THIS IS NOT THE TYPICAL ‘LIGHT AS AIR’ POST ON DAMN UGLY PHOTOGRAPHY. IF YOU HAVE ANY CONNECTION WITH THE PHOTOGRAPHY, DESIGN, ADVERTISING OR PUBLISHING BUSINESS, I ASK THAT YOU TAKE THE TIME TO READ THROUGH THIS MAGNUM OPUS OF MINE AS I TRULY FEEL IT IS ONE OF THE MORE IMPORTANT THINGS I’VE POSTED SINCE I’VE BEGUN DOING THE BLOG…BRAD TRENT
Last week Adobe announced that, going forward, all of its software products will only be available on a subscription basis. No more perpetual licenses for Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Premiere Pro, or any of the applications that make up the Adobe Creative Suite…from now on, users will have to pay a monthly subscription fee forever if they want to use any of these products!
But before I set off on what might get interpreted as a narcissistic rant, let me make my opinion on Adobe’s decision to move to what they are calling a ‘cloud-based’ subscription only licensing model up front and crystal clear…
As a professional photographer who relies on Photoshop just as much as I rely on the digital cameras that produce my RAW files, I believe having to pay an ongoing monthly fee to use the application is an incredibly shortsighted decision by a company that essentially has the monopoly on digital asset management, and if I may quote David Hobby…the Strobist…”feels like the biggest money grab in the history of software”.
I will also say that the majority of what I’ll be talking about relates to Photoshop, since that’s the World I live in. Whether or not users of Adobe Muse, Dreamweaver, After Effects or any of the other applications in the Adobe Creative Suite find added value in paying the new $50.00 monthly subscription scheme, I have no idea. I’m gonna focus on the concept on what an ongoing $20.00 per month subscription means for photographers…
Adobe announced that by moving to cloud-based subscriptions they will have a better handle on software piracy, be able to better update the application as needed, and cut their development and distribution overhead. I can’t speak to their development costs, but as for software pirates, I’m not so dumb to think that if there is a will, there is a way. You can bet there is already a kid in a basement somewhere with a pretty good idea on how to distribute free “Cloud Copies” of piracy-proof software!
With the “Creative Cloud” being the really big news, it came as almost as an afterthought (perhaps to take your mind off the whole subscription thing???) when Adobe mentioned some new features they’ve added to Photoshop…like the Camera Shake Reduction tool, Smart Sharpen, and that you can now apply Camera Raw edits as filters. But let’s forget about any new features, since new features are why you would have paid for an old-school upgrade to Photoshop anyway. New features are a given. The real controversy is that from now on, you won’t have the ability to move forward incrementally as you see fit. In the past, if Adobe trotted out an upgrade to Photoshop that didn’t fit your workflow, you could just keep using the version you had and wait for the next version before you kicked in your money to be up to date. Adobe obviously didn’t like this. They saw it as a money-losing proposition if users didn’t slavishly continue along the upgrade ladder, paying for the privilege, of course. To counter this trend, they even changed their long-standing upgrade policy so that if you didn’t have Photoshop CS5, you wouldn’t be able to move up to CS6. That pissed off a lot of Photoshop users, but I understood it. I’m not against Adobe being able to charge for upgrades to their software, that’s their right. But apparently that wasn’t enough for Adobe. They have obviously decided that a perpetual subscription licensing model is the only way to continue bringing in a substantial cash flow. Assuming that hobbyists and ‘occasional’ photographers make up the vast majority of Adobe’s customer base, do they really expect these people to happily pay a $20.00 per month licensing fee to continue to use Photoshop? And if you can also assume that they will lose a pretty good percentage of that customer base…the casual Photoshop users, or those who decide to switch to Lightroom or Aperture…what are their plans to recover that lost income? Or maybe they’ve already got that figured out, and that is how they came up with the $20/month pricing plan for the Photoshop-only side to their cloud strategy. Maybe the actuaries have figured that since everyone who uses Photoshop doesn’t march over the upgrade cliff every two years, if they were to install a mandatory payment schedule it would ensure their income stream and they could claim the new plan, while more expensive, is actually better because it ensures a much more up to date Photoshop experience (even if the user doesn’t need the new features).
But let’s look at what they are really proposing…
Adobe claims the new “Creative Cloud” strategy “includes everything you need to experiment like never before”, and will allow you to “track comments posted to shared files, keep tabs on your work and your followers on Behance…”, and they drop buzz words like “Collaborate”, “Grow” and “Change” as though they are candies to be gobbled up by sugar-hungry children. I read this and couldn’t help but wonder if they have lost track of what a professional photographers work flow is REALLY like?!! Professional photographers aren’t looking to pay a $50/month license fee to ‘experiment’ with Illustrator, Premiere Pro or Dreamweaver! Professional photographers don’t use Photoshop as a social media tool. We don’t finish off an assignment by hitting the ‘Send’ button so our work posts in real-time on ‘Behance’ (which, in case you missed that press release, is owned by Adobe!). Professional photographers shoot, process, archive and retouch images in Photoshop. We send those images to our clients. And then it’s on to the next gig where we do it all again. I dare say that the overwhelming majority of professional photographers don’t waste too much time worrying about how Photoshop might aid them in ‘sharing’ their assignments on social media sites.
