Autodesk’s Callan Carpenter responds to Subscription follow-up

You may remember a month ago I raised the question What proportion of Autodesk customers really are on Subscription? Shortly after that, I sent Autodesk Subscription VP Callan Carpenter these questions following up on the interview:

I have a request for follow-up information arising from this interview. I hope you can find the time to provide some answers.

Preamble: Several people have called into doubt your assertion that the simplified upgrade policy affects only a tiny minority of your customers (you seemed to imply a figure of around 3% non-Subscription customers, with 1.5% who upgrade within a year or two). My own calculations based on Autodesk’s latest published financial results indicate that of upgrades represent 21% of the combined income from Subscription and upgrades, which is 7 times greater than the impression you gave in your answer. Please see this post for more discussion.

Questions:

  • Please clarify in as much detail as possible exactly how you arrive at your figures.
  • A percentage is derived by dividing one number by another; what exactly are you dividing by what to come up with 1.5%?
  • Please explain why your statements appear to contradict Autodesk’s own published figures.
  • How large is Autodesk’s total installed base?

Other points of dispute have been raised by various commenters, which I have paraphrased here. I invite your response.

  • Because Autodesk made Subscription cheaper than upgrading, it is no surprise that upgrading became less popular. This doesn’t indicate that customers prefer doing business in that way, merely that Autodesk made it the cheapest alternative.
  • If the idea of Subscription is such an attractive proposition, why do you need to sweeten the deal with tools that you don’t allow upgraders to have?
  • Your assertion that the 12-month cycle is driven by the product teams is incorrect. It was chosen for business reasons and the product cycle was forced to fit the Subscription model.

After a few follow-ups, I received a response yesterday. I reproduce that response here verbatim and without comment:

My sincere apologies for the delay. I have been travelling quite extensively, and this response has been sitting in my drafts email folder, and I just kept getting sidetracked with customer matters.

Nonetheless, I appreciate the opportunity to respond to some of the feedback you received after our discussion last month. During that first interview we discussed, among other things, the rationale behind the Simplified Upgrade Pricing program. I argued that SUP impacts only a small subset of our customers, and quoted figures to support the case. It appears those figures have been challenged by a few of your readers who feel their experience is different. Is it possible that both points of view are right? I believe it is.

By my prior statements I do not mean to suggest that the vast majority of all customers are on Subscription. Autodesk has a very large base of customers that has grown over the past 28 years. The subscription program as it exists today is only about 8 years old, so we had 20 years to develop a large base of customers, many of whom are not on Subscription. (Yes, there were forerunner programs like VIP, but they were structured quite differently and never generated an appreciable amount of business.) This is important because the SUP program only really impacts those customers upgrading from one and two versions back, which is a very small percentage of the already small upgrade revenue. Subscribers and customers upgrading from four or more versions back see no change to their pricing, and customers upgrading from 3 versions back see either no change or a very nominal one (up or down) depending on their specific product or country.

Most of the non-subscribing customer base does not purchase upgrades one or two versions back. In other words, most of these customers either haven’t bought anything from us in a long time, or when they do, they fall into the 98.5% of the revenue that includes upgrades from three or more versions back.

History is one thing, but the current trend line is another. For 8 years the Subscription program has coexisted with the Upgrade program. During that time our customers have been free to chose either strategy for keeping their technology current. Based on the results, their choice was clear: the majority of customers buying over the past few years have opted to leverage the Subscription program to stay on the latest technology in the most cost effective way possible. Only a few have elected to stay current through one and two version upgrades. The rest upgraded from older versions – three or more back. Of course Autodesk still offers all those choices going forward, albeit with a slimmed down price sheet.

There is one last point that I would like to make: While we believe Subscription is the most cost effective way to stay on the latest design technology, there is much more to the program than cost savings. Direct access to Autodesk product support specialists, Advantage Pack© bonus features, and free software for home use are just some of the value-added aspects of the program. In short, we are committed to an ongoing, continuous reevaluation of both the cost and benefit components of the Subscription value equation in order to make it an attractive option for as many customers as possible.

Thanks, again Steve for allowing me the time to speak with your readers.

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