Why an Adobe Creative Suite 5.5 subscription makes sense

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 Pamela Pfiffner and David Blatner to weigh in on the pros and cons of renting vs. owning. Below is the case in favor of subscriptions. See David's opposite take in favor of ownership . Macworld takes no position on this issue, and the views expressed in these articles are those of the writers only.

One predictable response to Adobe's recently unveiled Subscription Editions software rental plan is outrage. It all sounds so suspicious, as if the company whose products you've grown to depend on is pulling a fast one on you. Some might think that Adobe is forcing you to pay for your software every month, like paying protection to a neighborhood enforcer.

But that's not the way Adobe's software subscription plan works. First of all, it's an option, not a requirement. Subscribing is not the only way to get Adobe software. You can still buy the product, or start a 30-day free trial, just like you always did in the past—nothing has to change. If your livelihood depends on, say, InDesign, you'll want to buy what we used to call "shrink-wrapped" software. No argument there.

You may also think that subscribing to applications will end up being more expensive than buying them outright. After all, that's what happens with car or mortgage payments when interest is factored in. But that's not the case with Adobe's subscription plan. In fact, you can pay less for the software under the subscription plan. It's perfect for people who don’t need the software on a regular or full-time basis, or who don't have the money, or who don’t want to shell out hundreds or thousands of dollars on applications all at once.

Software by subscription is indeed more affordable for many folks. For example, I use Adobe Creative Suite Design Premium. To buy it outright, I have to fork over $1,899. However, I can subscribe to the CS5.5 Design Premium for $95 per month or $1,140 per year (with an annual subscription)—a substantial savings over purchasing the suite. On top of that, because my credit card is charged monthly, the cost is spread out over the year, like an installment plan. With the current economy, many of us can better afford a low monthly payment than a big chunk of change all at once. Without an annual commitment though, the price rises substantially. If you want to pick and choose which months you want to subscribe, the cost for Design Premium is $139 per month, or $1,668 per year. That's more than the cost of committing to the software for a year, but still less than buying the package outright.

Not being locked into an annual plan is a nice alternative as well. You can subscribe month by month, for example, May and September. You don't pay for the intervening months. So let's say you bought a single copy of Photoshop because you use it all day, every day. However, you only need Illustrator every once in a while, maybe two-to-three times a year for a particular client. Does it make sense to buy Illustrator for $599 when you can get it when you need it for $45 each month? And when you don't need it, you don't pay for it, although as result, you can’t use it.

Think of it this way: You buy a bicycle as your daily means of transportation around town—with it you visit friends, run errands, make deliveries, and so on. One weekend you decide to take a break by going to a cabin in the countryside. Are you going to buy a car for that one weekend? No, you'll rent a car. That's what the Adobe CS5.5 subscription plan is like.

Economy is not the only reason why Adobe's subscription plan makes sense. Having automatic access to the latest software is another benefit. Instead of trawling around the Web for bug fixes and feature updates, you click one menu item within the application, and all necessary software is downloaded to your machine. No fuss, no muss. Update costs are included with the subscription, so there's no additional outlay for application essentials.

There's a business case to be made for subscriptions as well. Such services can often be paid for with your company's operating expenses, which, for some organizations, can be easier to budget than capital expenses such as software purchases. And subscribing to project-critical software may be an expense that freelancers can bill a contractor for.

There's another, less obvious upside to automatic software updates: it'll keep Adobe engineers on their toes to solve problems and innovate. When customers are expecting the latest and greatest at the push of a button, you'd better not dilly-dally. Not only should bug fixes be delivered promptly, but new features and technology advances can be rolled out quickly, propelling users forward to new creative opportunities and to greater competitive advantage. This initiative from Adobe also raises the question of whether subscriptions are Adobe’s ultimate goal for the future.

That said, I do respect the opposition to Adobe's subscription plan: when you are not actively subscribed, you cannot use the software. That's a pain when you suddenly need to edit an image and your subscription to Photoshop has lapsed (although you can renew it online 24/7). But in fairness to Adobe, if the software remained active on your computer, in theory, you could subscribe to the CS5.5 Master Collection for one month for $195, cancel your subscription, and then keep using it. If that were possible, we'd all be out of luck because Adobe would be out of business. So although not having access to the software when unsubscribed is annoying, it's a financial necessity for Adobe. And really, if you can order shoes or download games at 1 a.m., how hard can it be to re-subscribe to software at a moment's notice?

You may think subscription plans are all a bunch of hooey, but Internet-based software and services have been a long time coming. With the recent trend toward cloud computing, be prepared for even more.

For example, I'm not thrilled about MobileMe going away in favor of iCloud, but I have no choice if I want to use Apple's mail services and have access to what used to be my .mac email address. Unlike Apple, however, at least Adobe gives me a choice—for now.

[Pamela Pfiffner is a freelance writer and editor in Portland, Oregon, and the former editor in chief of many Mac and design publications, including creativepro.com, MacUser, Publish, and InDesign Magazine. She has also written several books on Adobe, most recently Page by Page, a look at the 10-year evolution of Adobe InDesign. Download the PDF here. ]

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