Adobe Creative Cloud, from a Critic

I'll take this issue apart piece by piece, and take a closer look at each component.

1.There is a perception that users may be saddled with non-stop payments to infinity; let's take a calm look at this. This perpetual subscription agreement is perceived to be negative from many users, but in actuality, it may be a non-issue, or it may be true. Let's take a closer look here without getting all excited about it. There has been a flood of people presenting their math formulas for what they'll ultimately pay for the various aspects of this new Creative Cloud service. Adobe has assured us that the pricing is reasonable at $19.95 per month (Adobe, please correct me if I'm wrong) for Photoshop by itself, or $49.50 monthly for the entire suite.

Okay, I'll do some math of my own and round out just the Photoshop subscription number (again, not the entire Adobe suite) to $20.00 per month, or $240.00 per year. Everyday people pay about $600.00 for the full version of Photoshop (on disc). This means that for the average user, it would take 2.5 years of subscribing to reach the $600.00 price mark, and after that, Adobe would be making way more money than they did in the past. For an example, if the average user would subscribe to Photoshop for ten years, the cost would be $2,400.00, which is an obvious dramatic jump for the price of using Photoshop.

Of course, Adobe has the right to increase their subscription fees at any time, so this is a minimum number and it could easily end up as way more than that. This means that Adobe could be more than doubling their fee for Photoshop for long-term users, even when you take past upgrade prices into consideration. On the other hand, if you only use Photoshop occasionally, it's a fantastic deal. But for us who have already used Photoshop for decades, it's clearly a dramatic price increase, and is an enormous fee increase for us pros. Wall street calls this subscription model an "annualized recurring revenue" into the transmeida world, where much of the financial action is unfolding. The financial verdict? Easy, Adobe reaps in increasing amounts of money as long-time users pay very notable increased fees as described above.

2. Potential Privacy Issues & targeted advertising. What, who would be the real product? Privacy: With the Adobe Creative Cloud (ACC), we users will be working with a desktop program as usual (not via a browser), but under the umbrella of Adobe. It appears to be an impossibility that we'll be working privately in our studios as before. I'm obviously making the assertion that we users will not have the same level of privacy that we had working with our own purchased disc program for the following reasons.

Subscribers will be working via an online connection directly to Adobe. Adobe explained that users will download the online version of Photoshop and will work with the standalone program. This cannot be entirely true, because the connection to Adobe is predicated on the monthly fees, so it is clear that there is a basic level of monitoring that occurs with the Cloud version. The million dollar question is "How much monitoring?" I'm sure that subscribers will have highly detailed statistical profiles produced by Adobe, but what other monitoring will be happening on a regular basis? I'd take it as a given that users will be giving up a significant measure of privacy using the Cloud, and of all the issues associated with the ACC, Adobe is being the most shy about specific answers to this topic. Maybe nobody's asked them yet, so I will.

We have no idea whether Adobe will have the ability to view what you are working on at any given moment, so what's the scoop Adobe, what is the precise level of monitoring you can do? As far as I know, subscribers can't control the level of privacy they have, so this appears to be an issue of "no privacy" unless Adobe says otherwise.

You as the product? What if Adobe decides that they need to cash in on the advertising revolution that online companies like Google are reaping? Would Adobe jump the boat and go off on an advertising tangent now or in the future? Well, Adobe, what say you? Sorry to be sounding heavy handed about discussing online business models, but it's common knowledge that Google receives the lion's share of their revenue from advertisers who buy user profiles from Google. Advertisers then produce targeted ads for anyone who strays anywhere near Google online. With Google you don't even have to sign a user agreement, anyone in their universe is fair game to become their product. This scenario is wide open for Adobe to use under this new Creative Cloud scenario.

If the above rings true it may mean that users of Adobe's new Cloud service may be inundated by targeted ads like never before, and the floodgates may be poised and ready to be opened. If this advertising scenario comes to be a reality, it may mean that we ACC subscribers could become a primary revenue resource for advertisers, and ads targeted specifically at us may set a new record for ad clutter nearly everywhere we go online and not necessarily at the ACC site. I'm betting that Adobe may likely hold back on this at first, but a year later? Who the heck knows? What do you say Adobe? What are your short and long-term plans for using ACC subscribers as a source of income for advertisers? Are we ACC subscribers going to become the product like Google and Facebook's business models?

