Adobe Creative Suite 5.5 isn't a rip-off: the UK price is

12 May 2011

My review of the new Creative Suite 5.5 (CS5.5) has just been posted and there’s plenty to talk about in terms of new functionality and what this means in relation to the future of cross-platform design.

However, it’s not so much the extraordinary and mouth-watering creativity of CS5.5 that is likely to strike users as the extraordinary and eye-watering cost.

The Difference Between Price and Value

If you’re downloading software online and subscribing to it online what difference does it make what country you’re doing it from?

Straight up, it’s important to stress that a high price does not necessarily mean poor value. It's also worth stressing that the full CS5.5 Master Collection is a formidable achievement, offering state-of-the-art creative power stretching from photo-editing and vector illustration through desktop publishing and website creation, to video production and rich internet application development.

Compared to professional 3D applications such as Maya (SRP $3,495), for example, that makes the US cost of $2,599 for the full Master Collection an absolute bargain. The same is true of the $549 upgrade price when you bear in mind that it includes no fewer than 11 updated component applications.

It might be good value but it’s still a seriously intimidating headline figure. Of course most users don’t need the full range of power and Adobe provides the targeted Suite Editions to help keep things more affordable. However while the cheapest Design Standard suite for graphic designers comes in at around half the price of the full Master Collection, $1,399 is still a lot of money. There’s no doubt that the huge upfront cost is putting off new users from joining up to Adobe’s CS-based design platform.

The Difference Between Buying and Renting

Adobe has recognised as much and, with CS5.5, it has introduced a completely new subscription pricing model that effectively lets users rent Adobe’s main CS5.5 suite editions and apps rather than buy them. Prices vary widely but, to give an idea of rates, if you’re willing to commit to an annual subscription (complete with automatic upgrades), the monthly cost for the full Master Collection is $129.

Subscribing won’t be of much interest to current users as there’s no discounted rate if you already own CS5. Moreover, the fact that after two years you’ll have spent more on renting than buying means that, if cash flow isn’t an issue, then the traditional retail route is almost certainly your best option. Especially so if you investigate Adobe’s various upgrade and cross-grade possibilities.

However the subscription pricing will certainly prove attractive to new users who simply can’t afford the upfront cost and also to users of older releases of the software who are generally happy with what they can do, but might occasionally want to try out a new program or the latest functionality.

The Difference between the US and the UK

That’s the good news. Here’s the bad news. I gave the US$ pricing deliberately. At today’s exchange rate, US $2,599 should convert to around £1,575 for the full Master Collection, the $549 upgrade to £333, and the annual monthly subscription rate of $129 to £78. In each case I’d argue that that’s really good value.

Instead the equivalent UK pricing to buy the CS5.5 Master Collection is £2,268, it’s £476 for the upgrade and £116 for the annual monthly cost. And that’s before you add in 20% VAT!

Yes, you can still make a good case for value for the CS5.5 suites in terms of what you can achieve with them, especially with CS5.5’s new ability to deliver rich design and functionality to mobile devices including the potentially lucrative iPhone and iPad markets.

However it’s impossible not to feel exploited and angry when US designers are getting the same products for so much less. The CS5 suites aren’t a rip-off, but the UK pricing certainly is.

I really don’t understand this. The new CS5.5 subscription model shows that Adobe is aware of the importance of affordability. This isn’t done out of the goodness of its heart - Adobe knows that the best way to optimise profits is to maximize its userbase. However for some reason this doesn’t seem to apply in the UK.

The new subscription model brings home the unfairness of Adobe’s international pricing even more directly. The beauty of internet-based delivery is that it provides a truly global audience, as Adobe knows better than anyone. But if you’re downloading software online and subscribing to it online what difference does it make what country you’re doing it from? Why should the UK-based CS5.5 user be charged 50% more (before VAT) for a month’s use of exactly the same software? I really think we can live with US spellings if that’s what it takes to get a fair price.

This isn’t just a question of best business practice. Adobe’s whole cross-platform design vision is built on the principle of a universal and level playing field. The same can’t be said of its pricing policy and it needs to be changed.

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