How the Subscription Business Model Harms Marginalized Creatives

I'm a long-time Adobe customer. I've been in a good position to use Adobe's software throughout my education and career. It's been a good experience for me, but only because I was a student when the Adobe software had perpetual licenses. You pay for the software once, and you own it forever.

For a lot of the designers and content creators I associate with, they are not as content with Adobe as I am. Working with more students has opened my eyes to experiences that seem to be the norm, and those experiences are far from my own.

The root of this seems to be Adobe's current subscription business model. I'm lucky that I graduated when I did, because if I graduated today, there's a greater chance that I wouldn't be a designer.

Perpetual licenses saved me after college.

I purchased Adobe Creative Suite Design Premium when I was a college student. The student version wasn't that expensive, and I was able to purchase every new version of the Creative Suite when it came out.

It was 2008 when The Great Recession hit.

I graduated during the financial crisis. I couldn't get a design job. I couldn't even get a retail job. The only source of income I had was the occasional freelance work. I was able to freelance because I had a perpetual license to Adobe Creative Suite 3 at the time.

That copy of CS3 got me through a few very tough years. Eventually I was able to become a full-time freelancer.

When Adobe's subscription-based Creative Cloud offering was released, I jumped on it and become a subscriber. I was doing more video-related work, and it made more sense to subscribe than to buy a perpetual license to the Master Collection (which contained everything).

But what would my career path have been like had I not owned a perpetual license to Adobe software after graduating from college?

If I graduated with subscription-based software, I would have been ruined.

Replaying back the events after my graduation, it would have ended very differently if Creative Cloud's subscription service was the only option. I would have ran out of money sooner. I would not have been able to afford my monthly subscription. I would not have been able to do any freelance work.

My design career would be over until I could afford a month's worth of Creative Cloud subscription. And to add insult to injury, if I was going to pay month to month (which I would have done because I couldn't ensure a year's worth of financial security) my software would have cost about 41% more than I was paying before.

Realistically, what I would have done in that scenario, is saved up a month's worth of a Creative Cloud subscription and bought a perpetual license to Affinity Designer instead, and have never have any plans on using Adobe software again.

That "what if" is the reality for many students and designers.

I know people who were blocked from making money as a designer and content creator because they couldn't afford their Creative Cloud subscription that month. When times are tough, being blocked from getting out of that hole because you lose your tools is last thing a struggling creative or recent graduate needs.

There are alternatives to this business model.

I've written an article that goes into more detail over at the Squirrel Logic website. There are alternatives to the subscription business model that generate recurring revenue, and that don't alienate or harm more vulnerable customers.

If you own a software business, or are wanting to start one, I implore you to consider the realities of how subscription-based software creates a reinforcement loop that further separates the well-off and the marginalized. Nowadays? That marginalized group is getting bigger, and their voices are getting louder.


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