Backlash begins against Adobe's subscription-only plan

Petition on Change.org asks company to reconsider, collects 4,400 signatures in four days

A petition on Change.org demanding that Adobe back away from its subscription-only model for its creativity software, including Photoshop, has collected over 4,400 signatures by late Thursday.

And those thousands of customers were unhappy at Adobe for pushing them toward subscriptions. Very unhappy.

"Paying Adobe rent for the rest of my life is absurd," said Nick Scott, who left a comment on the petition's page. "I'll definitely be looking elsewhere next time I need to upgrade."

Derek Schoffstall of Harrisburg, Penn., a photographer and college student, kicked off the petition Monday after Adobe announced it was halting development on the Creative Suite (CS) applications sold as "perpetual" licenses -- traditional licenses that are paid for once, then used as long as the user wants -- and would only upgrade its well-known Photoshop, Illustrator and other creativity software when it was licensed via subscription.

The new name for the rent-not-own suite: Creative Cloud (CC).

CS6, the current version of the boxed software, will be maintained with bug fixes and will continue to be sold at retail and by Adobe directly. But there will be no CS7 or feature additions to those versions.

Schoffstall's petition asked Adobe to reconsider its subscription-only plans, restart development on CS6, and continue to offer perpetual licenses alongside subscriptions.

"It seems that you have decided to forsake everyone but big business. Well, you've made a mistake," the petition read. "We are in a corner because although we may have the option to use CS6 now, in the future, we will be forced to subscribe to your CC subscription in order to stay relevant with updated software."

In the preface to the petition, Schoffstall argued that consumers and independent freelancers would end up paying more in subscription fees than they had buying a one-time-charge license. "In the short term, the subscription model looks to be okay, but over time the only entity that is benefiting from this is Adobe," he said. "The (no longer) current model -- paying a one time fee for infinite access -- is a much better business model and is better for the consumer."

Software-by-subscription can cost more than a perpetual license that's used for a relatively long time. The perpetual license of CS6 Design and Web Premium Student and Teacher Edition, for example, lists for $599. At the standard $30 per month for Creative Cloud, a student would end up paying more for a subscription after 20 months, or about two years in college.

In other words, if a student buys the perpetual license and uses it for more than 20 months, he or she comes out ahead of a friend who went the subscription route.

The tipping point for what Adobe calls an "individual" subscription to Creative Cloud is different: The $50 monthly subscription fee adds up to more than a perpetual license for C6 Design Standard, which lists for $1,299, after 26 months.

It takes longer for Creative Cloud to exceed the price of CS6 Design and Web Premium, Adobe's most expensive and most full-featured bundle. At the same $50 monthly fee, an individual could pay Adobe for 38 months -- three years and two months -- before spending more than the $1,899 list price for the perpetual license.

Those who left comments on Schoffstall's petition often called out the cost as a reason for their dissatisfaction. "Due to the nature of the 'upgrade at gun point' nature of the change, and the forced 'renting' of software at prices that could be jacked up at anytime, I will not continue with the Adobe brand," said Lee Whitman. "It's suicide for a small business."

"This is disaster for independent freelancers who are already suffering in this economy," wrote Gay Tammy.

Those comments were reminiscent of ones aimed at Microsoft earlier this year when it debuted its own software-by-subscription model, Office 365, for consumers and small businesses.

But Microsoft, as it made plain on Tuesday when it took a swipe at Adobe's decision, has retained perpetual licenses for Office 2013, which runs on Windows, and Office for Mac 2011.

"Unlike Adobe, we think people's shift from packaged software to subscription services will take time," said Clint Patterson, director of communications for Office, in a blog post. "We are committed to offering choice -- premier software sold as a package and powerful services sold as a subscription."

Microsoft declined to say when it would move to an all-subscription model for Office, even though Patterson said it was inevitable. Some experts believe it will happen within the next five years.

In a talk with Wall Street analysts on Monday, Adobe executives defended the shift. Not surprisingly, one of the most important reasons they gave was the regular revenue generated by subscriptions, eliminating the peaks when major upgrades release, and the valleys in between upgrades.

"The move to subscriptions just drives a bigger and bigger and bigger recurring revenue stream," said Mark Garrett, Adobe's CFO, during the presentation to analysts.

Garrett also claimed that 500,000 customers currently subscribe to Creative Cloud, and has set targets of 1.25 million by the end of 2013 and 4 million by 2015.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@ix.netcom.com.

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