Displeasure was abundant among more than 1,600 Adobe customers responding to a survey by CNET and Jefferies about Adobe's shift to subscription sales. But Adobe's Creative Cloud shows some silver linings.
Adobe Systems still has a lot of work to do convincing its customers it was a good idea to switch its Creative Suite software to its $50-per-month Creative Cloud subscription.
That's one of the messages from a poll of 1,642 readers conducted by CNET and analyst firm Jefferies. Of 740 people using the CS6 generation of Creative Suite products, 76 percent said they planned never to move to the Creative Cloud. And of the 612 respondents using CS5.5 or earlier, only 8 percent said they'd decided to move to the Creative Cloud.
"You should be able to keep whatever version you are at if you decide to end CC. Right now you are held hostage. Bad business!" objected one respondent. Added another, "My workplace will be going from [CS upgrade costs of] $10,000 across 2-1/2 to 3 years to [Creative Cloud fees of] $33,000 once we go full price on these seats. That is an incredible price gouge. And the real problem: we have to do this. We need this software to do our ads, to clean our photos, to make PDFs."
One significant caveat: This was an unscientific survey of self-selected respondents. In contrast to these results, Adobe said its customer satisfaction research showed such a favorable reaction to the Creative Cloud that it accelerated its shift to the subscription model. Nevertheless, it's apparent that dissatisfaction with the subscription shift is common. For Adobe's side of the story, check CNET's interview with David Wadhwani, general manager of Adobe's digital media business.
Adobe's move to selling most of its software exclusively through subscriptions triggered vocal opposition including an online petition signed by more than 26,000 people and angry comments.
But the dissatisfaction isn't the only message. Among those who already subscribed to the Creative Cloud since it arrived a year ago, there are more positive signs. For example, 70 percent said they were somewhat or very satisfied with the Creative Cloud's pace of improvement. And the number who said they'd renew their Creative Cloud subscriptions was three times larger than the number who said they'd cancel.
"I appreciate having an expansive set of tools that are regularly updated, for one low, set price. I spend more on my cell phone service," commented one survey respondent. And the Creative Cloud's product breadth opens up new horizons: "I have and use software I otherwise wouldn't have bought individually...A continually expanding and updated set of tools at a set cost is great for me since I would be a regular upgrader anyway."
It's not clear what will happen with those who disagree. Adobe is convinced it will be able to win them over, aided perhaps by some adjustments to make subscriptions a better value for photography hobbyists and a mechanism to let people view, print, and export their files even after they've stopped subscribing.
But for the most part, Adobe isn't yielding.
"We understand this is a big change, but we are so focused on the vision we shared for Creative Cloud, and we plan to focus all our new innovation on the Creative Cloud," Wadhwani said in an interview Tuesday.
How the Adobe's subscriptions work
Adobe offers two varieties of subscription. The higher profile choice is the full Creative Cloud, which includes all the Creative Suite products, other software such as Edge, Muse, and Lightroom, and online services for file storage, publishing, promotion, and social networking with creative peers. It costs $50 per month for a full-year commitment; other options include a $30 first-year price for existing CS customers; a $30 option for education customers; a $75 option for those who want to pay for a single month without a long-term commitment; and a more business-oriented $70 version with more collaboration features.
The second option is $20 per month for individual products such as Photoshop or After Effects, a deal that comes with a $10 first-year promotional price for existing CS customers.
For those who don't like the subscription plan, Adobe also said it'll continue to sell CS6 "indefinitely." It's already a year out of date, though, and feature updates will only come with the Creative Cloud versions of the products.
Many Creative Cloud objections fall into two categories: cost and control. For those who don't upgrade frequently or don't use many CS apps, $600 a year for the suite or $240 a year for Photoshop can be more expensive. And those who choose not to keep paying lose the ability to edit, view, print, and export their files.
Adobe no doubt hopes to convince people of the Creative Cloud's value over time, starting in June with face-to-face meetings with 50,000 customers across the globe.
One part of the sales pitch is that Adobe will be able to update its software more frequently, shipping features when they're done rather than backing them up across many products until a new release of more than a dozen major programs is ready.
Software updates aren't that surprising to Adobe customers, though, even if the pace might change. What could be more of a departure is online services, though.
Today, the online services are potentially useful but not paradigm-shifting. The current 20GB storage space, which can synchronize files between mobile devices, PCs, and the Web, is familiar to any Dropbox user. Adobe Web fonts, online publishing services, and an online portfolio through Adobe's Behance network might be convenient for some, but they're not radical.
Creative Cloud futures
Tomorrow, a lot more is possible online -- something that could make Adobe's subscription live up to the cloud buzzword.
Mike Chambers, director of developer Advocacy for Web platforms at Adobe, raised two interesting possibilities in a comment earlier this month.
First, Adobe could offer processing horsepower on its data centers. That could be useful when a tablet app needs more processing horsepower, or when even a high-end workstation shows its limits for something like video processing.
Wadhwani gave the example of running Photoshop's new image de-blurring technology on a tablet or phone.
"We have a version of shake reduction, an incredibly computationally expensive action, running on my iPhone. It works better than on your desktop, because instead of looking at one or two sample points, it looks at five or six," he said. By pushing the hard work of the task to Adobe servers, "we can now start to do more on tablets or mobile that we've ever done."
Second, making such services available over the Net through standard programming interfaces means that Adobe could open up such services to other software -- even competing software. "This is a huge change in incentives around Adobe technologies," Chambers said. "Before, our incentive was to keep it as closed as possible so competitors don't use it and eat into sales of individual products."
Adobe has been buying its way to a more compelling subscription plan, too, acquiring Ideacodes and Thumb Labs this month and in 2012 the Behance site for social networking and promotion for creative pros.
Wadhwani promises that Adobe will transform from just a tools vendor into an "advocate" for creative pros, a company that actively helps them advance their careers, find new customers, and expand their skills.
It's still got a lot of convincing to do, though.
Updated at 9:22 a.m. PT to correct the annual subscription for a single program. The cost is $240.