The Adobe Creative Cloud Subscription Is Not for Many Teachers

When Adobe decided to move all of its products into a cloud-based system, I understood what they were doing. It was a move that effectively killed a lot of product piracy surrounding just about every line of code they had ever released and it increased their profit margins considerably. The other marketing brouhaha and promises in regard to how fabulous that move was and would prove to be, I simply ignored.

When they made the move a few years ago, lots of users virtually exploded all over the Internet, throwing ugly fits and yelling profanity. Most of those individuals had hoped that Adobe’s move would kill their revenue but, as we know today and as I expected way back then, the opposite became true.

Nevertheless, it left a couple of user groups in the dust, including many teachers.

1) Why the Adobe Creative Cloud is not for me and many teachers I know

I am a teacher and I used to be able to buy any of the previous Creative Suites at a greatly discounted price. The last one I bought and still use (Creative Suite 6 – Design & Web Premium) cost me exactly 299 Euro and included everything I needed (plus a lot that I never used). At the time, this price was a huge discount, updates were regular and any Creative Suite I had was used for many years. In fact, as far as I recall, I used each one I bought for at least four years, sometimes longer, and in the end I only updated to the latest version because it was likely to disappear. I’m still using it today and it’s working fine, but updates have vanished and you don’t have to have a crystal ball flying around to know that the end is nigh.

a) Massive price hike

When Adobe moved into the cloud, they retained an annual subscription model for educators, students and schools (currently) at 232 Euro instead of the regular 713,86 Euro. That comes down to a whopping 65% discount. Still, in less than two years I would have quickly racked up more than I paid for the last Creative Suite, and even if you want to yell “Cheapskate!” at me for complaining about a substantial reduction in comparison to what the average user has to pay, the subscription model just added up to a massive price hike for many teachers after two years of use. It still does years later.

b) Limited Usage

Usage is the real problem. Many teachers I know had and/or have one of the earlier Creative Suites. They are not professionals, they are not art teachers, they don’t teach web design or photography; they are, for example, maths, biology, history and social studies teachers who enjoyed the ease of use Adobe products offered and used, at most, 20% of all the functions and maybe two of the programs included in any one of the Creative Suites, which were more cost-efficient in the long run than getting the programs separately.

The two core programs I myself have used regularly since they appeared on the market, Photoshop and InDesign (PageMaker, for those of you who still remember the 1990s), help(ed) me to quickly create worksheets and other material both for myself and my students. I also used them for other private projects a lot, from designing websites to nice booklets, brochures or CD covers that I spent quite a lot of time on to make them look somewhat professional.

The programs are not used on a daily basis. Far from, actually. When I decided to write this post here in January of 2016, I wrote the first couple of lines in Notepad++, my text editor of choice, left the tab open and added an “x” every time I used Photoshop or Indesign until today, (Sunday, December 11th). The results are easily summarized: I use Photoshop a lot more, several times a week for a few minutes, and Indesign not more than twice a month (but then for an entire afternoon, a full day or even a full weekend).

That usage pattern is just not covered by Adobe’s subscription model. Whichever way I turn it, a cost-benefit analysis doesn’t produce a result in favor of Adobe’s cloud subscription. I do pay for all of my software and I do support all kinds of programs that I could actually use for free, but in my case, the annual Adobe subscription just piles up to a thousand Euro fast … and keeps climbing thereafter. I simply cannot justify paying 230 Euro every year for something I don’t use often enough.

c) Overkill?

The depressing thing is that I know these two Adobe programs like the back of my hand, and, no, most other programs I tried out just don’t compare. If you have an image in your head of some teacher doing what he could easily do in Notepad or Word or whatever else with ease, that’s not the case. Because I have used these programs from day one, simply because Adobe continued to offer them to teachers at hugely discounted prices, I can do things with them very quickly that are almost impossible to achieve in other programs without major headaches and lots of time needed to iron out the quirks and get things done.

Years ago, when the Creative Suites were comparatively cheap for teachers here, many of us actually invested a lot of time diving deeply into the programs, teaching each other to achieve some pretty nifty stuff with them, passing templates and actions around, etc. Now that we (finally) have white boards, beamers, notebooks and tablets in every classroom, the seamlessly integrated InDesign & Photoshop package at the core of the Creative Suite were the tools of choice for many of us to quickly come up with (sometimes interactive) documents far removed from your average copied, pasted and spliced-together worksheets we used to have to rely on in the pre-digital era. Everything was easily saved to other formats, easy to exchange with others who were also regular users, etc. We also locked ourselves into the Adobe system, which actually makes it quite difficult to opt out completely now.

Today, I think, I am the last teacher left at my school to rely on the two above programs regularly. All the others have either opted out and moved on, finally pushed out by the subscription model, or are trying to wean themselves off programs they have used forever but don’t want to pay for anymore.

