Adobe recently debuted its Subscription Editions, a brand new Software as a Service model for Creative Suite 5.5 software. With CS5.5, users can subscribe on a month-to-month or yearly basis to any of Creative Suite's individual packages or suites. But what are the advantages and disadvantages—both from a cost and a user standpoint—of owning rather than renting CS5.5? Macworld asked industry veterans David Blatner and Pamela Pfiffner to weigh in on the pros and cons of renting vs. owning Adobe's professional creative software. Below is the case in favor of ownership. See Pamela Pfiffner's opposite take in favor of renting. Macworld takes no position on this issue, and the views expressed in these articles are those of the writers only.
I love my local library—I love browsing and borrowing books that I want to read. I even love checking out e-books for my iPad reading pleasure. But when I find a book I really like, one I want to use as a reference, or read multiple times, or even just have on my bookshelf to remind me of the time I read it, the library is of no use to me. I want to own it.
So when Adobe offers me a chance to borrow Adobe InDesign, or Photoshop, or even the entire Creative Suite, I cringe a little. Sure, they call it a subscription model, and assure me that it’s the future, but ultimately it’s a loaner in which I give them some money and they let me use the software for awhile. I’m not saying they shouldn’t offer—like I said, a lending library is a great way to test the waters, or take advantage of a short-term use. But if you’re serious about publishing with these tools, you’re going to opt for ownership. After all, when it comes to renting software, you have to ask yourself some important questions.
For example, what would you do if you no longer had access to the software you had rented? How would you open the files you had created? While it’s unlikely that Adobe will go out of business anytime soon, we all know that the unexpected can happen. If Adobe shuts its doors one day, and the subscription service comes to an end, you’re the proverbial scat out of luck.
Or, less drastic, what to do if Adobe simply changes its mind about the subscription service as a whole—radically changing its price or deciding it’s not profitable enough, and so discontinues it. After all, while I’m sure Adobe’s heart is in the right place, I’m frankly nervous about its ability to stick with a SaaS (Software as a Service) model. The company has been less than consistent in this regard in the past: It has shut down whole services, such as the stock photo service; and did not support others very well, such as the anemic and underdeveloped Buzzword online word processor.
When you own your software (or have what is sometimes called a perpetual license) you don’t worry about it disappearing. I know plenty of folks who go so far as to use old computers and operating systems just so they can keep using beloved software from 1997 that has either changed or disappeared. The software box on the shelf, or the backup of an old version—just in case—is like insurance in a quickly changing world.
Another concern I have about the software subscription model is that it forces you to upgrade. After all, in a few years time, is Adobe really going to keep letting you subscribe to CS5.5? For many companies I work with, upgrading is a huge and expensive chore, not because of the software costs, but because of retraining and downtime. Sure, Adobe wants you to be on the cutting edge with every new version, but is that really what’s best for your company and workflow?
These days, when many people find the tools in CS3 or CS4 adequate to get their job done, Adobe would like nothing better than to rope users into “rent-a-bit”—the business model that just keeps on giving. There’s no doubt that CS5.5 helps users be more efficient and productive, and I have no qualms encouraging people to upgrade. But when CS6 (and 7…) come out, who do you want to make the decision of whether and when to upgrade? Adobe or you?
Remember too, that subscriptions require a reliable Internet connection. As much as we in the U.S. like to think this is becoming ubiquitous, for many people around the world, this just isn't the case. Many, many people in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and South America (not to mention our own North American rural areas) have to get by with satellite or other less-than-reliable connections. Relying on a subscription under those circumstances would not be optimal.
I applaud Adobe’s decision to offer subscriptions to some of their software because it offers additional options to customers. I don’t doubt I’ll enjoy visiting Adobe’s “library” from time to time; but when it comes to using the software I love, I want to own it, not work on borrowed time.
[David Blatner is the co-host of InDesignSecrets.com and The Print and ePublishing Conference, and the author of 15 books, including The Joy of Pi and Real World InDesign CS5.]