3. Wifi Connection to make subscription work It's obvious that one defines a Cloud server as being connected to the Internet in order for it to work. Adobe has made it clear that users will download a software version for their desktop. Just the same, there are times when I and other Photoshop users are working under extremely tight deadlines, and to have the software go dead in the midst of working is totally unacceptable. If there was ever a Cloud glitch, this could simply make the Adobe Creative Cloud go dead.

There is precedent for this, because major Clouds from just about all the Cloud servers out there (including Apple Computer) have already crashed many times. This is a major concern for me and thousands of other users. Adobe would have to install safeguards that would prevent this from happening. For Adobe a Cloud crash would be an inconvenience; for us users, it could mean the difference between completing a critical contract by a set deadline.

For us pros, the scenario is simple. If the software dies at a critical time, we could lose our critical sources of income, which means the mortgage doesn't get paid and the kids go hungry. For amateurs it's a non-issue, like losing their iTunes for the afternoon.

Adobe, you need to build in a foolproof safeguard for subscribers potentially losing access to our files and the program. This online connection is the weakest part of this entire scenario, and could be a deal-breaker for many of us. Not only that, but our own private servers could crash too, which would put us in double jeopardy. An accounting error could put us in triple jeopardy if our service was ever accidentally turned off due to an accounting error. The list of potential errors goes on and on, not to mention hackers who make a sport of breaking into all systems, including Cloud servers, or even our own Wifi connection. Google made a bad joke of this by just driving around neighborhoods, breaking into any Wifi connection they pleased, which leads us into the next issue.

4. There is no way to protect yourself against online hackers. The United States government recently stated that the only way to protect yourself against malicious online intruders is to disconnect your computer from the Internet and not import files from outside sources. Virtually every government agency in the world has been hacked into, not to mention corporations, businesses, organizations and individual people.

For the past two years, I have removed my "working computer" that does Photoshop work and printing from the Internet. It means that even if the world comes crashing down from malicious hacking, my own computer would keep on going and my professional work would remain unscathed. For everyone working with digital media as their primary source of income, I'd advise you to do the same thing and remove your revenue generating computer from the Internet completely. No email, no online browsing, no software updates, nothing. Zero. It's the only way to protect your livelihood. I use my laptop for everything online and use my desktop computer solely for my digital imaging work.

This is a stark reality that the Adobe Creative Cloud pretends doesn't exist. Adobe seems to be more interested in generating new sources of income than ensuring that their own software works, and as a critic I find this to be not only irresponsible, but also flagrantly disconnected from the reality of the vulnerabilities of the Internet. It's almost as if Adobe is living in a parallel universe where malicious hacking does not exist. Adobe, please come back to our universe and take a look around. It's not a pretty sight.

Three times in the last few years, companies I've been doing business with have been hacked, and these companies have had to provide me with online protection via digital security companies. My bank account was hacked while I was in Germany and I couldn't use my credit card to pay my hotel bill because my account was frozen. This is not unique to me by any means; if you do online business, chances are that your confidential information has already been compromised not once, but many, many times. We're all in the same online boat here. Do I want to do my primary revenue generating operations completely online? Are you nuts? Hell no.

Other issues.

File access in the future. It appears that there are innumerable other hidden issues that could be perilous issues for both Adobe and subscribers. Such as the notion that Adobe may be able to lock your files from you if you ever drop your subscription. If Adobe has the ability to lock your files from you, this is a monumental issue that may lead to groundbreaking legal findings at the end of long and expensive litigation, regardless of what the subscriber agreement says. Subscribers should be able to open and use any files they made, period. Word on the street is that Adobe will prevent ex-subscribers from opening any files made on the Creative Cloud. If this is true, it falls into the gutter under the heading of "cheap money grubbing rats," and Adobe should do the honorable thing and jettison this feature, because it's wrong, plain and simple. What say you Adobe? Is this part of the Creative Cloud user agreement? Please tell me that this was only a malicious rumor designed to make you look exceptionally bad, because you are way better than that.

