Why Adobe’s Subscription-Only Plan Sucks

Why Adobe's Subscription-Only Plan Sucks

Pay Me. Pay Me Again!

Adobe recently switched to a subscription-only business model for all releases of its popular creative software, which includes the industry-standards Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and Acrobat. Going away are the perpetual licenses that allow users to own releases of bundled software packages. This is bad news for creatives and the number one reason is cost.

Subscriptions to the Creative Cloud service begin at $50-per-month per user and give customers full access to the entire Creative Suite library. This comes out to $600-per-year per person. When Laura and I started this studio back in 2010 we purchased Adobe’s CS5.5 Design Standard software package for $300 (with an educator’s discount). The cost included licenses to install the design tools on both of our machines. It’s clear to see in our case that a one-time flat fee of $150-per-user beats the new pricing model of $600-per-year. If we switched over to the subscription service at the discounted educator’s price of $30-per-month per person we would still lose. That plan would see us doling out $720 each year for both our computers. Not an appealing choice to say the least.

With the mandatory Creative Cloud subscription model users are forever tethered to Adobe’s monthly fees. If the payment cannot be made then access to the design programs will not be allowed, rendering all previous created files useless. Of course one could save copies of work in formats that work universally but this is a time-wasting and overbearing burden to place on professionals who’s time is best devoted to creating solutions for clients.

No Alternative

We feel that this shift in Adobe’s business model is grossly unfair to small businesses, freelancers, students, semi-professionals and amateurs in the design/creative fields. Fifty dollars per month is a lot to spend on software that we will no longer own on our computers. Adobe argues that the price is far less in the long run for a comparable license that grants access to the entire Creative Suite. But this doesn’t ring true for the small guy who has other bills to pay and may not earn the larger commissions that larger design firms do.

And who really cares about access to the full spectrum of 18 programs within the Creative Suite? Most of them are not used very often (or at all) by graphic designers. In our studio we work with only four programs: Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and Acrobat. Just because programs like Fireworks, After Effects and Encore are suddenly made available doesn’t mean we will start using them. Why should we pay for things we won’t be using?

The root of Adobe’s drastic change is most likely corporate greed or a desperate attempt to get revenue in the door. With such an aggressive and surprising switch to subscription-based software it appears that executives are trying to prod users who skip an upgrade (or two, or three) to fork over money. There are many designers who find older versions of Adobe software perfectly viable long after new releases are rolled out. Why should we be forced into having the latest versions of things? Auto companies aren’t forcing drivers to lease the newest model cars. Appliance makers don’t demand we have the newest refrigerators in our kitchens. Designers should continue to have a choice in deciding what is best for our work.

As it stands today, Adobe has a monopoly on the creative software used by designers and there are no viable alternatives to its juggernaut of digital tools. The entry price point is already high enough but this subscription-based service will deter even more people from getting creative by driving it up even more.

What are your thoughts on Adobe’s new subscription-only business model? Will you be able to spend $50-per-month to have access to the software?


Derek Schoffstall started a petition calling on Adobe to eliminate the mandatory Creative Cloud subscription. Sign it if you feel as strongly as we do about this sad news.

  • mtaylor

    My plan is to upgrade my CS5 to CS6 while I still can and wait and hope that either a) Adobe backpedals and keeps things the way they are or b) some company will create a viable set of programs to compete with Adobe and then I’ll make the switch.

  • Jen

    Wow, so informative and well said, David. I had no idea about this issue.
    I’m so glad I have cs6 for now.

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  • Keith

    You can install the software on two machines from one account. And they can be Mac/Win mixed. With your educators discount, that’s $180/per person/per year. And you have access to EVERYTHING, including Typekit (for desktop and web), and so many other features I don’t have room to list here.

    Do your homework before you rush to a decision. Also, you can still buy CS6, and you never have to upgrade if you don’t want to.

