Tedium - A Creative Market Reset 🎨

Adobe needed some real competition. Now it has some.

Hunting for the end of the long tail • March 27, 2024

A Creative Market Reset

Canva’s purchase of Affinity creates a new market dynamic for creative professionals, and it could have ripple effects as big as AI.

Recently, I was posed a survey about Adobe’s products, and I found myself just kind of stuck in a permanent eyeroll about the whole thing.

The fact that this company pushes us to pay hundreds of dollars a year for its products, aggressively bundles in ways that seemed designed to either give you far less or way more than you actually need, and tends to ignore highly requested features by end users, really makes them a bit less than lovable in my mind.

When asked to offer a list of “design apps you’ve heard of,” I intentionally included 10 apps that weren’t made by Adobe. My cynicism is strong these days, and not just because I’ve been trying to move to Linux full-time and Adobe’s apps have traditionally been one of the few things preventing me from doing so.

Long story short, Adobe carries itself like a company that needs competition, and it has done so for many years.

Now, it appears that they have it. This week, the online design platform Canva, which has been on a tear for the last decade, purchased Adobe’s main competitor on the professional print design software front, Affinty, the firm formerly known as Serif. The deal essentially creates a new player that hits both the high end, with quality software for photo-editing and layout, and the lower end, for folks who want to build presentations and social media graphics quickly and easily.

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Adobe perhaps knew that they needed some sort of moat against this kind of acquisition, which is perhaps the biggest deal in the design sector since Adobe itself bought Macromedia two decades ago. That’s why it attempted to one-up the rest of the industry by agreeing to purchase Figma, a user interface tool that was ultimately too expensive for British regulators, who effectively blocked it. Good thing, too, because now it’s becoming clear that the status quo is going to be unworkable long term.

Affinity, a British company that has been around under the Serif name for more than 35 years, found a fresh lease on life when it rebuilt its apps on a simple promise: Professional-level tools that don’t cost an arm and a leg and can be purchased on an ongoing basis. Essentially, they built a market for people who have been left out by Adobe’s focus on the extreme upper end of the market, who want to create great work but aren’t focused on the enterprise.

A screenshot of Affinity Designer, Serif’s Adobe Illustrator competitor.

Canva, a company that is a mere 11 years old, has focused on a similar gap in the market—those that may need to design stuff, but don’t know where to start. It relies on SaaS, but it understands its audience—and announced soon after the acquisition, in a joint statement with the company it acquired, that it would keep Affinity’s model in place.

“We believe Affinity is the highest-quality professional-grade design suite on the market,” the companies stated. “It’s non-destructive, super fast, and easy to use. As such, we want to reassure you that it isn’t going anywhere.”

In the past, design has traditionally favored the most popular applications over up-and-comers. For decades, it was a big issue going to a print shop with a file that wasn’t in the most widely used design program of the era—something that made it hard for Adobe to build a formidable competitor to QuarkXPress in the late 1990s. But the dynamic has changed.

The rise of the PDF has (mostly) neutralized the need for specific apps in print shops, but more importantly, much of the design work that Adobe apps once dominated in has moved to other areas where its position isn’t quite as airtight. If you don’t need collaborative tools baked into your software—and many individual users do not—it doesn’t really matter what you use as long as you can ship it in an industry-standard format.

Adobe has long attempted to fortify its position as the market leader. The 2005 acquisition of Macromedia was meant to leverage the company’s strength in two key areas—interactive graphics and web design. But traces of Macromedia’s legacy have long worn off—Dreamweaver is something of a nonentity in modern web coding and the stink of Flash is such that the company long ago renamed the software to Animate. The attempt to buy Figma, after the failure of XD to take over the market, was clearly an effort to make up for lost ground.

Meanwhile, the fundamental legacy apps (bar the video-editing software Premiere, which has been prominent, but never the only option in its vertical) are starting to feel less fresh, even with the infusion of artificial intelligence that has been their recent calling card. (The stock market has noticed.)

Competitors to Photoshop have started to get pretty good, Affinity Photo included. Pixelmator and Procreate offer Mac and iPad users, respectively, the native-feeling experience that Photoshop has never really offered those platforms. And then there’s the open-source space, which continues to incrementally improve year by year.

Add to that Creative Cloud’s too-hot pricing and too-cold value prop, and a Canva/Affinity merger starts to feel just right. (Well, as long as they don’t screw it up.)

Long story short, we needed a dynamic shift like this in the creative software space to ensure that people aren’t just stuck paying the Adobe tax for no good reason. If Canva can calm longtime users’ nerves and avoid enshittification, this could work.

Creative Links

Over the weekend I played through Ganbare Goemon 2: Kiteretsu Shougun Magginesu (Go for it! Goemon 2: The Strange General McGuinness), the Japan-only sequel to my longtime Super NES fave Legend of the Mystical Ninja, which only got translated in 2020. I highly recommend it if you’re an enthusiast of the 16-bit era.

If you’re interested in something, just embrace it. That’s the lesson I take from newly Minted Linux enthusiast Andrea Borman, an elderly British woman who has drawn interest on YouTube for her posts about Debian and GNOME. She made the move about a month ago, because Windows no longer supported her laptop.

404 Media figured out how to make subscriber RSS feeds for news content a thing.

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