Adobe Moves to Subscription Model

"Waterscape, Blue/White #2", Copyright Jim Nickelson. All Rights Reserved.
“Waterscape, Blue/White #2”, Copyright Jim Nickelson. All Rights Reserved.

If you follow any photography news sources, you’ve probably heard that Adobe, makers of the ubiquitous photo editing software programs Photoshop and Lightroom, is moving away from traditional stand-alone software to a subscription model.

This is causing much consternation and with good reason — this is (in my opinion) a move made to benefit Adobe (as is their right) and comes with disadvantages for many photographers and other users. Below I’ll try to answer some of the questions I’ve been getting from clients and photographer friends.

So what is Adobe actually doing? If you’ve bought Adobe’s software in the past you’ve bought what is called a perpetual license. You either bought it on a CD or DVD or downloaded it to your computer. You can essentially use the software forever if you so choose, though your ability to do some things like transferring to other people are limited. You buy once, but can use forever.

With the exception of Lightroom 5 coming out soon, you no longer will be able to buy Adobe software with a perpetual license. There will be no Photoshop CS7. Instead, you subscribe to Adobe Creative Cloud and, in exchange for a monthly fee, you get to keep using the software. If you stop paying the monthly fee, you’ll soon be unable to keep on using the software, no longer how long you have been subscribing. It is a similar model to any kind of subscription, just like most people’s cell phone plan, Netflix, cable TV, and the like.

The cloud software is still downloaded to your computer and works in a similar fashion, but now requires occasional authorization from Adobe to keep on using it (which they are happy to give as long as you keep paying them money).

Adobe answers questions for photographers re: Photoshop here and Lightroom here.

Why is Adobe doing this? What are the upsides?

Well, the answer to this sort of question is always the same — because they think they’ll make more money. People will no longer be able to buy Photoshop once and use it for years without further payments to Adobe. They’ll also smooth out their income stream instead of relying on big chunks of revenue whenever there is a new release. I’m also guessing it will help reduce piracy of the software, too.

In an open letter to users and in various comments from their representatives across the Web, Adobe emphasizes various benefits of the change for users:

– New updates are quickly given to users rather than saving them for the next release

– Improvements and new features will only be on the subscription version, so users of CS6 are out of luck

– If you use Photoshop on two computers, your settings and such are automatically synchronized between platforms

– People who using many of the Adobe apps can save money with the subscription plan

– Updates and such are automatically downloaded, etc.

– You’ll have access to 20GB or so of storage on Adobe Cloud

Some of these aspects are indeed benefits to most photographers (automatic synching, the storage if you’d like that), but I really don’t see an enormous upside for most photographers at this point.

So what are the downsides for photographers?

Waterscape, Grasses #9– Money. If you are a user of just Photoshop and not the whole Creative Suite, it sure looks like it will cost you more to keep using Photoshop. Your first year (if you sign up by the end of July) is $9.99/month for current Photoshop customers, but the regular price is going to be $19.99/month. So, just for Photoshop, you’ll spend about $240/year. The full suite price will end up being about $50/month if you want InDesign, Illustrator, etc., and the whole kit.

– You don’t own anything. If you stop paying, your right to use Photoshop goes away.

– Your software has to “check in” every 30 days to prove you are current on your subscription — it looks like right now that it will be 90 days before it is disabled, which would be an issue for some people who don’t have Internet access wherever they are. This sort of authorization can also cause issues when there are the inevitable glitches or hacker attacks, potentially leaving paying users in the lurch — though I think the 90 day time frame should make that a pretty unlikely event.

– It seems to be me that Adobe has less incentive to make big updates or improvements now. Under the old system, they had to make a new version attractive enough to encourage you to buy an upgrade. Now, you have to keep paying to use it no matter what they do, so they just have to make it good enough that you don’t cancel and go to some other software.

So what should I do if I have Photoshop now?

