Hey photographers!  Are you ready to pay a monthly bill for Photoshop and other Adobe software?  Adobe seems to think that you’re ready.  Well, almost.

Adobe does already offer an option for subscription-based software licensing, although currently it is an optional offering for those who want it.   According to Adobe’s MAX conference that is taking place right now here in Los Angeles, we will soon be working in a subscription-only environment.  What does this mean?  In other words, within a generation or two of Adobe software, monthly subscriptions (AKA, the Creative Cloud) may be the only option available if you want to stay up to date with the latest software, or if you simply buy a new camera and want to process its RAW photos.

To clarify some details: Adobe software will still be installed on your computer itself.  You won’t be forced to upload 100% of your work  and do your post-production over an internet connection, or anything silly like that.  It is only the software licensing that will be a monthly subscription.  Of course there are also cloud-based storage options, but at a mere 20-100 GB worth of hosted storage, you’re really only going to be able to host one or two small jobs at a time.  (Here at SLR Lounge, for example, a single project such as our Natural Light Couples Portraiture DVD would consume 200-300 GB worth of total storage!)

Subscription plans are already available for the current versions of Adobe software, and range from $20 per month for a single App license (such as Photoshop & Bridge CS6) to $69 per month for a team-based Creative Suite 6 license, plus 100 GB of online storage for collaboration on projects.  For more pricing information, click HERE.

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So, what do you think?  Are you ready to pay a monthly subscription for your license of the various Adobe programs you use?  Let’s break it down a little bit…

The Pros

Basically, the subscription-based business model is a huge bargain for large studios that use tons of software.

  • Convenience
    It’s much more convenient for larger production studios to manage a single subscription to all of the necessary Adobe applications, and keep apps up to date year after year.  It can quickly become a nightmare to deal with discs and serial numbers if you use just more than one computer.  Also when you try to upgrade your software you have to dig up your previous serial number, etc. etc.
  • Affordable for Studios
    It is certainly cheaper for larger production studios.  For example, currently CS6 with Design & Web Premium costs a whopping $1,899.  Considering the fact that design related businesses usually need to upgrade to every new edition of software as soon as it becomes available, this can get very expensive very quickly, even with upgrade pricing instead of full pricing.
  • Synchronized Collaboration
    Like Dropbox and other collaborative cloud systems, Adobe’s goal is to provide synchronization of assets and project files in a multi-user, multi-computer environment.  Downloading and installing software is just one benefit of a cloud-based membership; in our opinion this other benefit is even bigger! (Of course the cloud storage does cost extra, and if you already have a sizeable Dropbox account then you may not need Adobe’s cloud storage…)
  • Affordable for Frequent Upgraders
    Even if you’re a smaller, specialty business and you don’t need $1900 worth of software, you can still save money if you plan to upgrade to the latest version of your software every generation.
  • Less Piracy
    I gotta admit, I didn’t know which category to put this in; the pros or the cons!  :-P  While some of you may consider it a down side that piracy will become much more difficult, at the end of the day it is a “pro” for Adobe.  Transitioning to a subscription-based system will significantly decrease the amount of piracy that occurs.  Of course I’m sure there will always be a way to get software illegally if you want it bad enough, but for the most part Adobe will be much better off, which could translate into much better products and support in the long run!

The Cons

You guessed it- The little guy may be getting the raw deal here.

  • More expensive for Single-Use
    If you only ever use one or two Adobe Programs such as Adobe Lightroom and/or Adobe Photoshop, then you’ll probably end up paying about the same (hopefully!) …or possibly a bit more than before.  The best deals only come if you need a ton of software, which is just not the case for the everyday hobbyist or casual photographer.
  • More Expensive for In-Frequent Upgraders
    One common habit of casual photographers is to only upgrade every 0ther generation.  For example especially with Photshop, the updates are so incremental that you really would only need to upgrade from Photoshop CS2 to CS4 or CS5, or from CS3 to CS5 or CS6.  You can skip 1-2 generations of updates and do just fine. If this is you, then even at just $120 per year, let alone $240 per year, a subscription based system can be much more expensive. (There is a limited offer to Photoshop CS6 owners to buy Photoshop CC for just $10/mo., otherwise it will be $20/mo.)
  • Lifespan of Software Ownership
    Here’s the big one:  If you stop paying your Photoshop subscription, you stop owning Photoshop!  Yikes!  By comparison, right now if you buy a physical copy of Lightroom 4 or PS CS6, you can keep using it till kingdom come. Even if you decide to put your photographic hobby (or profession) on the back burner for 6-12 months, you can still fire up Lightroom or Bridge any time you want and browse / edit all your old RAW photos.
  • Only Option for New Camera Owners
    Considering the previous “lifespan of ownership” problem above, I bet many photographers are thinking they can just buy Lightroom 5 and CS6, and never upgrade ever again, or at least not for 5+ years.   You’re forgetting one small problem!  If you decide to buy a new DSLR the day after LR5 or CS6 are updated, you won’t be able to process your RAW photos because of Adobe’s sneaky end-of-ACR-updates tactic.  The minute you buy a camera that is only supported by the latest version of Adobe software, you’ll have to subscribe and start paying your “Photoshop Bill”.  Or I suppose you could just shoot JPG the rest of your life, or get Apple Aperture etc…?  ;-)

The Mis-Information

There is a lot of mis-information going around the internet right now.  Thankfully, well-informed folks such as Scott Kelby are helping to shed some light on the facts!  Click HERE to read an article by Scott Kelby that answers quite a few questions, and click HERE to read the opinions of the folks over at Fstoppers.  (To read more information about the subscription-only next generation of Photoshop, (dubbed CC, instead of CS) …as well as comments about the initial “outrage” after the initial announcement, click HERE to visit PetaPixel’s article.)

