Adobe Creative Suite 5.5 – To Subscribe, Upgrade or Purchase?

The Adobe Creative Suite, now in version 5.5 (CS 5.5),  is a set of invaluable tools for development across the media spectrum.  Whether you are  a web professional, or a production editor, the Adobe Creative Suite has the products you need.  In the past Adobe offered the Create Suite products as a either a purchase or an upgrade.  Naturally upgrade pricing was dependent upon how old your previous version of the software was, and if you are upgrading across suite lines (e.g. moving from the design suite to the web suite or vice-versa).  With the release of Creative Suite 5.5, Adobe has introduced a new purchase model, that of subscription purchasing.  In this article I will go over what I believe to be the pros and cons of the new subscription model, and who may or may not benefit from using the subscription service vs purchasing or upgrading to the most current software.  I will go over these pros and cons in a category-like approach.

The Subscription Service (or Pay As You Go)
Before I get into the pros and cons of the Creative Suite (CS)subscription service, let’s take a look at the subscription service itself.  First let me mention that  CS products are sold individually or as bundled packages.   These packages are the Creative Suite Design Standard, Creative Suite Design Premium, Create Suite Web Standard, and Creative Suite Web Premium.  To get practically everything in both sets, Adobe offers the Creative Suite Master Collection.  I won’t go into what products are included in each series in this article, but you can quickly get an overview from Adobe here.

In the past with Adobe Products, you needed to purchase the full version of a product or upgrade to a newer version.  The subscription service allows you to select any one of the suites or an individual product. You can subscribe on a month-to-month basis, or a on a yearly basis (which naturally is a little less expensive).  The concept is simple:  you subscribe to a product (or products) and the software will basically “phone home”  (e.g. contact Adobe) over the course of the subscription to make sure you are still authorized to use the software, and to re-charge your credit card for the subscription to continue.  In exchange, you will have access to the most up-to-date Adobe Creative Suite products.

Now let’s talk about if the subscription service is right for you…

1. Do you Need the Latest and Greatest Version of Adobe Software?
For someone who needs the most up to date version of Adobe Creative Suite Products, then the subscription service may be for you.  Having the subscription service gives you the absolute most current version of the software and you will not miss a new function or feature.  While having the newest version does give you access to the very tip of the cutting-edge of technology, the question is do you really need it?

I have a few concerns about having the absolute most current version of any software product and the primary one is software bugs.  These days the product development release cycle is very fast, and there are often bugs in a product that don’t get found (or fixed) until a product has been out for a while.  Recall the first versions of any Windows operating system or even Apple’s iPhone antenna/case problem.  It’s cool to be the earliest of early-adopters, but when you are running a business with clients who depend on you, the cutting edge isn’t always the place to be.   Do you really want to be the developer who discovers the bug that makes the software crash without saving after 2 hours of work?

The second issue I have about the latest and greatest version of software is compatibility. HTML is HTML, but with HTML5 on its way out (with little browser support — or more accurately — browser support in brand-new browsers that aren’t being used by a large majority of web users yet), you may be coding HTML5 for a web population that can’t take advantage of it yet (really — do you know how many corporate environments still use IE6 — yes! I said IE6!).

Practically speaking, I really don’t like tons of updates on products.  Security patches are one thing, but constant upgrades (unless it’s anti-virus or anti-malware software) are a pain for me.  It takes a long time to get a computer (at least a PC) running smoothly with all products in software harmony.  Why let an automatic upgrade potentially ruin this harmony?   Now Adobe doesn’t require that you install the upgrades as they come out, but then if you are not installing the updates/upgrades then what’s the point of having the service?

2. Hardware Upgrades

With each new software update (not just Adobe Creative Suite), come more demanding hardware requirements.  Currently I”m running CS3 on an Athlon II X2 240 @ 2.80 GHz and it runs pretty well; but I’m not so sure that Creative Suite 5.5 would run as smoothly.    So if you are always running the most current hardware, then the subscription service may work — but understand that as each new version comes out, your hardware may struggle to keep up.