If you are using Photoshop CS6 or below now and it is working for you, my suggestion for most is to keep on using it under your perpetual license as long as you are able. You’ve already paid for it, and my own plan is to use it as long as I can. There are a number of things that might encourage you to upgrade, such as buying a new camera and a situation where your version won’t work with RAW files (as they won’t be updating old versions anymore for new cameras) or a new feature you don’t want to be without. If you use Adobe Camera Raw as part of Photoshop to process your RAW files, you will almost certainly have to switch to the cloud or Lightroom when you next buy a new camera.

Presumably Photoshop CC files will not be fully compatible with older versions, so people like myself who deal with files from clients may be forced to change sooner.

Adobe’s discounted pricing ends July 31st for current users, but since that discount only applies for a year, I would only jump on that if you planned to make the switch relatively soon.

I’ve never used any other photo editing software so I can’t speak intelligently about those, but I’m sure many people will jump off the Adobe train with this change and investigate those options. Adobe has probably made the calculation that the additional revenue they receive will balance out some loss of customers.

So what should I do if I have Lightroom now?

The new version, Lightroom 5, that will be coming out shortly will be available either through the cloud subscription or as a stand-alone. Adobe hasn’t said whether future versions will be cloud-based only or not, but it is certainly a risk that there will be no Lightroom 6 and that instead you’ll have to subscribe to Lightroom sometime in the future – it is too early to tell what Adobe intends with Lightroom and the cloud.

For the near future, you can choose to upgrade to LR 5 based on its own merits in the same way we’ve done in the past. All of the previous versions of LR as well as the new LR 5 have perpetual licenses, so you can use them as long as you’d like. Just like with Photoshop, though, these versions will almost certainly not support any new cameras coming out in the future, so you may be forced to switch to the cloud version at some point.

For me, I’ll have to see what the pricing and plans are, but I would certainly lean towards buying a perpetual license for LR 5 once it comes out.

What if I use both Lightroom and Photoshop?

For users of both, the cloud option becomes a bit more attractive, but it will ultimately depend on how they price the cloud version of Lightroom. They have also indicated they might do a “photographer package” of the combination at a discount. Until then, one popular option will be to keep LR up to date for processing RAW files and to keep your last perpetual version of Photoshop around to handle any tasks that are beyond the capabilities of LR. At least for a while, this should allow you to avoid having to sign up for Adobe Creative Cloud.

Why again is Adobe doing this?

Waterscape, Grasses #8Adobe is out to make as much money as they can, just like any business. I personally don’t like the trend towards cloud delivery of software, but I fear that it is coming for many things beyond Adobe’s software, too. All of us are free to stop paying Adobe, too, and there are definitely alternatives out there, too. I suspect they will lose many customers over this but I’m sure they’ve decided the overall change is worth it for them. Every photographer will have to decide for themselves whether it is worth it for them, too, based on your business (if any), the cost, and how much you use it. I know I won’t have much of a choice to start subscribing eventually as I teach using the Adobe tools and use them daily, so it is just a cost of doing business for me.

I also think Lightroom will become the primary tool for even more photographers now. Each version brings more and more functionality and makes Photoshop less necessary for most photographers, so perhaps will see even more of a shift towards LR for photographers. That may even be part of Adobe’s plan with all of this, too — Photoshop is overkill for many photographers out there, even if it is essential for some, and many people will use this opportunity to wean themselves from Photoshop.

Please feel free to jump in with any questions or comments!

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2 thoughts on “Adobe Moves to Subscription Model”

  1. I think it’s nuts! As you say though professionals who need to use it are stuck with having to go with the subscription plan, but people like me who would have eventually purchased a newer version of Ps will happily keep on using an older version. Cs5 and Lr for me.

    1. Absolutely, Nate. If you aren’t using PS for raw file processing and/or don’t buy a new camera, you should be able to keep on using your current version indefinitely. The current version of PS is incredibly capable, and you can use LR for raw processing and PS for anything else you might need. Adobe may, of course, make the next version of LR exclusively part of the cloud, but that is speculative at this point.

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