2) Replacing Adobe products

Since Adobe’s move into the cloud, I have been looking for alternatives. At least for Photoshop, there are many around, but after years of installing and deinstalling programs right and left, it came down to three alternatives that managed to stay on my ever-shrinking list.

a) Replacing Photoshop is (now) easy

Luckily, Affinity Photo rolled around just a few weeks ago in its final (but still quite buggy) release version and it does what I need it to do. It is also very similar to Photoshop in many respects and it took me something like 30 minutes to learn the basics. Affinity Photo has been around  for quite a while in the Apple universe, but now that it has been made available on Windows systems (at an astonishingly laughable price of 40 Euro when I jumped on it upon release), it should give Photoshop even more of a run for its money. I started using it in its beta phase and it quickly became clear that it could open most layered Photoshop files I had and that it retains most of the formatting and effects. It also offers some very detailed photo editing functions that are a breeze to use when coming from Photoshop.

Gimp was another favorite for a long time, but I gave up on it twice simply because the learning curve was too steep for me. It is a great program which you should check out, but Affinity Photo won me over within a single afternoon whereas Gimp couldn’t manage that in 2 full years. Still, all of that comes down to personal preference, so do give it a chance.

b) Replacing InDesign is difficult

Finding a replacement for InDesign is the tough one. I love InDesign’s ease of use and so far, I haven’t found a comparable program that flows as well as InDesign did and does. Again, that’s personal preference and comes from someone who was perhaps not willing to invest the time needed to familiarize himself with these other programs, but now that I am forced to, it is beginning to look a lot brighter for the two programs below that I am about to give another in-depth spin.

I tried Scribus about one year ago, which is open source and altogether a consistent and great effort, but at the time, simple things just took too long and the learning curve seemed steep. The program utilizes a totally different approach to what I was used to and it was quite difficult to wrap my mind around many concepts. Still, they were there and I could glimpse them, but I gave up (too) quickly because I needed to get things done that day, not the following week. While writing these lines here, I saw that they had updated it quite a bit since, so I will give it another go. It has the added advantage that it is XML-based, meaning I can avoid the typical lock-in that comes with programs like InDesign and other Adobe products, but I am quite sure that I can trash several hundred InDesign documents that I have completed these past many years. The latter is the worrying part because I want to reuse many of those. There are many documents I have that are based on reusable templates and updated regularly to reflect, for example, recent developments in politics, history, language learning, etc. I don’t feel like recreating each one of those important documents from scratch. But, let’s see how it goes.

On top of that, I have decided to give QuarkXpress another go over Christmas.
That QuarkXpress, you ask?
Yes, that QuarkXpress.
Read the article (from 2014) plus the many comments and you’ll know what I mean.

If you have read the above article I linked to, you’ll understand why I am a bit weary, but the review on creativePro and a few other websites made me get my hopes up (a tiny bit) again. There is a limited three-day test version (3 days? Really?) which I can only dive into deeply once I have, well, three consecutive days off. They do offer a very attractive price for educators below 100 Euro, which is one that I would be more than willing to pay if the program can deliver what I need. If Quark Express can import my many old documents in a satisfying manner without me having to redo too many of them, I might be willing to lock myself in with their product.
Well, I don’t really know …

3) Leaving Adobe behind

No matter what, the main goal is to leave Adobe behind because I do not see them changing anything in their pricing model that would make me want to opt in. If I’m not totally wrong, we will see a price increase rather than a cheaper model for us educators once they have locked in a large enough user base. I could be wrong, but so far I haven’t been. Although I have been watching patiently since Adobe switched to the subscription model, I have not been able to shake the feeling that those average users, the average teacher who does a couple of things with products that are meant for design professionals, are not part of the customer base Adobe is looking and aiming for. That’s OK, but although it is, yes, both sad and unfortunate, 2017 will be the year Adobe disappears from my PC forever … after 22 years of use. [place extremely sad smiley face here]


P.S.: I have consciously avoided addressing all the problems that manifest themselves when products move into a cloud-based system. Just like Microsoft’s move with their office products (which are easily replaced nowadays by software equally adapt at handling what Microsoft’s software can), Adobe has had to fight with updates that didn’t work or threw wrenches into the workflow, documents and user data being corrupted or lost, errors ruining productivity, lock-outs, inconsistencies, and more. All of those problems seem to come with the territory and Adobe, I guess, hasn’t been any worse than –  but definitely equally as bad as – all the others in that department. If you do use cloud-based programs (or program suites), you know that the guinea-pig theorem has quickly moved to the forefront these past years and is here to stay. It’s the idea that software and software updates have to be test-driven by the paying customer, not by the people who programed and sold them. Although that has also been bugging me for years, I guess it comes with the multitude of possible setups and devices in use today.

Posted by Volkher Hofmann

Volkher Hofmann (deus62) has been blogging on and off since the 1990s and is all that is left. He loves music, literature, drumming and, most of all, real life. He thinks the open web is much more important than social networks, closed-in ecosystems and other severely commercialized online endeavors.

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