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The Adobe Tax — CS6 Rent vs Upgrade

Editor’s note: most taxes go into a black hole, but at least when one buys software or services, the buyer has a choice to buy or not buy, and something desirable is delivered. So “tax” is perhaps a bit of a pejorative here.

This guest editorial piece is courtesy of Martin Doudoroff, who has pondered the Adobe rent vs buy situation with CS6 (opinions expressed might or might not be the same as MPG).

Adobe is in the process of rolling out Creative Suite 6 (CS6), which comprises between 17 and 25 or so products licensed individually or in various packages. As in the past—and whether it deserves it or not—every app gets a version number bump, every app gets some marketable new features, and for this forward progress, Adobe seeks more money from its customers. There’s nothing wrong with that, in theory. Sales drive software development.

This year is different than past years because Adobe is also launching an outright subscription service called Creative Cloud. Now, as an alternative to purchasing licenses (upgrade or full) for either individual Adobe CS apps or for a bundle, you can instead opt for a monthly or yearly subscription that nets you access to everything CS-related plus a mishmash of additional Internet-based Adobe services. Adobe has provided a handy comparison chart of these options at http://www.adobe.com/products/creativesuite/buying-guide.html.

The key to this situation is really Creative Cloud, because that’s really where Adobe really wants everybody. A full annual Creative Cloud subscription is $600 per year per seat. (They market it as $49.99/month, although it’s really $75/month if you’re not pre-paying for the year.) For people who earn their bread with Adobe apps, $600/year may seem a no-brainer. Those people are Adobe’s favorite customers.

If you already own CS-related licenses, you’ll find that most of your Adobe upgrade options work out to something in the neighborhood of that $600 figure. Upgrades to Photoshop CS6 on its own start at $400. Upgrades to the “Master Collection” license (which is the closest bundle to the Creative Cloud subscription) start at $525, but will be $1050 for many. It doesn’t take remarkable powers of observation to see that Adobe has you targeted for $600/year or so to stay on board with their relentless drive into a better world. And again, for many folks, this is not actually a problem.

[MPG: Martin D means $400 for CS6 Extended, the upgrade price for regular Photoshop CS6 is $199 or from CS5 Extended to CS6 non-Extended it is also $199. Readers should refer to the Adobe web site to be sure of pricing].

Implied in all this, however, is that the individual apps are not all that important—for Adobe—on their own. For years, they’ve been happy to sell you a license for Photoshop for $700 on its own, or (for example) offer you a 45% discount if you’ll instead pay them $1300 for a bundle of three apps. (The CS6 upgrade for that package is $550. You see the pattern.)

Adobe’s pricing structure works out great for Adobe because they get to reallocate their design and programming resources as they see fit—disproportionately—across their entire range of products from year to year, while eschewing any particular commitment to any particular product. Alas, Adobe’s actual customers are not all alike and don’t all share Adobe’s priorities. For them, paying Adobe annually (or semi-annually) is no guarantee that Adobe will invest in the applications that are important to *them*.

A particularly gruesome example is Dreamweaver CS6. This tired old app is receiving its third or fourth bogus “update” in a row from Adobe, for which they would happily exact a $250 upgrade fee from Dreamweaver CS5 users! It appears that for CS6, Adobe has grafted on a few spotty self-serving features (integration with other pay services they offer like Business Catalyst and PhoneGap) without addressing any fundamentals of the app. Indeed, one of their “top new features” is that they’ve updated Live View to so it “uses the latest version of the WebKit rendering engine to provide the ultimate in HTML5 support”. Hilarious! It’s pretty clear they have no interest in updating Dreamweaver’s ancient and obsolete “Design view” or repairing all the broken features and ugliness of the core app. Indeed, all the changes they’ve implemented appear carefully restricted to peripheral aspects of the software that are probably themselves plugins. The fact is there’s nothing new in Dreamweaver CS6 anybody should be paying money for. Rather, Dreamweaver CS6 ought be a free upgrade to existing Dreamweaver licensers, accompanied by an apology.

[MPG note: This site is edited with DreamWeaver. DreamWeaver is rife with bugs, short on time-saving features, and some important features simply cannot be used because of outright malfunction 100% of the time. It is by far the most frustratingly buggy and flawed software MPG has ever used for real work. Over the years, none of these issues are ever addressed. Ever.]

To be fair, Adobe does have three new Web-related products in the works: Muse, Edge and Shadow. None of these are shipping yet. My suspicion is that Adobe sees these products obviating Dreamweaver down the road, but they’re not exactly Dreamweaver replacements and it’s not as if Adobe is really leading their Dreamweaver userbase into the future; rather, Adobe just wants their $600/month and they’re evidently counting on the work they did to some other CS apps to entice you go along for the ride.

So, what did they actually do for CS6? Illustrator has clearly seen the most significant work, including a long-overdue 64-bit rewrite. Photoshop got a laundry list of new features and some UI tweaks. Just about all the other CS6 action is—overwhelmingly—on the audio & video side. (I’ll leave it to you to investigate further if that sounds interesting.)

Make no mistake, Adobe has a lot of wonderful developers doing wonderful work, and the various CS6 apps unquestionably have a lot to offer at almost any price. At the same time—as has been the case throughout the history of the whole Creative Suite era—many users will discover that what they receive for their $600 (or so) will not be commensurate with the hype.

