06 July 2013

Scrutinizing Software Subscriptions

Adobe has announced that it will stop selling its popular Photoshop program.  But Adobe is not abandoning its Creative Suite software, it is evolving into a subscription model on the Creative Cloud.  While Adobe will continue to sell Adobe Creative Suite 6, it plans no future releases on store shelves, but one will have to subscribe on a monthly or annual basis.  Despite Adobe’s  Creative Cloud conceit, subscribers will still have to download the software and run it locally but a subroutine will check to make sure the subscription is current every 30 days. 

Microsoft started marketing in this direction with in 2011 with Office 365, which included host versions of MS Office 2010, Share Point, Exchange, Lync and Office Apps.  The difference is that Microsoft still allowed consumers to purchase the software rather than rent it. Microsoft’s office productivity software does not have as many third party plug-as as Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. 

Adobe offers an array of pricing, depending upon which version of Abobe Creative Suite Sofware one currently owns, how many Creative Cloud programs a prospective subscriber wants to use, whether one springs for the annual payment and if you are a student or educator.  It is reasonable to expect that a consumer will pay $30 a month for the privilege of using Adobe Creative Cloud Photoshop software or $240 per year.  But by paying full freight of $50 a month or $600 a year, photogs get access to the newest versions of Photoshop, Illustrator, Lightroom, Dreamweaver and Premiere Pro

It is a reasonable surmise that most software consumers upgrade every three years, either prompted by an update with killer new features or in conjunction with an Operating System upgrade.  Keeping this informal update cycle in mind, a dedicated Adobe user would pay slightly more on a three year basis for the sticker price for the current price of Adobe Photoshop and have access to many other creative suite programs and have immediate updates.  This sunny scrutiny ignores that few individuals actually pay the MSRP for software, as there are upgrade discounts, volume discounts etc.  If one opts for a month-to-month payment plan, the frugal consumer inclinations are costly and will cost around 1 ½ times the cost of a current version of Photoshop.

It should be noted that Adobe is not going entirely in the software subscription track.  Adobe Photoshop Elements and Adobe Lightroom will still be sold.  But both of those products are geared for consumers and certainly would not be suitable for professionals and may seem inadequate for the prosumer market.

When a consumer discontinues an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription, their handiwork does not disappear, but they lose access to the web storage and they become unable to further edit their photos.  

Other technology companies are trying to change their payment model.   Xanga is a social media/blogging site which has operated on a Freemium model since 2000.  But in June 2013, Xanga announced that it needed an infusion of $60,000 in cash from Xanga-philes and if it survived in six weeks, that it would evolve into a pay $48 a year to blog hosted on Wordpress with an ad free experience .  While many appreciate the community that Xanga has fostered, it is unclear if this tactic will work and how many Xangans will remain, since there are so many free social media sites nowadays.

 T-Mobile is trying to wean cell phone subscribers from expecting a subsidized handset in exchange for a two year iron clad contract, but no contract T-Mobile subscribers get to own a shiny new telephonic toy with their “subscription”.  T-Mobile tried to capitalize on its synergy as a GSM based carrier to try to poach former AT and T i-Phone users with their Unlocked and Unlimited campaign.  Adobe Creative Cloud subscribers get nothing tangible for their subscription aside from 20 GB cloud storage, immediate access to new apps along with the privilege of using Photoshop et ali. The tangible part of technology may make the difference.  If Adobe was offering true cloud computing, it might make a cognitive difference as you are being licensed for a cloud service.  But as it stands, subscribers  still needs to load Adobe programs onto the computers where they want to use the Creative Cloud, but have no expectations of ownership.

Another wrinkle about switching to a software subscription model with Adobe’s Creative Cloud is that there may not be future version numbers or spotlighted updates.  Since Photoshop is complex software for serious photographers, it takes time to educate an Adobe user to fully exploit the imaging software.  It is unclear how Adobe will educate users with software prone to be instantly updated.

As Adobe Photoshop is an expensive piece of software, its market niche is professionally driven with some prosumer outreach.   Professionals swear by Adobe Photoshop and be resistant to switch from the tried and true unless Adobe outprices itself or the software abilities denigrate.  Shutterbugs who are not professionally invested in Adobe Photoshop may find the monthly or yearly fees may start to find other photo-editing alternatives like ACDSee or Corel PaintShopPro, both of which can work with RAW photos. 

Photoshop fans who are upset about the Adobe Creative Cloud software subscription have organized an online petition which has gathered over 35,000 signatures in protest.  New York Times Technology Reporter David Pogue believes that the protest is an effort in futility because Adobe will make money off of the software subscription scheme, even if it loses customers as it banks user fees on a monthly or annual basis and precludes some Photoshop users from skipping a version upgrade.

While photography is an enjoyable avocation for me and its results are useful when blogging, I would balk at paying $30 a month for the privilege to use Adobe Creative Cloud software.  Adobe’s decision to change to a subscription software model makes me appreciate choosing to familiarize myself with other photo editing software.  It will be curious to see how the photo editing software market reacts when Adobe’s subscription only model goes into effect. 

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