June 17th, 2013 marks the date of perhaps one of the most significant events to affect the photographic industry since the dawn of the digital age. On this date Adobe announced that new releases of their flagship image editing software ‘Photoshop’ would only be available through their ‘Creative Cloud’ as subscription based software with a monthly fee. If you’ve been living under a rock for the past three months this may come as quite a shock. Most photographers have been considering their options for the past ninety days since the announcement, and it has created quite a divide. A large number of top level professionals have turned their backs on Adobe, walking away with no intentions of ever returning; others have not been dissuaded by the announcement, and promptly subscribed to the Creative Cloud. This is a vast topic and as this situation is still evolving I would encourage you to continue to monitor it as it develops.
Why did they do it? Well, from a business perspective the idea is potentially ingenious. Changing the software to a monthly subscription as opposed to a one time download essentially guarantees Adobe a constant revenue stream from their customer base. Up to this point a user could purchase Adobe Photoshop once and continue to use it as long as they wanted without paying for the latest updates. At the time of the release of Photoshop Creative Cloud the monthly subscription fee for current CS6 users was set at $19.99 per month ($29.99 per month for CS3, CS4 and CS5 users). Presumably due to the public outcry, this price was recently reduced to $9.99 per month with a twelve month subscription contract and includes Photoshop CC, Lightroom, Behance Membership with ProSite and 20GB of Cloud Storage. This package is being marketed as Adobe’s Photoshop Photography Program and will be available starting September 17th, 2013. The $9.99 price will only be available to those who already own a version of CS3 (or more a recent release up to and including CS6). This reduced price will only being offered until December 31st, 2013. The monthly subscription fee will cover any updates or new releases to the software and allows the user to access the software on up to two devices. Oddly enough Lightroom is also available outside the Creative Cloud as a one time fee, perpetual license version, as it has always been. Adobe Bridge is a separate item and can be acquired free of charge by Photoshop Creative Cloud subscribers. Bear in mind that this is just the hook… after your first year’s contract there’s no price guarantee. Adobe states that, “The cost of an annual membership will not go up during the first 12 months of your membership. It is possible that the cost of the month-to-month membership will increase, but if it does, you will be notified and given the opportunity to cancel.” Those are not exactly comforting words from Adobe…
Ultimately we are left with three choices:
1).* Subscribe to the Creative Cloud and find a way to include an additional cost into your annual budget, while hoping that Adobe doesn’t put the price out of reach in the future. (This may not be such a big deal to the high volume professional, but to the hobbyist or casual photographer this could exclude them from continuing to use Adobe products).
2).* Choose a different processing software to edit your files with such as Elements, Capture One Pro, Pixelmator, Gimp, etc.
3).* Continue to use your current version of Photoshop and/or Lightroom until Adobe no longer offers support on that version.
* 1). I have some major reservations about option one… Unfortunately I believe this move by Adobe is just the tip of the iceberg. In taking this route I believe Adobe has paved a way for all other software companies to take this step at some point in the future. We see already that Microsoft has a similar option with their Office 365 subscription. Granted you can still purchase Microsoft’s software as a one time fee, perpetual license version, but how much longer will this last? In fact, in May of this year Microsoft Office Director of Communications Clint Patterson wrote in a blog entry that though he agrees with Adobe that subscription software is imminent, Microsoft won’t discontinue packaged software in the near future. Patterson wrote, “Unlike Adobe, we think people’s shift from packaged software to subscription services will take time.”
Adobe states that you don’t need an internet connection to access your Creative Cloud software every day. Members who subscribe on a month to month basis will need to connect with Adobe’s servers every 30 days to “validate their software license”, and every 99 days for annual subscriptions. However, fellow professional photographers that I’ve spoken with who have signed up for the Creative Cloud tell me that they’ve been required to login and validate their software license much more frequently than this. This is a cause of great concern for me as a professional Nature Photographer. I do a great deal of my work in National Parks and remote locations, far from the range of an internet signal for extended periods of time. Often I have my laptop with me on these trips to review and process files in the evening hours. If I’m out on the road and can’t get an internet signal on the day that I’m prompted to connect to Adobe’s servers and ‘verify my software’, am I just not going to be able to access Photoshop until I get somewhere that I can login?
* 2). Option two is difficult in that one is faced with learning a whole new image editing software. However the competition is trying to make this an easier transition. Companies like Corel, Xara, Nitro, Nuance, and Pixelmator are taking advantage of the disenchantment Adobe’s customers are feeling since this change from selling Creative Suite perpetual licenses to Creative Cloud subscriptions has been foisted upon them. Corel went so far as to offer a promotion that lets Adobe CS4, CS5, and CS6 users buy Corel software for the ‘upgrade price’ instead of the full price. Many pro photographers speculate that this is a perfect opportunity for a company to come in and sweep up a lions share of the market from Adobe. Google having recently acquired the Nik Software Suite of products is one player that comes to mind as a powerhouse that could challenge for this market if they chose to invest in the process. Nikon’s NX2 editing software give Nikon users the ability to edit RAW files without the use of Adobe products, while Canon offers their users Canon Digital Photo Pro. Topaz also offers an image editing software suite that is popular with some photographers. It should be noted that as of the writing of this article Gimp ( a free image editing software) will open PSD files. Also please note that any image files you’ve edited in Photoshop or Lightroom up to this point, that have been flattened and saved as a TIFF or JPEG file, will be able to be opened by any software that supports those formats.
* 3). As for option three you can continue using Creative Suite products indefinitely, however they will not be eligible for future software updates. Eventually Adobe will no longer offer support for these products. How long will they be supported no one can say. It could be five years, it could be ten years or it could stop tomorrow. Ultimately this option will fail you when the device that is currently running your copy of CS6, for example, dies and you purchase a computer with Windows 9 on it. When you go to download your copy of Photoshop onto your new device you will be told it does not support it. As of right now all previous versions of Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom work with Windows 7 and 8. At that point you will be left with only choices one or two listed above. Lightroom currently continues to be sold outside the Creative Cloud subscription, but odds are this too will go away in the near future and will be only available through the Creative Cloud. Clearly this is the intended future of Adobe’s sales approach.
In conclusion all one can do is make an educated decision that works best for their individual situation, these circumstances are different for each of us. I have worked to compile this information to help you decide what is best for you personally. My hope is that this post helps you to see through the storm created by Adobe Creative Cloud and provides some clarity in this decision making process. Remember, the way we speak the loudest is with our wallets.
Your thoughts and comments are always welcome.
– Nathaniel Smalley