved, with Adobe promising to fix the bug, but the damage has been done in terms of public perception.

Despite these missteps, however, Adobe continues to be an innovator, and it's likely that other manufacturers will follow suit with regards to offering high-level software as a service. Until then, it's a matter of whether or not the public pressure gets loud enough, and whether Adobe listens.

Update: Adobe does, in fact, offer individual software subscriptions. Photoshop is available for £17.58 per month with a one-year commitment or for £27.34 per month without a contract. Individual subscriptions are available directly through each software's product page in the Adobe Store, rather than through the Creative Cloud membership page.