  • http://twitter.com/iamAMF AaronMichael

    Maybe I see this differently being new to the design world and a student. I’d so much rather pay $20/month (with the education discount) then shell out hundreds of dollars on the spot that I don’t have. It would take me months to save up the money to buy the program outright. Also from what I understand if you miss a payment you will not be able to use the design program but that won’t render your files useless. You’ll still be able to edit your files just not through the CC or change anything that was done with a special feature through the CC version of the products. I don’t see how a .psd file saved to my computer or external hard drive would not be able to be changed with CS6 since I use the CC the create works all the time and take it school on my USB drive and manipulate those files on the schools version of CS6. Or maybe I’m not fully understanding that portion of it.

    • Luke Taylor

      PSDs don’t suffer from the same issue as AI files and INDD files. If you try to open an AI file built in CC for CC, it will lose editabilty and basically perform the same as an editable PDF. Indesign users get royally screwed, since if you don’t save down to an IDML file, you can’t even open the file or view it.

      Somebody needs to unseat Adobe from their untitled throne.

    • Pixiebrush

      Student versions have always been available for a much better price than regular retail. I don’t see the subscription price as a bargain because after school you will need to continue paying for your subscription if you want to stay up-to-date on your skills. Subscriptions SUCK all the way around. Hands down.

  • http://profiles.google.com/joramoudenaarde Joram Oudenaarde

    Thank you!

    Most companies/people don’t even use half of the CC-suite they offer for ±50 bucks, and these same companies/people tend to upgrade their Adobe software every other iteration. For each and every one of them CC is anywhere between a little and a lót more expensive in the long run.
    Depending on where you live and what CS-suite you used to buy, and upgrade is roughly $700, meaning if you upgrade every other iteration, it would be $700 spent every 3 years. With CC, you’ll be paying $600 per year… So in 3 years you’d be paying about $1100 móre for the same stuff. How many people are actually using those new “features/gimmicks” Adobe stuffs in their primary programs?

    For it’s “nice” they offer everything they have in that one single package, but CS never has been a “one size fits all” suite. Why else would they offer different packages (Design, Master, Web etc.)?

    And price isn’t the only reason why I think (and apparently plenty of people along with me) Adobe is missing the mark here. Most countries get a lot of tax-returns on investing in software (Holland being one of them). With a fixed monthly price, these kind of purchases won’t count as investments anymore, meaning you’re losing even more money since you can wave your tax-return on software investments goodbye.

    Even besides all thát: You will never “own” the software/license, so if you ever decide not to pay for CC, you will not be able to touch your ówn content (of which you own the rights). You can’t simply stop paying and have a 5-6 year old Photoshop or Illustrator lying around to open these files “just in case”. CC is a lifetime investment which you will never, éver be able to stop paying/using.

  • http://caffeine.shugendo.org David “Lefty” Schlesinger

    I agree, it’s a terrible approach that really benefits no one other than Adobe. I’m doubly annoyed because I only just upgraded from CS 5 Master Suite to CS6 back around the beginning of April.

  • Sam

    Yes. It’s a total money grab. I upgrade every other suite or even less often when I can. This is going to cost me a bunch of money I don’t have. This is monopolism couched in pro consumerism.

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  • TonkaTuck

    I will never pay a subscription for software. If you make your subscription mandatory, don’t be shocked when I pirate your software and give you the finger. Their prices were already at extortionist levels, and now they want to complain customers don’t upgrade enough? Maybe that’s because your upgrades provide hardly any value for what you’re charging, morons.

  • noelphx

    This is killing freelancers (like me)! I guess I’ll be stuck using CS4 forever…

  • 3OO

    I own a hard copy of both PS CS6 and DW CS6 (on disc). Paid alot for them, and get no upgrades!? Now I needed software for my Roland Ecosol printer/cutter and refuse to pay rent for software. Corel will get a fresh break, my business and my money. I’ll adapt and will Boycott any and all spending with Adobe until they bring back the hard copies. Fight back! BOYCOTT!