As for the “Creative Cloud” itself, it’s not actually a typical cloud service either. It’s simply an electronic distribution method of getting software to the end user. OK…there are some very minimal cloud services included…cloud file storage, syncing of settings, etc…but electronic distribution of software is hardly a new concept for Adobe. They’ve been selling upgrades for years using this technology. You will still have an actual application on your hard drive, but it will have to ‘call home’ to Adobe every month (or every 99 days for those who pay up front for a yearly subscription) in order to continue to function. What Adobe seems to think makes their cloud more desirable is their ability to issue more frequent updates and patches. In the past they have made patches available as needed and the version upgrades available every 1 to 2 years. With the cloud these feature upgrades can theoretically be added as they are developed. I suppose that is a plus, but again, there are huge chunks of Photoshop I don’t use or need now, so dropping even more features on most users isn’t going to be a make or break decision for most people anyway.
But let’s get to the two awfully huge elephants in the room…the pricing and what happens if you stop paying! After reading Adobe’s claims that the new pricing scheme has an arguably lower annual cost, I guess we’re supposed to all join hands and sing the Adobe Theme Song and be happy for the windfall that has been bestowed upon us. Personally, I don’t believe that paying $240.00 annually to rent a software program adds any value to my business model, but that would be narcissistic, and I’m trying hard not to make this all about me. Adobe is making it abundantly clear that they intend to employ this model to increase a revenue stream they feel they have lost because of those users who don’t upgrade on a regular schedule. We can’t keep going back and forth on that point. However, there is no mention from Adobe what happens after you lose the use of the software once you stop paying. How does a long-time user of an Adobe product access their files if they have stopped paying for a use license? And alternatively, what about your clients who may not have a subscription to Adobe? I guess they will not be able to view your work, unless of course, they decide to pay Adobe for the privilege. I have no issue with a company wanting to profit from their product. Adobe deserves to be paid for their marketing and R&D when it comes to all of their software, but under the old model if you stopped paying for upgrades to the new version, Adobe didn’t take away your software license on your old version! Stopping an upgrade cycle didn’t mean you couldn’t open a file you processed fifteen years ago! And believe me, if you get on the Adobe subscription licensing model train, if you get off that’s exactly what will happen with all of your work. It will become useless digital trash. The only way to continue to access your work is to keep paying the subscription license. And that is just wrong.
With this new decision to implement a subscription only licensing model, Adobe is in fact trying to change they way software licenses as we know it work. But is there something so totally broken with the idea of paying an initial fee for the license and then paying a scheduled upgrade/maintenance charge? As long as the user pays the maintenance charge, you continue to get the upgrades. If you stop paying the maintenance, you lose access to NEW upgrades, but your software will still function as you expected it would when you signed on. And I have nothing wrong with the idea that if the user stops paying the maintenance fee for a certain period, the user would then have to start over and re-purchase the base license if they want to continue along the upgrade path. I just had to do this when I moved from FileMaker version 5 up to version 12. I hadn’t the need or the want to pay for annual upgrade over the years, since I saw no added value…FOR MY PURPOSES…but when version 12 came out that changed. Since I had long since fallen out of the scheduled upgrade track, I had to repurchase a full version of the new software. That is a business decision best left to the consumer. What the vast majority of Photoshop users have been complaining about over the past few days is that Adobe has removed ALL choice in the software buying process, while reducing the value of the software for certain segments of their customer base…and increasing it for others. They seem willing to lose a large portion of their base clients…those hobbyists and ‘occasional’ photographers who don’t regularly stay on the upgrade path…and to make up that lost income it appears that the rest of the users will now and forever have to pay an ongoing fee to rent their product.
But perhaps the real reason Adobe is so hot to lock in a subscription-based scheme is because even they know there are only so many filters and gizmos they can add to ANY program before the end user reaches a saturation point and doesn’t see a cost benefit to upgrade! A new sharpening widget here or layering tool there every year isn’t gonna be enough to make most users feel the need to push $200.00 Adobe’s way, so before they ran out of ideas of ways to improve the software, they might have figured out this entire plan. And they don’t really have a compelling incentive to continue developing new tricks if their users are forced to pay FOREVER for a subscription just to ensure continued access to the files they’ve created with their software, do they?!!
These are only a few of the things that I really think need to be talked about. Adobe is, of course, making their “Creative Cloud” strategy sound like a wonderfully happy place and we should all bow down and thank them for thinking of us, the end-user, when they came up with this solution. But I’m sorry, but I can’t help but see this as a solution to a nonexistent problem! And I’m hardly the only person saying this. The outcry online has been thunderous. Just about every techie geek board on the interwebs has been filled with mostly negative comments. And these are aren’t the typical, “This Sucks, Man!” stuff…no, instead, thousands upon thousands of regular users of Adobe software are voicing their outrage in very clear terms. And if you’ve made it all the way through my own diatribe, I urge you to also make your voice heard. An online petition is sitting on www.change.org that demands Adobe to kill this ridiculous scheme and offer it’s customers what we expect…choice!!! Please check it out and add your name. There is also a new petition over at www.petitions.whitehouse.gov calling for a DOJ investigation on the legality of Adobe’s move, and it can’t hurt to put your name on that one, too. And if you have the ear of your Adobe rep, or even the guys at your local camera store, digital outlet or rental shop, make your opinion known. This is not going to go away without a significant groundswell that will be heard in the boardroom at Adobe.
Please sign these petitions I’ve linked to below in an effort to stop Adobe from moving forward with their new scheme for Subscription-only access to their software: