Almost everyone has to do business with Adobe at some point. Businesses and law firms rely on Acrobat to scan documents and manage the ubiquitous PDF file format. Adobe products continue to be the basic tools for artists, photographers, web designers, and graphics professionals.

It’s a frustrating company.

  • Malware authors have been able to take advantage of security problems in Acrobat and Adobe Reader and create evil PDF files to distribute malware.
  • Adobe software is expensive. Graphics professionals can pay more for a license for Adobe Creative Suite than they pay for their computer.
  • The process for buying Adobe software has been difficult – confusing licenses purchased from a poorly designed web site.

I’ve had a couple of occasions to buy licenses for Adobe products recently. To my surprise, the experience went smoothly. Here are two things for small businesses to consider.

Buying Adobe Licenses

Like so many services, Adobe’s customer experience is driven by an “Adobe ID” – an email address and password. Set up an Adobe ID that will be used for purchases for your business. Remember it. Use the same ID every time.

When you buy from Adobe and then log in later to the Adobe store, information about your account is now clearly laid out. Purchases are clearly identified, serial numbers are presented, and download links are provided.

You still might buy your next Adobe products in a box from a retailer. On a quick look, it appears that full-price products can be purchased more cheaply from other sources. Example: the full version of Acrobat X Pro is $449 from Adobe, $369.10 from Amazon.

Upgrade licenses, however, appear to be very similar in price, whether they’re purchased from Adobe or from other retailers. In that case, it makes sense to buy from Adobe and have Adobe maintain a permanent record of purchases and serial numbers.

Adobe products and licenses are still a labyrinth. Individual licenses are bad enough; I am grateful to work with businesses that are small enough not to need volume licenses, which become even more painfully complex. Nonetheless, the improvement in purchasing and tracking licenses in the Adobe store deserves notice; a small business that is careful about keeping track of login names and passwords should consider buying products directly from Adobe.

Subscribing To Adobe Software

Last month Adobe added the option of paying a monthly subscription fee to obtain licenses for its Creative Suite software instead of buying it outright. Here is Adobe’s description of the subscription process, and here’s an article that lays out some pros and cons.

Law firms can look away for now: at the moment there is no subscription option for Acrobat.

Deciding whether a subscription makes more sense for you than a purchase quickly turns into a complicated calculus of money and upgrades and tax benefits and more. Subscriptions can be purchased monthly or annually; monthly subscriptions can be turned off and on as needed; subscriptions aren’t relevant for students (who can buy heavily discounted student licenses) or businesses with volume licenses; the list of considerations goes on and on.

Let’s use Photoshop as an example.

  • Full version: $699
  • Annual subscription: $35/month
  • Monthly subscription: $49/month

The subscription cost adds up fast. Almost any way you calculate it, you’ll pay more in the long run for the subscription. You’ll get the next version of the software automatically as part of the subscription; an owner will have to buy the upgrade next year, albeit at a discounted price. Really, it makes your head spin.

Maybe it will hit some of you like it did me, though. I was considering Dreamweaver. Putting aside all the calculus – there’s no way I would have talked myself into paying $399 for a license, but it didn’t bother me at all to sign up for $19/month. It’s psychological or religious or gut level or something. The subscription hit me just right.

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