Adobe Creative Cloud Subscriptions – The Devil is in the Details

We all love our Adobe products, but recently I had the misfortune of being caught by the Adobe Creative Cloud cancellation ‟penalty.” Turns out, when you sign up for any annual Adobe CC subscription that’s paid monthly, you’re actually committing to an annual contract and if you want out early, it’s going to cost you.

If this is the first time you’ve heard of this penalty, I’m not surprised. None of us here at Retouching Academy were aware of this little-known cancellation fee either, prompting me to take a closer look at the issue  and Adobe’s subscription sign up options in general to help you make more informed decisions.

The cancellation terms first came to my attention when I got hit with an $80.00 penalty for canceling my Premier Pro (Single App annual, paid monthly) subscription. When I had signed up, I blindly accepted the Terms of Service (ToS) agreement, like most of us typically do. This was, after all, software that I had to have for my business. Upon canceling, I received a warning statement that I was in violation of my contract terms and, as such, was going to be charged a cancellation fee. Surprised, I went back and took a closer look at the plan. Sure enough, even though I’d been paying monthly, I had signed up for a full-year plan, which was, in actuality, a contract – not a month-to-month subscription, like many of us might have mistakingly thought it was.

The relevant clause, as well as the rest of the terms of cancellation, can be found here. Don’t get caught like I did; it’s important to make sure you read and understand the terms of service prior to completing your purchase.

Should you cancel after 14 days, you’ll be charged 50% of your remaining contract obligation and your service will continue until the end of that month’s billing period. Cancellations can be made any time by visiting your Manage Account page or by contacting Customer Support.

You can also find the subscription and cancellation terms during the sign up process:

Although the link to the terms may seem fairly obvious, it’s surprisingly easy to overlook when signing up.

Reading the terms surprised me, as this was the first I’d seen that my subscription was a contractual obligation with real consequences for early termination. Up to that point, I’d assumed my CC subscription was similar to my Netflix or Google Play music subscriptions and could be canceled anytime, without penalty. Obviously, I was wrong.

Note: You have 14 days from the date of purchase to cancel your subscription, without penalty. After that period, the cancellation penalty applies, which is 50% of your remaining contract obligation. Your service will continue until the end of that month’s billing period. Moreover, a renewal is not considered a new subscription sale. Even though I was only two days into a new yearlong auto renewal, I still had to pay the 50% cancellation penalty, which was the equivalent of six months worth of service.

Turns out, Adobe Creative Cloud does in fact have a commitment-free option, for a higher fee — an option I would have been more inclined to choose had I paid closer attention!

So given that the “Annual Plan” is really an annual contract, let’s look at the different plans available.

At the sign-up page, there are three distinct payment options:

  1. Annual plan, paid monthly
  2. Annual plan, paid yearly
  3. Monthly plan (the only option that you can drop at anytime without a fee)

With the Single App Monthly plan ($29.99/mo), you have the ability to cancel anytime without penalty, but it costs more than half of the All Apps Annual plan, paid monthly ($49.99) assuming you keep both for a year. Therefore, a commitment-free monthly plan may not be the best choice if you require long-term usage.

Let’s delve a bit deeper by comparing different subscription options for one year of access:

  • Photography plan (Photoshop and Lightroom, $9.99/mo): $119.88/year
  • Single App Annual plan, paid monthly ($19.99/mo): $239.88/year
  • Single App Annual plan (paid up front): $239.88/year
  • Single App Monthly plan ($29.99/mo): $359.88/year
  • All Apps Annual plan, paid monthly ($49.99/mo): $599.88/year
  • All Apps Monthly plan ($74.99/mo): $899.88

As you can see, Adobe offers a discount for annual subscriptions, though the cost is the same whether you pay up front or pay monthly for the year. So, if you know you will make use of their software for a year (or multiple years), then it certainly is to your advantage to sign up for an annual plan. However, even with all of these options, some users may find their needs don’t line up well with them.

Take me, for example. I’m a Photographer and Retoucher, but I also do some video editing work. All I want is Photoshop and occasionally Premier Pro (for the odd project); I don’t use Lightroom. Based on Adobe’s Creative Cloud offerings, my options are:

  1. Sign up for the Photography Plan (PS + LR) for $9.99/month and add Premier Pro as a stand-alone app for $19.99/month, which means paying $359.76/year in an annual commitment for three apps, one of which won’t be used.
  2. Sign up for the Photography Plan and add a single-app monthly subscription for Premier Pro for $29.99/month, while still being stuck with an app I won’t use (Lightroom).
  3. Sign up for Photoshop and Premier Pro as single-app annual subscriptions for a combined cost of $39.98/month or commitment-free for $59.98/month, which ends up being $719.76 per year, if kept for a full 12 months — which is 80% of the cost of getting the All Apps package, except the problem is I only want two apps!

To be fair, it’s 50% cheaper to get the Photography Bundle at $9.99 than to sign up for Photoshop by itself, which makes Lightroom a bit of a bonus I suppose, but since this is a digital-only service, there is really no reason why Adobe can’t offer more variety in their subscription plans. One obvious example: “Pick any two apps for $xx/month” with a combined price appreciably less than $39.98/month. Something along these lines would provide much more flexibility for CC subscribers.

As it is now, users can either get everything for $599.88/year (Annual plan) or pay a whole lot more for less. I understand that as a publicly traded company, Adobe wants its revenue from CC to be predictable, in part so it can provide accurate guidance for its quarterly earnings calls. Not having some sort of lock-in for annual subscriptions could definitely wreak havoc with that, but I would argue that giving subscribers more control and flexibility over subscriptions would also be a smart business move, benefiting more than just shareholders. Hopefully, Adobe will consider new subscription options in the future. As it stands now, be sure to read the fine print to ensure you get the best value you can and won’t end up paying more than you have to.

Have a Creative Cloud subscription experience you want to share? Let us know in the comments.

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