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  • Urthwise

    I have been an adobe user for many years but, I will find other products to use before I start paying Adobe subscription fees.

  • Brendan

    I’ll admit that a part of me cringed when I learned that the only way for me to get started with Adobe Illustrator was to sign up for SaaS and that’d I’d be getting a whole lot of extra stuff I had no interest in to boot. But within a couple days of signing up for the free CC trial, I was changing my mind. I definitely sometimes still think about how much I’m going to pay over time, but since I never purchased Adobe software in the past, I have nothing to compare it to.

    A quick search on Bingle reveals that Illustrator CS6 and other older versions of Adobe software are still readily available, brand new for anyone to buy. Creative Cloud does nothing to hinder your ability to use older versions and just like the last time you bought Photoshop, you’re stuck with the features that edition has, no more, no less.

    A subscription to CC gets you every update, good or bad, and many many tools for talented designers to learn more about their craft and get better work to clients. Or if you’d like, subscribe to a single app for a much reduced price.

    To the reader who thinks pirating software is a mature, professional response to what you see as unfair pricing and business models, then I hope that works for you. Meanwhile I’ll be rolling my CC costs into my pricing like a smart business person, and counting the checks from all the dope shit I’m crafting now that I have the world’s greatest design and development suite at my disposal.

  • Pixiebrush

    I too will NEVER switch to a subscription model. They are just putting themselves at jeopardy much the way Quark did back in the day. Onward and forward. I’m looking for replacement software once my digital copy of CS6 (I missed out on getting a hard copy) is no longer usable. Maybe Corel??

  • Big Sigh…

    Feels sort of like what I imagine people felt after the US government got the “temporary war effort property taxes” approved which never went away, and ultimately ended the ability of land owners to live solely off of their land if they chose. Basically, turned land ownership into land leasing from the government. It also forced everyone who “owns” land to participate in the US currency program as the government does not accept any other form of payment other than seizure of assets upon continued failure to pay. Basically, the landlord kicking the deadbeat tenant out. If all commercial software took this route and you required several packages to operate your business…. you would be forced to pass the cost on to customers as a small biz owner and likely be priced out of business by large corporations that get high volume discounts and therefore do not have to charge as high of a markup per project so long as the volume of business was high enough. In the long run if this becomes a trend it will likely further reduce the number of small business owners in the US. Most of whom, unsurprisingly are members of the middle class which has been dwindling for years as is. When you get squeezed by both big biz and big brother…. then what?

  • grantlee3000

    Adobe is one huge mess. I paid a lot of money several years ago for CS6 on disk. Then my computer hard drive crashed and had to be replaced, but CS6 would not reload without the proper installer which has been discontinued by Adobe — and I can’t seem to find the right updated version. I was told that I could upload CS6 on a second computer, but first I have to deactivate CS6 on the first computer which is now long gone. So now I have no option but go with CC creative cloud!

  • Gordon

    Another point, there are a lot of people who are not design professionals but who want to use design tools occasionally. I am a musician and I have used Photoshop and Dreamweaver for years to make and update websites and to produce promotional materials and album covers etc. I don’t use the software everyday I use it once in a while when needed. I can’t justify the cost of a monthly subscription, I could justify a one off payment and then skipping a couple of iterations of the software to make that investment viable over time. It worked for me. There will be a lot of people like me who are now squeezed out, and what are we going to do. One of 2 things 1) New companies will spot the gap in the market and bring new apps out in competition (e.g affintity) and we will use them. Adobe lose sales or 2) As another poster mentioned we will use pirated software. Adobe lose sales.

    I think this is a bad idea and worse it punishes the little guys, but that is short sighted. Even the best designers were poor once. You lose people at ground level to another software, they are not going to come back to you once they are successful. Suddenly 15 years time you are no longer the industry standard because all the young guns are now established and using your competitors software, because it was available to them when they started.

    Oh dear Adobe