3. Purchase, Upgrade and Subscription Pricing

As I mentioned earlier, I run CS3 Web Premium and I’ve been running it for many years.  But as an exercise, let’s assume that I paid $1000 for the upgrade in 2008.  So I’ve been running it (Web Premium) for around 3 years (36 months) at a cost of $1000.  Breaking that down per month, it costs me around $28/month to run the software.  (As an aside here is the current subscription pricing list).

Looking at the subscription service, running the new Web Premium 5.5 would cost me $89/month (assuming I went yearly).   So the question becomes, it it worth the $61 extra per month?  In my case it isn’t.  While there are some great new features in CS 5.5, for me it doesn’t justify the cost.

And examining the cost from a yearly perspective, the $61 extra per month (from the above example) comes to a total yearly cost of $61 x 12 months = $732.  Looking at Adobe’s site, it would cost me $949 to upgrade from CS3 to CS5.5 (and to own the software).  So from my perspective, if I wanted to go to CS 5.5, the upgrade would be the more financially sound approach.

Lastly, and most importantly, if at any time you cancel your subscription, then you lose access.  So let’s say you’ve been subscribing to CS 5.5. Web Premium at a cost of $135/mo for one year and at the end of the year you cancel. You’ve already invested $1620 during the year for your subscription;  for $1799 you could have purchased Web Premium outright!

The prices are less for individual products — Photoshop is $35/mo when purchased on a yearly basis — but who is going to put the time and effort into learning Photoshop and then not own the product?  From experience, I simply don’t find that to be too practical.  And if you were to subscribe for access to Dreamweaver CS 5.5, at a yearly cost of $19/mo, what are you going to use to edit the images?

4. Good Reasons to Use Adobe’s Creative Suite Subscription Service

If you have installed an Adobe product trial and want to work past the 30-day trial period, a month-to-month subscription may be a good solution for you to continue working on your project, or to extend your trial.

Similarly, if you want to start using Adobe software — at least the large suites —  but you cannot afford the initial price hurdle, then using the subscription service can be a solution.  But as I’ve calculated above, “renting” the software is really pretty expensive compared to a purchase if you look at it over the course of a year — and forget about it if you look over two years — two years of subscribing to CS 5.5. web premium is a total investment of $3240. If you had purchased the software and used it over those same two years,at a cost of $1800, you would have wound up paying $75/month (oh, and you still get to keep the software).  This difference would leave around a little over $1400, just enough to buy that 13″ MacBook Pro you’ve been eying.

For a single product, however, that you want to use over a short period of time, the subscription may work.

Further, if you are serious about development and really need Adobe’s products, you will need to make up front investments such as software and the hardware to run it.  So while the price is high, it’s hurdle you must address if you want to use the products for your company.

Lastly, there are those who argue that if you are too far back in your software version to get an upgrade discount (say you have Dreamweaver 3), that the subscription service would work.  But as I’ve demonstrated in the math above, over the course of even only one year, it would make sense to simply purchase the full version (especially if you could find a no-interest financing deal for your small business (or sole proprietor business).

5. Good Reasons Not Use Adobe’s Creative Suite Subscription Service

If you are planning on using the Creative Suite software for an extended period of time, and if you are planning to use multiple products (e.g. Web Premium), then I strongly recommend the full purchase or upgrade path.  Similarly, if you don’t make major hardware upgrades every year, I also think that purchasing a CS version that is appropriate for your current hardware is the way to go.     In my case I will be upgrading at some point to a newer version of Creative Suite, but when I do, I’ll probably be upgrading my desktop and laptop machines at the same time so that I can comfortably run the new version on my hardware.    It’s also important to note here that the subscription program offers NO educational discount at this time, so if you are an education customer, then the purchase would obviously be a much better deal.  One last thing to note is that Adobe says that they reserve the right to change the subscription pricing, and I think this is an important consideration to factor in when making your decision which way to go.

The Adobe Creative Suite is a phenomenally powerful package of software that is essential for many creative professionals.  And while I commend Adobe in trying to find an alternate model to make their software more accessible to more people,  I just don’t see the subscription pricing as realistic at this time.  Since you could own one of the Collection products (Web Standard, Web Premium) with the same money you’d spend “renting” the product for a little more than a year, I think the subscription pricing is too expensive, and the subscription model itself comes with too many negatives to be ready for the true Creative Professional.

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