I’m back from a brief vacation. It was fantastic. I spent 4 days “in the wild” (taking photos of course) and 3 days trying to recover from basement flooding caused by catastrophic rainfall in the Greater Toronto Area. I’m telling ya’, it was fun ! Particularly the basement part. Just kidding.
So, it’s been two months since Adobe announced the switch to the subscription model for their suite of products, known as Creative Cloud. Now that the emotions settled and we had a chance to mull things over, let’s look at the whole concept again and see if my perception of the deal has changed. Last month I wrote a post, titled “Adobe and Flickr May controversies“, where I indicated that I didn’t like the idea. At least from the photographer’s perspective. Any change of heart after some thinking, reading and calculating ? Not really and here’s why.
A lot has been written on this subject and of all different blogs/posts but two caught my eye. Those were: “Ten reasons haters are mad at Adobe Creative Cloud” by Scott Bourne and “You said something I disagree with. You must be getting paid” by Scott Kelby. Both authors are very well respected in the photographic community and I follow their blogs regularly. They made a lot of good points in their posts, however, in my view, they unfortunately also missed some. I think that the best way of looking at this is on two different levels: the economic one and on a more philosophical plane.
Let’s start with the economics or the cost of using Creative Cloud software. I’m sure that there are a lot of folks for whom the new, subscription-only model is the best thing since the sliced bread. After all more than 700k people signed in since the introduction of this model. If you are a graphic design professional, doing a lot of web things, etc. and you use several of Adobe’s applications, this is perhaps an excellent deal. Especially, if you used to upgrade your software as soon as a new version was released. But for the purpose of this post I’ll focus on the photographer’s perspective. I just like many other photographers, use only two applications: Lightroom (all the time) and Photoshop (from time to time, when more complex operations are needed). At this point, for my calculations I’m going to ignore all promotional deals for the existing users. Those deals (valid for 1 year) are expiring soon (July 31) and after that it will be just the regular pricing. I’m also going to assume that you already have reasonably recent version of Lightroom and Photoshop. So, what are the options ? Basically, you can either subscribe to a long list of applications and services for $50/month or you can get just one app (presumably Photoshop since you can still buy Lightroom with perpetual licence) for $20 / month. In the first case you will pay $600 annually to use both “photographic” applications (Lr5 +Photoshop CC). If you subscribe to the second, it will be: $240 plus $53, which is the cost of Lr5 upgrade (the actual upgrade is $80 but Lightroom is updated roughly every 18 months so I pro-rated that amount). $293 in total. Or $24 / month. Not a lot of money at first glance but more about it later. Now, with the old model you would pay $200 for Photoshop upgrade + $80 for Lr every 18 months. That translates to $23 /month. Not very different from the $24 mentioned above. We start seeing the difference when we factor in that with the old model you could decide if and when you wanted to upgrade. It seems that many photographers chose not to upgrade Photoshop as frequently. This is quite understandable since Photoshop for photogs is a little bit of an overkill. It has a lot of features that are not used by us, hence not every release was compelling. I’m pretty sure that we will also see that not all future Lightroom releases will be compelling enough to fork out some cash. That is the reality of mature applications. Once they reach a certain level of maturity, it is difficult to come up with really revolutionary upgrades. So this is exactly what prompted Adobe to introduce the new model. They didn’t do it for the benefit of users. Nope. They did it to eliminate “upgrade skipping”. Plain and simple. I understand their motivation. They used their dominant market position to force this model. I doubt that prior to it’s introduction they were buried by thousands of emails from customers begging them to provide the subscription model. To summarize, with the new deal you, as a photographer, are going to pay more. On top of that, you are hooked. You can’t stop because if you do you won’t be able to edit your files. Well, actually I’m wrong. You will be able to edit them if you decide to use any competing application. However, the reality is that at this moment there aren’t any that would provide you with comparable feature set. Clearly Photoshop is king and Adobe knows it. (As a side bar, Photoshop Elements could be a potential option with some tweaks. Adobe ? Are you listening ?). This was where Scott Bourne was wrong. He claims that we have reasonable options with regards to image manipulation software. But I have yet to see a pro or advanced amateur photographer using exclusively non-Adobe software. Haven’t heard of such thing. By the way, you can also buy access to Photoshop by paying monthly but this is going to be ridiculously expensive ($80/month or so).
Now let’s look at the new model from a different perspective. This is like a car lease. And I hate care leases. Never leased a car and never will. Why ? Because when you do that you loose control of your finances. At least partially. You pay for a few years and at the end of the term you have nothing. If you buy/finance your vehicle then it is up to you when to buy a new model. If your financial circumstances are not the best then you can just keep driving the old clunker until you are in a better financial situation. Now, let’s imagine the world when all your software is “leased”. It is not far-fetched. Microsoft is already pushing Office 365 for $100 / year or $10 / month. How about Windows (or OS X) for a low price of $10 monthly ? Let’s go further. What if Intel demanded a few bucks a month for the privilege of using their CPUs, chipsets and drivers ? Insane isn’t it ? Add all other monthly installments (Internet access, your web presence – if you are photographer you typically have a few places on the web where you showcase your images, or where you sell them, etc.). things can get very expensive in a hurry. The bottom line is that if the pendulum swings too far in that direction, pretty soon you will be paying hundreds of dollars every month just to continue your photography hobby or small business. And either you keep paying or you have to stop altogether. There is no middle ground. Slowing down would be close to impossible in this scenario because you have no control whether to upgrade and when. Ridiculous ? I don’t know. I hope so but the trend is definitely there and I don’t like it.
One final thought on something that Scott Kelby wrote in his post that I mentioned earlier. He says:
“Another thing I read a lot, still, is from people who skip upgrades complaining that Adobe is being unfair to those “loyal customers.” In fact, in that Mashable article, I read an argument from a guy who skips three releases before he upgrades. I’ve got news for you. You’re not an Adobe customer.”
I’m sorry Scott but this makes no sense. Do you buy the newest model of a car you drive every year ? If you are like most folks, probably not. Does it mean you are not: GM’s, Ford’s, BMW’s, etc. customer ? Come on Scott ! I doubt that Adobe views this in the same way. Let’s do a quick math. Over 30,000 people signed an online petition against Adobe’s subscription plan. Based on a lot of negative comments on the interweb, we can safely assume that there are at least 5x to 10x more people like that worldwide. Easy. And likely majority of them didn’t upgrade Photoshop every time it was released. I would assume that between Lightroom, Photoshop and perhaps some other products they used to spend $100 annually with Adobe, a fairly conservative assumption. This translates to $15M to $30M of annual revenue to Adobe, which at this point is pure profit. I don’t think that any corporation, of any size, would just sneeze at this.
I think that in the short term Adobe is going to see a significant boost to their top line. In the long run however, I’m not sure if they are not going to hurt themselves by this decision. The growth in their user base has been typically coming from people who at first wanted to try things out (but longer than just one month trial): students and recent graduates experimenting with things, small business owners, advanced amateur photographers, etc. Now, when they have to commit to regular, monthly payments many of them will think twice. This may not be good for Adobe.
Finally, a few words on the image on the top. I took it in early July in the area of Village of Buckhorn, Ontario. Just a couple of kilometers east of it, there is a small bridge over Mississauga River. I took this photo a few minutes after the sunset.