The Evil Genius of Adobe’s Creative Cloud
After the Adobe Creative Cloud launch in Durban, I was left awestruck at how easy, effortless and affordable the platform was. I’ve always been a big fan of Adobe software, having bought my first copy during my first foray into digital design. And it seemed that yet again, Adobe had done a great job of seducing me into the world of the creative cloud.
I was fascinated with the concept of the “cloud” . No more boxes, no more serials numbers, and even the name sounded cooler. This was hipster tech, at it’s finest! And so naturally being the conscience consumer that I am, when I got home the first thing I did, was check out all the details. The more I dug though, the more I realised that Adobe’s real genius, lies in making you think that it benefits you and not them.
Adobe disguise higher prices by offering you seemingly low monthly fees
Once upon a time, in 2011, I decided that as a copywriter, it would be a good idea to learn the art of digital design. In hindsight, this turned out, to not only be a good idea, but a great one. As I’ve been busy playing more with pixels than words ever since. It was then that I bought my first copy of Adobe Design Premium CS 5 for R16 000, which back then was the price of a small car. A very small car. Ok maybe half of a small car. And few could forget what, at the time was an uber cool red box, with CS 5 etched on it. When opened, you discovered an even cooler branded C.D. (For those of us who still remember what a C.D. is). And on that C.D. lay all 7 indispensable design apps – Illustrator, Indesign, Acrobat, Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Flash and Fireworks.
So, as Americans would say, “let’s do the math”. Let’s assume that I use CS 5 over a 5-year period, which is fairly reasonable. If you or your company have deep enough pockets to upgrade every 2 years, feel free to buy me a copy. So over a 5-year period, this works out to R3200 per year or R266 per month for 7 apps. To break it down even further, each app cost R38 a month. Currently Adobes cheapest plan gives you Photoshop CC and Lightroom only, for R100 a month for only 2 apps. And if you want more, like Illustator, Indesign and Photoshop all together you’ll have to shell out, wait for it, $49 or R500 a month! This is not even taking into account the currency fluctuations the Rand goes through every year. So Photoshop used to cost R38 per month, and under the cloud it now costs R100 per month. CS 5 used to cost R266 and now costs R500. This means that you’re effectively paying about twice as much per month for the software, while Adobe have reduced their costs of packaging, printing and distribution. Some might argue that the Cloud actually costs more with servers, support staff and programmes needed to verify registrations. But most of these were already in place when I bought CS 5 and these are also once off costs that Adobe incur when they set up the cloud-based platform and can be effectively scaled up at minimal cost. Furthermore, with a cloud based system there is no longer a variable cost for every box of CS 5 that’s sold. Which basically means, that every time Adobe sold a copy of CS 5, it would cost them to print a box, burn a C.D. and brand that CD together with the labour supply needed to do all that. With the cloud, every time someone signs up, there is no added cost of that new customer.
So with all these costs going down, how can Adobe justify the price of the software doubling? It can’t. So what they’ve done instead, is market it brilliantly, by focusing users on what looks like low monthly prices. Making the programme appear more affordable right now, while actually hiding the real and (far) greater cost over time. It’s an old trick, but still the kind of genius that Dr. Evil would be proud of!
Adobe have lost the incentive to innovate
If entrepreneurship in the tech world has taught us one thing, it’s that money is still the greatest motivator for innovation. This is not a swipe at those who innovate for the love it – I’m one of those people. But at a corporate level where your very survival depends on profits, the bottom line, is well, the bottom line. And now that Adobe have a constant bottom line, their survival no longer depends on innovation. With stand alone versions like CS 5, Adobe were forced to make the next version of Photoshop and other programmes bigger and better in terms of features, so that it justified a newer and greater investment from designers. This drove Adobe to innovate every 2 years so that they could keep generating revenue. Now, with a constant stream of guaranteed income through the cloud platform, there’s no incentive for innovation any longer. You can use the same version of Photoshop for the next 5 years with very few, if any updates and not even notice. In fact, Adobe has now made you feel lucky just to have Photoshop.
A very good counter argument to this is made by Aharon Rabinowitz – the director of content and communities at Red Giant studios and someone who is close to the top execs at Adobe. In his article updating us about creative cloud features, he re-iterates the point by saying that top companies are not run by creatives, they’re run by executives. He seems to trust that the programmers at Adobe will continue to innovate as fast, if not faster than before. His piece, in my opinion, is a must read on this controversial subject.
But despite Mr. Rabinowitz’s faith, my gut says that Adobe, driven by corporate avarice will slowly start to halt the progress of innovation, and do just enough to placate the design community, so that it stays a nose hair ahead of the competition. Not that there is any. With a cloud based platform, there is no pressure on them any longer to make sure that newer versions are more feature rich and better than previous ones. The real genius of the move to the cloud is how it relieves the commercial burden on Adobe to innovate and create better software. And once that incentive is gone, it’s very hard to see how corporate Adobe will continue to find the motivation to revolutionise the industry, as it once did.
And what if the Cloud starts to rain
The reliability and consistency of the cloud has also been toted as a selling point. But what if a few gremlins creep into the system (unheard of right), because nothing ever goes wrong with technology! What if your data is lost? Does Adobe guarantee 100% cloud up time and what re-course do you have if any of this happens? All of this has been asked and answered when the cloud itself completely failed and locked all users out of the system for 36 hours rendering the software completely useless. Across the world, users called the Adobe support centre only to be told that they should log in to the forums to report the issue. Except that the system had locked them out and no one could log in to report it. As Alistair Dabbs at The Register brilliantly put it,”It’s like when you have to phone your telephone company to tell them your line is dead but you can’t because er… your line is dead.” After a substantial period of time, Adobe finally apologised and tweeted a fix that could help. And what were the evil geniuses reason for the epic fail – botched database maintenance.
Adobe will consider compensating any money lost from reduced productivity, on a case-by-case basis, so good on them for that! But they will certainly not be held responsible if all your data is lost when backing up with them or worse, hacked and all your account information is stolen, which has also recently happened. As Alistair Dabbs once again puts it,” The cloud takes over everything you’ve got, then farts in your face and runs away giggling.” Sounds pretty much like an evil genius to me.
So what now Mr. Powers?
I certainly don’t consider myself a modern day Austin Powers (I have better teeth), nor am I intent on defeating this evil genius. All I’m here to do is call Adobe out and reveal, what I think, is an ingenious move on their part. If this has inspired you to want to do more about it, then you can sign the online petition created on change.org. At the time of writing there were already over 48 000 signatures on this petition, which is a bid to ask Adobe to go back to suite based software. And yes, I’ve signed it. This will probably prove fruitless as Adobe have stated that they will stick to the cloud regardless. Which means that Software As A Service (SAAS) and Adobe’s altruistic behaviour, will continue to grow as more companies move their service to this platform. Until Adobe fix the inherent pricing and feature flaws in their cloud based offering, I’ll stick with my old 2011 Design Premium CS 5, which also combos very well with the vintage 2001 Toyota corolla that I drive. Both have proved to be incredibly reliable. And even though CS 5 does not have some of the new features that the cloud brings, I refuse to be duped by evil genius. Whether it’s by Adobe or Dr. Evil.