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Survey: Adobe discount draws customers to subscription plan

Cutting the Creative Cloud subscription price 40 percent to $30 a month is a big draw -- but what'll happen at full price? Also: Photoshop and Illustrator get Retina support.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
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Stephen Shankland
5 min read
Survey results about Creative Cloud price promotion
CNET and Jefferies

Apparently Adobe Systems can persuade skeptics that its Creative Cloud subscription plan is worthwhile -- as long as the price is right.

That's one finding from a survey by CNET and analyst firm Jefferies this month. Nearly half of the 525 respondents already are subscribers, and of them, 59 percent said deeply discounted introductory pricing was a "major" influence in signing up for the Creative Cloud.

The Creative Cloud subscription is a monumental change to Adobe's business. Instead of persuading customers to buy perpetual licenses to Photoshop, Illustrator, Premiere Pro, Edge, and other members of the Creative Suite (CS), the company is pushing a subscription that grants customers access to all that and more for $50 a month for a one-year commitment. To get buyers on board, Adobe cut the price to $30 a month.

Creative Cloud customers also get software updates when they're done, not when the next full CS version arrives. Today, subscribers will get a hot, new feature: support for Apple's high-resolution Retina display in Photoshop and Illustrator, though Adobe said it'll also bring that to traditional customers. Adobe plans to detail more Creative Cloud news at an online event at 10 a.m. PT tomorrow.

CNET and Jefferies

Subscription pricing means more predictable revenue for Adobe and, potentially, easier sales once a customer is on board. And as happened with its shift from individual products to the Creative Suite a few years ago, Adobe is trying to convince people to pay for the full suite of its software, not cheaper options with more limited collections. That many are positive about it at the $30 monthly price is encouraging, but it remains to be seen how hard Adobe's revenue will be hurt by diminishing of up-front licensing payments and how popular the subscription will be at $50 a month.

The company has a lot of persuading to do. A March survey by Jefferies and CNET showed 41 percent of respondents held negative views of the Creative Cloud, 27 percent of people were neutral, and 32 percent were positive.

And there's still worry. "I don't believe small studios can afford to pay for the cloud and don't like the idea of being held hostage -- especially if prices go up year after year," one respondent to the December survey commented.

CNET and Jefferies

Of those who haven't upgraded to CS6 or the Creative Cloud, 61 percent said they didn't know what they'd do. For those with concrete plans, though, 30 percent said they planned to upgrade to CS6 products, and 11 percent said they planned to upgrade to the subscription.

When Creative Cloud customers stop paying, the software stops working. Accounts can be reactivated if necessary, and Adobe also offers a $75-per-month plan for those who want to commit to only a month at a time.

The pricing has won others over, though. Another respondent commented:

The main reason my company went to Adobe's cloud is we upgrade to a new version of the suite roughly every other year -- usually two versions between upgrades...Moving to the cloud, we upgraded from multiple copies of CS4 Design Premium and Production Premium. If you do the math on the discounted cloud service, 24 months times $30 equals $720. That is close to cheapest we ever paid for any of the suites. With Adobe's cloud service you are basically getting the master suite which retails for over $2,000. Even at $50 [per month] it is still a fair deal: $50 times 24 months equals $1,200.

The Creative Cloud is preaching to the choir of faithful Adobe users, with suite users the most frequent people to move to the subscription, and of those, the users of the most recent versions more common than users of earlier versions.

Of the Creative Cloud subscribers, 29 percent came from CS5.5, 19 percent from CS5, and 16 percent from CS4, the survey found.

CNET and Jefferies

About 66 percent of respondents said they were "very satisfied" with the pace of Creative Cloud improvements. Among those improvements, Adobe has added the Edge tools for Web development, added Lightroom, and expanded some options for Illustrator.

Regardless of how people paid for them, Adobe's creative tools seem to have modestly increasing importance to survey respondents. Although 51 percent said there's no change to the relevance of those tools, the 38 percent who said they're becoming more important to their design process outweighed the 11 percent who said the tools are becoming less relevant.

Adobe also has less dramatic subscriptions -- $20 per month to use just Photoshop, for example. That carries some appeal for those who are put off by the full price -- about $540 at retail right now. (The full CS6 Master Collection retails for more than $2,250.)

"I'm a partial subscriber, renting individual programs on an as-needed basis, which is AMAZING for me because I can use the whole range of products at a price I can afford," a respondent said. "Before, I was forced to use open-source software because of the prohibitive up-front cost of Adobe products."

CNET and Jefferies

Adobe is expanding what it sells even as it changes how it sells it. One major new thrust is to embrace Web development using the rising stars of the standards world, HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript. That's a crucial area, since Adobe's Flash has no future on Android and iOS mobile devices and Web standards are gradually taking over in Flash's stead for some tasks.

Adobe has been aggressively extending its range of Web design tools, with new options such as Edge and Muse joining the much older Dreamweaver. And there is some optimism for Adobe's prospects here: Of those who had an opinion on the matter, 59 percent said Adobe's tools are better than other alternatives, 15 percent said the same, and 6 percent said worse.

But when it comes to Web development, the arrival of open standards such as JavaScript, HTML5, and CSS3 means Adobe faces a harder sale.

CNET and Jefferies

Despite the enthusiasm for Adobe tools, open Web standards haven't meant more Adobe software usage for most of the respondents whose work is affected by those standards. About 49 percent said there was no effect on Adobe tool usage, 31 percent said they use Adobe tools more, and 21 percent said they use them less.

The Web design tools are included in the Creative Cloud subscription, and judging by new products and several acquisitions, it's an area where Adobe is aggressively investing. As long as the subscription cost is manageable and the updates come fast enough, it could be a lucrative vein for Adobe to mine.