Adobe’s last quarter results are out, and they’re better than ever. Adobe’s Creative Cloud and media business rose 35 percent thanks to a 23 percent beat on subscriber expectations, while the company’s overall net income more than doubled from $88.1 million to a staggering $222 million. Adobe’s fourth-quarter earnings report shot its stock to all-time highs. On one hand, that’s good business. But what does this mean for creatives who have felt an increasingly rocky relationship with the software giant?
As a seemingly increasingly large number of people have a problem with companies and businesses making profits, it may be hard for some to look at Adobe's recent success. Personally, I think it’s great for the American economy, jobs in Silicon Valley, etc. But there’s no doubt that a sour taste develops into one more pungent when a relationship feels so one-sided. Here, professionals are giving money to Adobe, yet at times, those same creatives can feel completely unheard.
Over the last year or two, Adobe hasn’t been able to shake the “new release, excitement, bad press, bug fixes” cycle that now, unfortunately, feels normal. Adobe Photoshop releases seem plagued by the most obvious of bugs, one has to seriously question the testing going on (or more likely not happening) before public release. The company’s recent update to Lightroom was met with intense backlash after introducing an oversimplified and completely flawed reworked Import dialog — a move from which Adobe couldn’t backpedal fast enough. Oh, and people hate the new healing brush, by the way. All of these ill-fated feature enhancements happen without continually requested performance enhancements to culling and other module functions for Lightroom and, quite simply, to more or less be left alone in Photoshop.
It’s Not All Bad — Not Even Close
Before the crowd gets too angry, it’s important to note several key facts. First, Adobe’s profits are not increasing so greatly because we’re paying more for the same product. After all, despite the backlash from the switch to subscription pricing, that very pricing seems incredibly reasonable. What used to cost $2,600 and required additional fees for subsequent upgrades can now be had for $50 per month, upgraded whenever there’s an upgrade to be had.
Likewise, Photoshop used to cost $700, while Lightroom was $300 before it was dropped to $150 with the introduction of Lightroom 4 — the duo of which can be had for an incredibly affordable $10 per month. Those that think this is unfair aren’t doing the math.
Monthly payments have to go on for over four years or seven years, respectively, before reaching the total cost of what once was called Master Collection or Photoshop Creative Suite + Photoshop Lightroom. The disparity between the two examples only goes to show just how great of a value the continuing Photography Plan is. But let’s be realistic: the more serious of us were more likely to upgrade at a faster pace than that anyway. The only people that would not have upgraded so quickly are the hobbyists and amateurs that have, ironically, been incredibly responsive to the new pricing model.
Irony at Its Finest
Indeed, it’s these people who are pouring in the extra dough by adding themselves to Adobe’s subscription base, which now adds up to 833,000 — a 23-percent increase over the 678,200 analysts expected. Adobe attributes this directly to the increased interest of amateur and hobby-level creatives that now view its products (most likely its Photography Plan) as cheap and worth the nominal, contract-free cost of entry. Oh, how the wonders of little upfront cost amaze… Perhaps this is really just great (if somewhat obvious) business at its finest.
It Gets Even Better
Not only are subscription models not that bad (assuming one actually uses the product and doesn’t sit on a rarely used subscription), but Adobe has also done a refreshingly good job of making its subscription a value-added one.
Its free mobile apps are huge for the on-the-go creative. While splitting various functions over several Photoshop-related apps might seem odd, it’s in fact a very smart way to spread out resources across the capabilities of a mobile device that, over the inclusion of all of the company’s apps, lets you do more and more with each update. Cloud service and storage integration are largely beneficial for those with projects involving multiple creatives and/or systems. And Stock services are more than just a shoot-off business when they’re integrated as well as they are across the suite of apps on all platforms. There’s no doubt that Adobe has been working hard to earn our money.
Then Why the Bad Aftertaste?
Adobe’s been hard at work. Okay. No one’s denying that. But at the end of the day, as important as these new, relatively inexperienced customers are to Adobe’s profit increase, we professionals have been, and will continue to provide, Adobe’s profit sustenance; we’re the true bread and butter. And at the end of the day, it’s hard to swallow not feeling valued.
The bugs we experience in software releases are very real, and very time-consuming. Our apps won’t always update automatically the way they’re supposed to, and the one time they do update, we want to run back as fast as possible to the way things were.
Adobe Lightroom releases continually offer vague promises of “improved performance,” but real-world tests have little to show for those promises. And the culling and import processes are — quite frankly — atrocious in pace.
At the root, improvements are anything but, and our requests go seemingly unheard.
There’s a Solution
Of course there’s a solution. But its implementation rests solely on what Adobe decides or does not decide to do. On one hand, their hands are tied by the limits of technology. But we know better — at least a little. We know that if you dedicate enough resources to any endeavor — if you really do care enough — you can make “it” happen.
To this point, although some might say Adobe has no competition, there’s simply no telling what the future will bring. And no company that attracts as much talent as Adobe does will forget that. They know time is always limited unless you’re willing to and able to continuously adapt. And, just like any entity, they want to survive as long as they can — forever if history will let them.
PhaseOne’s Capture One software just saw an update with Version 9, which is great, but which is still so different from Lightroom that it will be difficult to see any kind of en-masse migration without a major overhaul. Maybe the impending sweetness of reaching that Version 10 milestone will be enough to bring some new workspace option. But frankly, I’m shocked there still isn’t a button to switch C1’s entire workflow to be more similar to that of Lightroom.
Meanwhile, Serif hit the ground running with Affinity Photo this year while another competitor, MacPhun, increased the size of its portfolio of Mac apps. And however much Apple might seem to be shunning Final Cut Pro, that, too, is still a very capable piece of software alongside the bane of every college film student’s existence: Avid.
Surely, tides will always change. But with Adobe gaining momentum, even ever-hopeful me will admit that any true change will take serious time. A real change will have to come directly from Adobe. And all we can do in the meantime is ask, plead, beg, and maybe even write a little more.
It’s time to end the tumultuous relationship we have with Adobe. But we can’t do it. For reasons well known — as with some bad relationship we can somehow never manage to leave — this is something Adobe will have to do for us out of the sheer goodness of their hearts. I simply hope that extra cash will fill their hearts with some of that much-needed goodness.