Charting Adobe's business model transformation

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Adobe has transformed itself in recent years from a purveyor of licensed desktop software for creatives to a business advancing on three subscription-based fronts — Creative Cloud, Document Cloud and Marketing Cloud.

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Image: Adobe

Founded in 1982, Adobe built its business on a page description language (PostScript), digital fonts, an electronic document format (PDF) and a suite of desktop applications for photo editing (Photoshop), vector drawing/editing (Illustrator), page layout (PageMaker, and then InDesign), web development (GoLive, and then Dreamweaver) and video editing (Premiere Pro and After Effects).

Today, Adobe operates in two main areas: digital media (Creative Cloud and Document Cloud) and digital marketing (Marketing Cloud and LiveCycle/web conferencing). In its most recent (Q2 2015) quarterly financial results, the company generated $745.7 million in revenue from digital media ($196.6m from Document Cloud and the rest from Creative Cloud) and $366.5 million from digital marketing ($326.6 million from Marketing Cloud). Total Q2 2015 revenue was $1.16 billion (a quarterly record), the majority of it generated in the Americas and EMEA:

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Data source: Adobe

Like many tech companies, Adobe has had to adapt its business model to the new realities of social, mobile, analytics and cloud (a.k.a. SMAC). It has chosen to move from selling mainly perpetual-licence desktop software to a subscription-based model incorporating a mix of desktop software, mobile apps, SaaS applications and cloud services. What's striking is how smoothly — at least from a financial viewpoint — the company has managed this transition over the last few years. Since Q1 2012, quarterly revenue has averaged $1.06 billion, with a range of just $0.16bn:

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Data source: Adobe

Creative Cloud

Adobe is best known for its Creative Cloud (CC) suite of subscription-based desktop software, mobile apps and cloud-based storage/sync/share services. The last version of its perpetual-licence predecessor, Creative Suite 6 (CS6), was released in April 2012, since when CC subscriptions have grown steadily to 4.61 million:

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Data source: Adobe

In 2013, Adobe announced that updates would only be available for CC subscribers going forward, leaving users of CS6 with a collection of increasingly outdated applications. Although subscription growth is clearly healthy, there is still a substantial population of CS6 hold-outs, whom Adobe continues to court. In its Q2 2015 earnings call, David Wadhwani, senior vice-president and general manager, Digital Media, said: "Our Creative Cloud strategy focuses on three drivers: the continued migration of Creative Suite customers to Creative Cloud; the expansion of our market through tiered offerings that attract new customers; and the introduction of value-added services that increase ARPU."

A CNET survey published in December 2014 gave some clues as to the reasons CS6 users were holding out, with 72 percent of respondents reporting that CC subscriptions were too expensive, 58 percent feeling that 2013-vintage CS remained fit for purpose and 28 percent planning to use competing products:

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Data: CNET

Having said that, the same survey found that 77 percent of existing CC subscribers were either 'very satisfied' (57%) or 'satisfied' (20%) with the service. One criticism regularly voiced in Adobe-related forums and article comments is the restricted number of subscription options: for individuals, a complete sub costs £45.73 a month (or £69.72 with the new Adobe Stock photography service), while single apps cost £17.15. There's only one task-related bundle: the £8.57 a month Photography plan, which gives you Photoshop and Lightroom. Many potential CC customers would like more flexiblility. (see Adobe's website for business and educational pricing.)

Document Cloud

The other, considerably smaller, string to Adobe's digital media bow is Document Cloud, which offers Acrobat-based PDF tools (including intelligent form-filling and e-signing) plus cloud-based storage, sync and sharing. Here are the revenue streams for Creative Cloud and Document Cloud expressed as 'Annualised Recurring Revenue', or ARR:

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Data source: Adobe

On this measure, Creative Cloud earns Adobe around six times more than Document Cloud — $2.02 billion versus $329 million.

Marketing Cloud

Following its 2009 acquisition of Omniture, Adobe introduced its Marketing Cloud in Q4 2012, which now includes eight SaaS applications: Analytics, Audience Manager, Campaign, Experience Manager, Media Optimizer, Primetime, Social and Target. The two latest Marketing Cloud additions are Audience Manager (a data management platform that allows marketers to create and target audience segments in multichannel campaigns), and Primetime (a multiscreen TV platform that helps broadcasters, cable networks and service providers create and monetise personalised TV and film experiences).

Marketing Cloud contributes the lion's share of Adobe's digital marketing revenue:

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Data source: Adobe

Adobe's most recent digital marketing move was the announcement in April of a strategic partnership to integrate Marketing Cloud with Microsoft's Dynamics CRM platform.

Outlook

Adobe has transformed itself in recent years from a purveyor of licensed desktop software for creatives to a business advancing on three largely subscription-based fronts — Creative Cloud, Document Cloud and Marketing Cloud. According to CEO Shantanu Narayen: "We are the only company with the vision and assets to address the entire content lifecycle — from creation to delivery, to optimisation and monetisation." It may have left some of its traditional user base behind along the way, but there's no doubting the current success of Adobe's strategy.

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