Adobe Systems (NASDAQ:ADBE) reported a strong fourth quarter last month. Revenue and earnings beat analyst estimates, and the company blew past its target for subscribers to its Creative Cloud service. The company is betting big on a subscription-based business model, completely phasing out perpetual software licenses, and the tough part of the transition appears to be over. Looking beyond the numbers, there were a few things said by management during the company's most recent conference call that help flesh out Adobe's results.
Broadening the customer base
In Digital Media, Creative Cloud continued its strong performance. As of the end of Q4, Creative Cloud adoption grew by more than 644 thousand to over 3.45 million subscriptions, significantly exceeding our annual target. Subscription growth was fueled by continued movement of the Creative Suite installed base to Creative Cloud as well as the addition of customers that are new to Adobe creative products -- CEO Shantanu Narayen
One of the major barriers to using Adobe software has always been the high price. A stand-alone version of Photoshop, for example, costs hundreds of dollars, and the company's full creative suite runs into the thousands of dollars. Moving to a subscription model greatly reduces this barrier to entry, and as a result, not only are current Adobe customers moving to the Creative Cloud, but customers who've never before paid for an Adobe product are jumping on board as well.
Photoshop can now be had for $10 per month, a far more attractive price than hundreds of dollars up front, and those who would have either used an alternative product, or a pirated version of Photoshop, are now more likely to become Adobe customers. This helped Adobe blow past its previous target for subscribers, expanding the reach of its creative software in the process.
More than a software company
At [the] MAX [conference] we launched Creative Talent Search, a service that connects Creatives around the world with job opportunities. This was the first step in making Creative Cloud a true Marketplace for the creative community.
In 2012, Adobe acquired start-up Behance, essentially a LinkedIn for artists, for about $150 million. Behance allows artists to create an online portfolio of their work without the burden of maintaining their own website, giving those looking to hire talent an easy way to find what they're looking for.
Behance has been integrated with Creative Cloud, but Adobe isn't done improving the service. In October, Adobe launched a new tool called Creative Talent Search, which allows those looking to hire talent to search based on portfolios instead of keywords. When a candidate's portfolio is found, the tool can find similar portfolios automatically, potentially saving quite a bit of time. Connecting creative talent to jobs could become a significant business for Adobe in the future.
Creating a one-stop shop
Today we took another major step in expanding the Marketplace with the announcement of our intention to acquire privately held Fotolia, a leading service for creatives to buy and sell photos, graphics and video. Stock content is critical for creatives and is a large and fast-growing multi-billion dollar market. Once closed, we intend to integrate Fotolia into Creative Cloud, resulting in higher ARPU [average revenue per user] and increased revenue. We also plan to continue to operate Fotolia as a stand-alone stock content service.
Adobe announced the $800 million acquisition of Fotolia, a stock photography and video marketplace, on the same day that it announced its earnings. Fotolia will be integrated into Creative Cloud, providing subscribers easy access to millions of pieces of content, as well as a way to monetize content.
While the price tag is certainly steep, Fotolia allows Adobe to continue to make Creative Cloud much more than just a set of tools. Adobe is creating a sort-of one-stop shop for creative talent, from tools to stock images to portfolio discovery, and all of these additions add further value to the service.
Big deals in marketing
We continue to drive large-scale engagements with Adobe Marketing Cloud customers. Big deals in Q4 included Ford, FedEx, MasterCard, Morgan Stanley, QVC, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and US Dept. of Veterans Affairs.
The second major part of Adobe's business is digital marketing, and the company scored some major deals during the fourth quarter. Adobe had previously set a 30% annual growth target, but the company handily beat that target during the fourth quarter thanks to record Marketing Cloud bookings.
Marketing Cloud recorded revenue of $330 million in the fourth quarter, putting the annual run rate at well over $1 billion. Digital marketing represents a major growth opportunity for Adobe: While it already dominates the market for creative software, digital marketing is still a young industry with plenty of potential, and offering both creative tools and marketing tools under one roof gives Adobe a unique advantage.
Adobe is expecting rapid growth
Consistent with our target of approximately 20% compound annual revenue growth between FY14 and FY16, we are targeting total revenue of approximately $4.85 billion in FY15. We expect GAAP earnings per share of $1.20, and non-GAAP earnings per share of $2.05 – which is ahead of the target we provided a year ago.
-- CFO Mark Garrett
Adobe's transition to a subscription-based business model involved a couple of years of falling revenue and profits, but the worst appears to be over. Adobe is calling for 20% annual revenue growth through fiscal year 2016, and it expects EPS to reach $1.20 next year.
Adobe's stock is certainly priced for growth. At around $72 per share, the P/E ratio using this number is roughly 60, although this ratio drops considerably if non-generally accepted-accounting-principles figures are used. Non-GAAP EPS is expected to reach $2.05 in fiscal year 2015.
Adobe's shift to subscriptions seems to be paying off, but the market may be getting a little ahead of itself.