‘This is fine’: On the cost of Creative Cloud

Photo of Simon Collinson.

Simon Collinson is an Australian web developer, typesetter, and digital publishing specialist. Previously digital editor at Canelo, he’s now Manager, Content Sales at Kobo. He writes regularly for The Booksellerepubsecrets, and other trade publications, and campaigns fiercely against unpaid internships.

Simon Collinson will be speaking at ebookcraft 2018 with Nick Barreto in a session called Life after Adobe.

Every ebook creator needs Adobe Creative Suite, right? If it isn’t InDesign for layout, it’s Photoshop for covers, Illustrator for SVGs, or Dreamweaver for HTML. Adobe software feels as inescapable as gravity.

But if Adobe is a gravitational force, Creative Cloud prices don’t seem to be subject to it. A few months ago, I got an email from Adobe saying that the price of my Creative Cloud subscription was about to go up — again. I went back through my invoices and charted the monthly cost of my various subscriptions over time. It came as a bit of a shock:

Graph showing rising cost of Creative Cloud subscription costs.

From a $15/month student subscription in 2013 to a $72/month Creative Suite subscription in 2017, my monthly design spend has nearly quintupled over just four years. In my career to date, I’ve spent more than $2,000 on Adobe software. That amount might feel more reasonable if you owned the software at the end of it, but when you cancel a subscription you’re left with nothing.

Source: Gunshow, January 2013.

Source: Gunshow, January 2013.

There’s nothing quite as terrifying as the thought of losing access to your entire work history if you miss a single monthly payment. Sure, TypeKit and the other ancillary benefits are nice, but internet forums are awash with designers, photographers, illustrators, and typesetters who feel the same anxiety and restriction of choice. (Yes, culture workers can be precarious too.)

How did we get here, and what are the alternatives?

This isn’t the first time a design program has come to dominate the industry and then ratchet up its prices; it’s exactly what QuarkXPress did until InDesign was released in 1999. Maybe this is just a structural issue with typesetting: it’s a niche too small and a technical problem too complex to support a competitive range of tools. But that rule doesn’t hold true for photo editing, perhaps the single biggest beneficiary of digital creativity.

If you use Photoshop, Affinity Photo is the replacement you’ve been waiting for. (As much as I admire the open-source spirit behind GIMP, its performance and reliability just isn’t good enough for it to be used as a serious professional tool.) Affinity Photo is a one-off purchase of $70CAD and it’s just as powerful as Photoshop, and often quicker. It imports and exports PSDs, handles layers beautifully, and displays a level of polish that will charm even the most seasoned Adobophile.

If you’re a vectorhead, you can replace Illustrator with Affinity Designer. And if you’re just doing occasional bits of collateral design — like creating web shareables or the occasional flyer — why not use a browser-based service like Canva?

That’s all very well, you might think, but how am I meant to work with all these INDD files my clients keep sending me? I feel you. Typesetters’ and ebook devs’ best intentions are no match for institutional rules and ossified workflows. The question to ask your client here, then, is whether they really need to be using a WYSIWYG graphic design program. (This is a good argument for why publishers need an accessibility chief, because how many people at a typical house will understand that question well enough to answer it?)

If your project is just reflowable text, HTML5-to-PDF options like Prince and DocRaptor are only getting better and more affordable. And if you think LaTeX is just for scientific papers, think again. I built a 99% automated EPUB-to-PDF workflow in just a few days. At ebookcraft, Nick Barreto and I will cover this and other topics, including the joy of Pandoc, a command-line tool that can read and write ICML files (among much else).

But there will always be complex layout projects, and until Affinity’s InDesign challenger, Publisher, comes along we’re going to have to live with what we’ve got — unless you’re brave enough to go back to Quark. The best option right now might be to pick the one Adobe product you can’t live without and jettison the rest.

In fact, I still have an InDesign subscription. (They say that going cold turkey only has a 22% success rate; that’s my excuse.) So here’s what the chart of my various subscriptions over time actually looks like for me now:

Graph showing increasing Creative Cloud subscription costs, with a dramatic drop off mid-way through 2017.

It’s still not perfect, but I’m getting there. What’s your approach?

Register for ebookcraft to learn more about the modern, cost-effective tools Simon Collinson and Nick Barreto used to build Canelo’s ebook production workflow. It takes place March 21-22, 2018 in Toronto. You can find more details about the conference here, or sign up for our mailing list to get all of the conference updates.