I recently wrote a blog post about Creative Cloud – both the good and the bad as I've seen it. I tried to channel a lot of your concerns, as they are also mine. I'm told that the blog post reached the top executive level of Adobe, and that it helped them to understand our concerns and to address them. Apparently, it's hard to understand anything when people are screaming bloody murder at the top of their lungs. Glad I could at least help make us heard AND understood.
OK… This past Thursday night, at After Effects New York, Steve Forde and Todd Kopriva (two prominent members of the After Effects team) gave a presentation on After Effects Creative Cloud – the next version of AE. They fielded a lot of difficult questions, many of them from me. While some of their answers didn't satisfy me, most of what they had to say was very encouraging.
IMPORTANT: If you are one of those people who want to own your software, and keep it forever, none of what I put here is going to satisfy you. Adobe is moving forward with Creative Cloud – software as a service, not a product. If there is simply nothing that Adobe could offer you that will satisfy you enough to make the move to subscription acceptable, then register your complain HERE. Past that, this update is not for you.
How a Subscription Model Lets Adobe Give Us More
Adobe is a publicly traded company, and being a company in that category means that there are legal restrictions on them. These restrictions keep them from being able to say certain things, and certainly for them to do certain things. In fact, this move to subscription model is aimed at reducing many of the restrictions – so, if they keep to their word, certain things will change.
One thing that was really surprising was learning the following: Under American corporate law, as a publicly traded company, Adobe is forbidden from giving away free upgrades. By law, a publicly traded corporation has one single responsibility: to look after their shareholders. Giving away anything for free could legally represent a serious conflict of that directive. So we're clear – this is not Adobe's choice – this is American corporate law. The basis for this can be found in THIS ARTICLE. I won't lie – it's hard to read. Without help I had trouble understanding what it all meant. And it gets worse HERE.
I have to admit, I was dubious about this at first. But after talking to people that understand this stuff, it's clear that big companies with stockholders have some heavy restrictions on what they can do after a sale.
To further support that, Daniel Wilk (one of the original members of the After Effects team), messaged me on twitter to say that, when he was managing After Effects, anytime they wanted to make an update (even with work/features that had ALREADY been completed) they had to sit down with a financial officer to figure out if the work constituted new material. I may not have the terminology exactly right, but you get the idea: Any time the team comes up with something new or adds a feature, there is a good chance that corporate law would block them from giving it away for free.
The result of this has been that once Adobe releases a product, they have to wait until the next version of the software – a year or more – to add new, significant features. This is true even if the work has already been completed, and said features are ready to go eight or nine months before that next major release.
Creative Cloud, a subscription model, with a perpetual payment setup, gets around this rule. Under Subscription, Adobe can give away as many updates and upgrades as they want. And because of this the After Effects team is now freed up to have 2 to 3 updates a year for after effects. Will they keep to this? I believe they intend to. But only time will tell. Product teams don't run companies – Executives do. So, if you don't trust them, hold out a year and see if they're good for it. But I know the people on the product teams, and I trust that they, personally, plan to keep to these promises. I'm willing to invest in that.
Look – I am not a corporate lawyer, or even educated on corporate law. I don't fully understand how subscription gets us out of these restrictions. My best guess is that when customers are constantly paying, it is legally considered as if they are constantly buying – which, I guess, means Adobe would not be giving stuff away – just giving us stuff because we are paying for it. But really, I'm out of my depth here, and I'm not afraid to admit that.
Al Mooney, the product manager for Premiere Pro tried to have a discussion at Red User but (like a lot of discussions on forums) it got ugly quickly. But it's an interesting read in which he describes: “very limiting and strict revenue recognition laws which prevent the addition of new features to perpetual license customers at zero cost.” (Thanks to Mike Harrington for sending me the link.)
That said, if you want to challenge any of what I'm reporting (which is mostly me telling you what was said to me), please do me a favor and do it with real legal/corporate research – don't just cite examples that seem the same but that have no basis. The legal world is full of nuance. Different kinds of companies have different kind of restrictions. Educate yourself before arguing it's all bullshit. To quote one of my college professors: “The courage of your convictions is not proof for anything, other than that you are convinced you are right. Show evidence to support those convictions.” (It might have been more like: “You might be right Rabinowitz, but shut up or prove it. I have a class to teach.”)
The Right Updates & Upgrades
Another interesting thing pointed out was that, in some ways, under the current model, the product teams have been forced to make product improvements that are not always in the best interest of the product's long-term health. Each new version of an app must come out with a whole bunch of eye candy to satisfy the needs of marketing. In other words, when you are balancing getting new users with satisfying existing ones you have to make the newest version seem, for lack of a better word, cooler. Utility doesn't sell nearly as well as flash (unless you mean Adobe Flash, and that's a whole other thing).
Arguably the video products, especially After Effects, are almost entirely about marketing for Adobe. They look great, produce some fantastic eye candy, get used in feature films, and tell a great story. But, in actuality, they make comparatively no money for Adobe, unlike Photoshop or Acrobat. So in short, they are essentially marketing tools for Adobe – not profit building tools.
The worst part of this situation is that lots of important features that are better for the long-term health of the product, like speed and utility, get put by the wayside because of the yearly cycle of product release and its requirement for sometimes nearly-useless marketing eye candy.