But do you dare disengage from Adobe’s CS cycle? Do you dare skip the Adobe tax and deliberately *fall behind*? In the past, Adobe has provided upgrade options for up to three versions back, providing many customers with the option of skipping a version or two. However, this last winter, Adobe announced they weren’t going to do that any more, meaning that you’d have to purchase a full CS6 license if you didn’t have at least a CS5 license (or CS5.5) or elect instead to subscribe to Creative Cloud. (You can still read the new policy announcement here: http://blogs.adobe.com/conversations/2011/11/adobe-creative-cloud-and-adobe-creative-suite-new-choices-for-customers.html?PID=2159997) A couple months later, Adobe reversed their decision due to the public outcry it produced, but there’s no question what they really want is their users on Creative Cloud and they want their $600/year.

Maybe the pressure is off, but perhaps this is still a good time to step back and ask whether Adobe is going where you want to go? The bitter truth is that many—particularly those in pre-press and publishing—have no choice because Adobe has acquired a monopoly in many areas that the Creative Suite covers. On the other hand, many of Adobe’s applications were showing their age *a decade ago*, and inexpensive alternatives do exist that will meet some peoples’ needs just as well. A few examples:

Me? I’m sure I’ll pony up one more time. Probably I’ll give the Creative Cloud subscription a shot. If so, I’ll do so with considerable ambivalence, but maybe even a degree of relief, for I will be escaping the treadmill of maintaining my foothold in Adobe software licenses. If nothing else, the subscription option is a relatively straightforward proposition: you pay your money, you access the tools, and when you don’t need that any longer, you walk away.

MPG: I have the same decision to make. All I really use is Photoshop and DreamWeaver. I have not yet analyzed the value of rent vs upgrade.

Martin D adds an update (May 8)

So, Adobe is dangling a big fat carrot in front of all the existing CS app licensees to try to get them to subscribe to Creative Cloud instead of buying licenses:

If you own a license for pretty much anything from CS3 onward, you can sign up for the first year of Creative Cloud for $30/month (as opposed to $50). So, a $360 commitment for twelve months, rising to $600/year for subsequent years. Unless they raise the rates, which they eventually will probably do.

(My alternative would be to update my CS5 Design Premium license to CS6 Design Premium for $750.)

Now, here's where it really gets weird. Adobe is being terribly vague about this, but here’s what they’re saying:

“Best of all, your affordable monthly membership keeps you up to date, with access to new features and upgrades as soon as they're released. Get the latest Creative Suite features between major updates, new tablet publishing features coming soon, and much more.”

What they’re claiming is that they are going to start releasing feature updates for their apps incrementally to Creative Cloud subscribers, but they're implying these feature updates will NOT be available to full license holders. Whether the full license holders will have to wait for the next major release or will receive less frequent periodic updates is unclear.

Lots of potential questions here. For example, does this mean that only Creative Cloud subscribers will receive ACR updates? If nothing else, it feels like Adobe is sewing doubt about their commitment to those who would license CS6 as opposed to subscribing to the Creative Cloud service.

MPG: Adobe wants the yearly revenue model for predictable earnings, even if they upgrade nothing at all (don’t be surprised if this happens, once they train their users). I would not be surprised to see the non-cloud option transition away entirely.

As far as access to updates, it would not be surprising to see Adobe “encourage” its users by making the non-cloud version less appetizing.

Second update (May 9)

Reader Andrew observes:

Martin Doudoroff is factually in error when he says:

“If you already own CS-related licenses, you’ll find that most of your upgrade options work out to something in the neighborhood of that $600 figure. Upgrades to Photoshop CS6 on its own start at $400.”

The accurate facts are:

* Upgrades to Photoshop CS6 are $199: http://www.adobe.com/products/photoshop/buying-guide-upgrades.html

* $199 is slightly less than one-third of $600

Perhaps Martin meant Photoshop CS6 Extended upgrades are $399. But that's not the version all photographers use, many of us get by just fine and dandy with standard Photoshop. The approx. $200 upgrade expense every 1 to 2 years actually has not changed for a very long time! (If I recall correctly it was $179 to upgrade from PS 4 to PS 5 in 1998, that was my first upgrade). So the baseline case for a Photoshop user is not nearly as dire as Mr. Doudoroff colors it to be.

Martin responds:

Andrew is absolutely correct that Photoshop CSx to Photoshop CS6 is $199 (and that most photographers probably do not benefit from any of the features of Photoshop Extended). My oversight. My perspective is colored by owning—and depending on—multiple CS app licenses. If you use only one (1) CS app, your upgrade cost will be as per below (as of this writing).

Any version of Photoshop CS3 or later to Photoshop CS6: $199
Any version of Photoshop CS3 or later to Photoshop CS6 Extended: $399
Illustrator CS3, CS4, or CS5: $249
InDesign CS5.5 to CS6: $125
InDesign CS3, CS4, or CS5: $249
Dreamweaver CS5.5: $125
Dreamweaver CS3, CS4, or CS5: $249
Fireworks CS3, CS4 or CS5: $149
Flash Professional CS5.5: $99
Flash Professional CS3, CS4, CS5: $199

If you use more than one CS app, then I believe the conundrum stands. While many fixate on numbers (the prices), I really have no complaint with Adobe’s pricing: I do not see anything “dire” about the prices per se. What troubles me is the disconnect between version numbers, pricing and value. That disconnect is, in some cases, dire indeed. Adobe has created an extremely complicated proposition for their customers. Creative Cloud is perhaps their most honest attempt yet to simplify that proposition.


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