Ben Thompson on Adobe's move to subscription pricing

Ben Thompson, at his fine blog Stratēchery, goes into the economics behind Adobe's recent (as of last May) move from the "packaged software" business model to subscription pricing.

The packaged software model:

Consumer A rarely edits photos, which means a photo-editing app is worth maybe $20 to him. Yet, he buys Photoshop anyways for $499. In this case, Adobe is, in effect, charging $479 too much. The consumer is getting a bad deal.

Consumer B is a graphic designer. She uses Photoshop every day, for hours a day. Without Photoshop,she couldn’t do her job, for which she is paid $60,000 a year. In this case, there is a consumer surplus of $59,501. Adobe is getting a bad deal.

Consumer C is a student. He has aspirations for being a photographer, but is just getting started. He buys Photoshop, but finds it very hard to use; in fact, he is losing time trying to figure it out. Yet, over time, he becomes proficient, and eventually an expert. The economic surplus shifted from producer to consumer, even though there was no transaction.

... and the subscription model:

The price is much more approachable for Consumer A. He can “try out” Photoshop, and if he ends up not using it, he can simply end his subscription. More importantly, there will be a lot more Consumer As, and some of them will stay subscribed.

Consumer B will get a great deal right off the bat, but as she uses Photoshop throughout her career, Adobe will be along for the ride, making revenue every month as opposed to every few years.

Consumer C is similar to A: Photoshop will be much more approachable, and there will be a lot more Customer Cs. As they become real users, Adobe moves with them.

Moreover, Adobe is well-incentivised to maintain the app to reduce churn, and users always have the most recent version. It really is a win-win.

The whole article is full of good insights on why subscription pricing is ideal for professional productivity software. Even Microsoft, sitting atop their giant pile of packaged-software-derived cash, is moving that direction with Office365.

We've always viewed the subscription model as a win-win ourselves.