The argument the AE team made here was this: If they don't have to worry about the corporate need to shout about new, beautiful features, they can focus on improvements that make long-time users happy and that make the product better. At the very least, it was clear to me that they are excited to be freed from certain responsibilities and restrictions so that they can make the products better for us.
What if I can't connect to the Internet?
One of the biggest concerns around Creative Cloud has been that the software needs to connect to the internet to verify that it's been paid for. That means that if your computer has not been able to connect to the internet for a really long time, After Effects (or whatever app you are using) will stop working. For clarity, the software is installed on your machine, but it must connect to the web, every so often, to verify your license.
Previously, you had 99 days to be completely offline before you'd get locked out. However, Adobe has extended the amount of time between which you must connect to their servers to confirm your active license of Creative Cloud. Adobe CC “phone home” will now have a 180 day grace period if you have the annual plan. Basically, you can be completely disconnected from the internet for about half a year before you will be locked out of opening your Adobe applications.
The exception to this is if you're on a month-to-month subscription – it must check every 30 days – otherwise it would be financial suicide to give you the option of staying disconnected for half a year without having to pay.
My understanding is that you also have a generous grace period to continue using the software after you stop paying for Creative Cloud. I don't know how long it is, mostly because finding this info on Adobe's site is infuriatingly difficult. In fact, I may be making that up entirely. It was a thursday night at 8PM. Not my by best time of the week for assimilating details.
After I Opt-Out, I want to Open Previous Work!
Another area where Adobe is trying to accommodate us is in the area of being able to open our previous work, even if we are no longer paying for creative cloud. Nothing is set in stone, as they were just polling the audience, but they are clearly thinking about it. They asked us if it would be acceptable if, even after subscription lapses, we would be able to open and render out old work – and to even have the ability to make changes without saving them. Again this was not a commitment – just the AE team trying to feel out the audience on what will satisfy us – but they seemed genuinely interested in finding a way to make us happy, while still moving forward with Creative Cloud.
Honestly, that kind of solution would satisfy me. Yes – it could cost you money to make changes that you can keep, but shouldn't we be charging our clients for changes, months after the project has been completed? Can we build the cost of Creative Cloud into that formula?
One of my concerns is that, if I have 3 machines on which I need to install software, I would have to download gigabytes of data over and over again for each machine, instead of having a local DMG or EXE. But, while they couldn't give the specifics at the time, they were pretty sure there was a way to download it once and deploy it locally. More to follow as I learn more.
I Don't Want to Eat “All You Can Eat”
Okay – here's what I didn't like, and I will continue to complain about:
Under the current plan, we if we want to continue our work in video, we have to fully buy in – We have to pay monthly for all products instead of just the ones we use. I strongly believe that there should be suites at a lower cost than the whole Creative Cloud bag of tricks.
I asked Steve Ford why I should pay for products that I don't use. His response was, in my opinion, very one sided on the issue: Adobe has seen that, as they have given access to more of the tools under creative cloud, more people are using them. And as such they're building a ecosystem that will greatly enhance user experience no matter what discipline they have to touch in their work.
I get this. By making it all one product, the product teams will work together to build products that work together, much better than ever before.
But even if you take this at face value as the best of intentions, it feels wrong to me. It feels like a corporate decision, not a product decision. This is an example of a company telling me what it is they think I need, instead of giving me what I know I need. I am willing to support Adobe's financial security through subscription model – if it means that the products I use will get better. But I am simply not interested in paying for products that I do not use and never intend to.
At issue here is not that this plan will make products better – but rather that it will make products better in a way that doesn't effect my work in the slightest bit. I want subscription if it means After Effects gets better. I don't want to pay for Creative Cloud to help improve interactions between After Effects and Edge Animate. (I'm open to the idea that this is shortsighted, Adobe, but please sell it to me. Right now you aren't doing it).
There was a time I did web, print, and video work for clients. And if you're one of those people who has clients across the board, the creative cloud, as it stands, is a fantastic deal. Or if you're the kind of person who is looking for new solutions outside the tools they already use – again, the cloud as one giant product is fantastic.
But these days, I work strictly with video, and I know that so many of you do as well. If it's an Adobe video tool, I'm OK paying for it, even if it's only for occasional use. I do that already with Adobe Production Premium. But I will never be touching Dreamweaver, or InDesign, or Muse, or Edge, or PhoneGap Build. If that changes, and I find myself needing those tools, then I would gladly pay for them. But until then – no thanks. Let other people working with all the tools pay for better connections between the host apps.
This will probably be my sore point through this process.
International Pricing Discrepancies
One thing not discussed at the meeting: international pricing. I honestly forgot to ask, proving that I'm a really selfish guy and only think about myself. Also everyone else wanted to see After Effects Creative Cloud (the next version of AE) and for the few complainers, like myself, to stop talking about the business side of Creative Cloud.
Also not talked about – how technical/customer support will work. Same reason as above.
Keep It Constructive
One last note – I'm open to most comments, even (and especially) ones that disagree with me – but anything venomous is going to get deleted. I'm writing this stuff so we can have a discussion that Adobe will hear and to which they will respond – Not so that you can yell at others, hurl insults and get out your frustrations. Keep it rational and constructive and it will go up. You might even make a difference in this process. Adobe is listening.