If you’re not keen on clicking those links and reading a ton more, let me sum it up:  In the long run it will be more affordable and far more convenient, for most types of photographers out there.  If for example you already own CS6, just Photoshop and Lightroom say for example, you can upgrade to Creative Cloud for just $10-20 per month, and thus save money in the long run even if you used to only ever upgrade your software every 4-5 years!

Our Opinions

Since the team here at SLR Lounge has a wide variety of contributors who come from many different areas in the photo / video industries, we thought it would be good to provide a couple individual opinions separately for you to read.  Enjoy!

Matthew Saville’s Take

I feel like Adobe is taking it’s queue from cell phone companies- Foregoing initial profits (or subsidizing the cost) on an expensive product such as a shiny iPhone, in exchange for the monthly cashflow of a $40+ service plan.  I feel like this is happening left and right with technology today, and it is chaining us down.  Free products or software in exchange for our promise to pay a monthly bill for 1-2 years.  (Actually, for the rest of our lives.)

The problem is, I’m the type of photographer who usually buys the second-newest things.  When the Nikon D800 was announced, I got excited about the dropping price of a used D700.  When Lightroom 4 came out, I was just barely getting used to Lightroom 3!  Therefore, I strongly dislike the idea that I might be forced to pay a monthly $20-$40 “Photoshop bill” within the next few years.  I’m glad that SLR Lounge (a content production studio, basically) is going to be saving money on software in 5-10 years, however in my personal pursuits I plan on sticking with my bought-and-paid-for personal copies of Lightroom and Photoshop for as long as I possibly can.  Heck, my home computer still has CS3 on it and that’s all I need to process my Nikon D700 photos!

Anthony Thurston’s Take

I agree with just about everything that Matthew said above. I am a very budget-conscious photographer and anytime I need to make room for more monthly bills it’s something that I am not happy about.

That said, I can see many great benefits to Creative Cloud. I only wish that they took the individual user more into account! I have to wonder, what would be wrong with charging a smaller daily fee, or charging X$ per hour of use up to the monthly subscription cost?  This would be much more practical for the hobbyists and small-time users who barely ever use more than one program, but do enjoy having access once in a blue moon.

The fact is, not everyone using adobe products is a full-time professional.  I open Photoshop maybe just a few times per week, for just a few minutes to process one or two images here and there. Basically, I only use Photoshop if I can’t get what I am going for in Lightroom.  And especially with the new brushes and retouching available in Lightroom 5 coming,  …is that worth it for me to add a monthly Photoshop subscription of $20-50? No, absolutely not.

I’ll just use a older copy of Photoshop “for free” instead of spending money on a monthly bill that I could spend for other things.

Basically, this is bad news for casual adobe users, and great news for professional business/corporate users.

Joe (fotosiamo) Gunawan’s Take

Well, as a fashion/commercial photographer and a retoucher, I’m always up for the latest and greatest. I would consider myself a Photoshop power user and I can see myself benefiting from up-to-date versions, especially with Camera Raw. My type of retouching workflow involves using Photoshop for 2-6 hours on a single photo to get achieve a magazine-quality look. Additionally, I have been getting into video editing and color grading in Premiere CS6 and Audition lately, and will probably start to use After Effects and Speedgrade as well.

So of course for someone like me Creative Cloud will be useful. This is where the price will start to pay itself, as I use more and more Adobe products across the board. In a way, I believe that is the plan behind Adobe’s move to Creative Cloud, to give you more incentive to use more of their products and maximize the money you’re putting into the monthly subscription.

I’ve seen various math calculations by different people on whether or not they will pay more in the long run or not, and as Matt and Anthony had said, it really does depend on your usage.

The bad part with Creative Cloud is that Adobe does not really give us the options to choose either Creative Cloud or traditional licensing. My thoughts on this is that unless you are steadfast in holding on to your CS6 or older versions, might as well take advantage of the $19 promotional upgrade from CS6 before they go up to their original pricing. And at least you can have your Adobe software stay up to date, including Adobe Camera RAW (important if you’re upgrading to a new camera in the next 1-2 years).

Or use an alternative software.

Conclusion

Adobe has to answer quite a few questions before the dust can truly settle on this one.  What will it cost per month to own, for example, just Lightroom and Photoshop?  Is there any way that we can get a discount if we barely ever use one of the programs? (in the case of LR vs PS, the more expensive program)  What approach will Adobe take to the whole backwards RAW compatibility situation in the future?  Will they offer a DNG conversion program that allows us to edit our 2015+ DSLR photos in LR4/5 and CS6?

We would love to hear your take on the subject!  What type of photographer are you, what Adobe products do you use, and how do you feel about Adobe’s plans for the future of post-production and design?