Online archiving. I have been an archiving advocate for creative professionals for decades. The simple truth is that the only way you can safeguard your own work, your legacy, is to save your work on site, NOT on a cloud server. Clouds should be for things like iTunes collections, snapshots, or anything that is already in your own on site permanent archive. Clouds are places for temporary storage of anything you need for casual or convenient use. Clouds should be a place for temporary parking only, certainly not as a repository for your professional work. Many clouds have not only crashed, but some have also unexpectedly gone out of business. A couple of years ago, a major photography cloud went bankrupt and photographers lost millions of irreplaceable photographs. What was their recourse? Nothing. The photographs were simply gone. This was a tough lesson that I hope nobody else has to learn the hard way.

The current status quo. In the meantime, I've heard from a few satisfied ACC subscribers, all of whom only use Photoshop for fun or an occasional job here and there. I haven't heard from any hard-core pro users yet. None of these "lightweight users" has had any issues with down time due to Internet problems yet, and they are very happy with the price. This is likely because the full-blown subscription service hasn't really been launched in all it's glory yet, and the ACC hasn't felt the pressure of mass numbers of pros online yet. I've already witnessed indignation from Photoshop pros who are usually calm by nature, so I know this new subscription model is already a hot topic. Feelings of betrayal abound. I'm betting that there is likely going to be a spike on sales of the CS6 disc program as pros ponder the various tactical methods of jumping off the ACC boat before it even really launches, but we'll see I guess. To be fair and accurate, I'm guessing that a lot of pros will give the ACC a spin to see what unfolds.

Keep an eye out for where the Adobe Cloud has their physical servers in place. Apple tried to keep theirs secret because they didn't want subscribers or Wall Street to know about crashes or physical problems they encountered that dramatically affected its online performance for subscribers. Wall Street investors don't like to read stuff like that, and server glitches often show up in their stock prices nearly instantly. You can bet that Adobe is acutely aware of this and will do everything in their power to keep any glitches under careful wraps, which means that they'll be fighting an internal battle that has subscribers who want to know what the heck is happening with any glitches on one side, and the desire to keep Wall Street in the dark on the other side. Somewhere in the middle, hopefully ACC will be scrambling to keep their servers, the Internet, and Wifi everywhere running smoothly.

The appearance of this new ACC also means that Adobe now has a vested interest in making the Internet more secure, because as mentioned before, it's the wild west out there where shootouts from hackers are running amok. Again, the reality everyone in the world is facing is that there is no protection from malicious intruders who wish to cause havoc, outside of disconnecting your computer from the Internet that is. My next question to Adobe is "What are you specifically doing to make the Internet safer? Can you list the things you are doing to make the Internet safe for your ACC and the world?" In my opinion, any initiatives have to be very broad and have to include external safeguards too, not just what is going on in their server facilities, because obviously, the Internet is global. It means that Adobe has to shift their priorities and allocate resources to help make the entire Internet more secure, not just their own connections, because their subscribers are out there exposed, not holed up in a secret secure location.

Am I going to become an Adobe Creative Cloud Subscriber? If I were an amateur, this whole debate is nothing more than an abstract idea for other people to argue about. I'd just pay my twenty bucks every now and then, and be done with it. It's a non-issue for amateurs, because they don't have a long-term financial interest with what promises to be unpredictable upward spiraling costs as a subscriber to the ACC. For me, I'm ensuring that I do indeed have a fully paid disc version of Photoshop CS6, and if I go over to the subscription service, it'll only be out of curiosity, because of all the reasons explained above. I'm not sure how academia and large businesses will respond to this new model; I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

In the meantime, I sincerely hope that Adobe listens to independent critics too, and not only their "Yes guys," or outside consultants who are more than likely reticent to be honest since they're paid by Adobe.

*I'm both an artist and scholar who's used Adobe Photoshop since 1992, set up the curriculum at various schools for digital photography starting in 1993, and have taught it to the present. That's a lot of years, and miles of files with Adobe at the side as a provider of vital, innovative tools. Don't get me wrong, I love Photoshop and have been not only teaching it, but advocating for its use for over twenty years. It remains the absolute top program for editing photographs, period. Nothing else comes close and I've lost count of the number of students who've learned digital photography from me. Not to mention my own large body of work that is exhibited at international museums, and so forth. These are high accolades for a digital photography editing program, and even though we've heard these testimonials before, it's worth repeating.

Story Copyright Larry McNeil, 2013, All rights reserved. You must have the written permission of McNeil to use any of this material for anything.

  • AdobeCreativeCloud_Web.jpg