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Tips & Tricks

Adobe Creative Cloud Subscriptions: Cost-Effective or Costly Mistake?

By Matthew Saville on May 7th 2013

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.



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.


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?

This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links, however, this does not impact accuracy or integrity of our content.

Matthew Saville is a full-time wedding photographer at Lin & Jirsa Photography, and a senior editor & writer at SLR Lounge.

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Q&A Discussions

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  1. Bitrained

    You actually make it seem so easy with your presentation bbut I find this
    topic to be actually something tnat I think I would never understand.
    It seems too complicated and extremely broad for me.
    I’m looking forqard for yoir next post, I will try to get the hang
    off it!

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  2. Rejoice (or Despair) Adobe Creative Cloud is Live!

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  4. An Update from Adobe – Our Move to Creative Cloud

    […] the interest and conflicting feelings surrounding Adobe’s move to Creative Cloud, the team at Adobe has released an open letter. In essence, it states “we hear you, but we […]

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  5. Cant Stand Adobe

    I have nothing but disdain for the arrogance that is ADOBE. This CLOUD thing is a complete rip-off. I strongly urge everyone to WAIT, don’t jump on the bandwagon with this. Send a strong message to ADOBE. The pricing scheme is simply outrageous and you own nothing in the end. I will never direct my firm to switch. We will switch to COREL as long as they offer a boxed version we own and find other solutions. On this one, ADOBE can stick their heads firmly into their CLOUD! No Thank you!!

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  6. Notum

    Atm i wouldnt recommend cc for the hobbyist,
    Sure you save money for initial buy but if you for some reason stop subbing you cant open up you files thats a show stopper would never pay adobe for that .

    Im gonna keep bying boxed copy of lightroom and keep using ps as always until they make cc more consumer/non pro friendly.

    And more price friendlier say 19$/m for both lightroom and photoshop then we are talking.

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  7. tom

    I have been researching these software clouds for sometime now, and I have found that while the pro’s are pretty good the cons while a few are a big few problems for me. Security, Security, down time, bandwidth overload, and lock down of your work. But a biggy for me is Security. We all know what ever goes up live in the world wide web will almost 95% always be hacked, and stolen. I guess it will depend on what you are willing to lose. Identify your creative work or both. If you are hacked and stolen WILL Adobe refund you money back to you for the loss of your work and gain in hassle. We all remember Lifelock. which as taught me any and everything can be HACKED. Sorry adobe good Idea but Human error and security breeches go hand and hand. Just look at Microsoft its had more issues than I can shake a stick at.

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    • Notum

      I wouldnt say you have more scurity problems with this solution if you dont use its cloudservice to save your work.

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  8. Ian Taylor

    When I first heard about CC I thought I’d investigate but then the costs got silly. All the info I’d read was priced in $ but when converted to £ (as I’m in the UK) it just got silly. Adobe had bad publicity recently for pricing issues (Australia vs USA prices if I remember correctly) and I can see this going the same way.
    To quote Joe Gunawan “But of course, if you already paid for CS6, you’re not going to get a
    refund or have it credited towards your Creative Cloud, either.” – this is an issue for me too!

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  9. James Westover

    I just bought Creative 6 master collection in July of 2012 I paid $2,400.00 for it.
    it came in a tiny box with 2 disc. Unlike previous years when you got a nice box with book & documentation and other bonuses. I looked online today after hearing all this adobe news and CMC6 is half of what i paid for it! And now I am hearing i am not going to get updates unless I bought upgrade protection or subscribe to CC? if I own the package outright why should i have to pay a subscription fee for what I already have.
    Creative cloud was available at that time I bought the software out right but I did not want to be forever paying for something monthly that i could just own outright. I am not using photoshop like I used to 5 years ago. so, I am sure this will be the last go round with Adobe. My son has Creative Cloud on his computer that his company supplies him with and it does have some extra’s but if he goes a month between using any of his programs Adobe Triggers the registration crap like he has never used the software. He has to login and verify his account. I had to laugh the other day when he was using illustrator, He got a message saying his trial was almost over? only after logging back in did this discover he was a CC user and the message disappeared. This is a great deal for businesses but for the casual user or hobbiest it is not going to be everyones cup of tea.

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      This is NOT a great deal for business. You have to commit to a one year sub and you have nothing to show for your payments if you ever have to stop paying. What if you are in a cash flow crunch? This will compound your problems!! They will cut you off if you don’t pay… then what? Seriously, USE YOUR HEADS. If you hold off and DON’T DRINK THE COOL AID, ADOBE will be forced to back down. Vote with your wallet. Think for one minute. What if this is a stellar success? Every software company will do this. Then what? You going to pay thousands a month subbing to every CLOUD out there??? Get serious!

      I like to OWN what I buy, not have the rug pulled out from underneath me when I can’t make a payment due to other commitments more important. NO THANK YOU. SEND ADOBE a message. DON’T SUB.

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  10. Stuart Parkinson

    The most irksome thing is that you no longer own the software. As an engineer by day I use a lot of very expensive software packages, all of which have some kind of subscription system for version updates. But with every single one of them, if you stop paying you stop getting updates BUT YOU STILL OWN THE SOFTWARE and can continue to use it at it that version for ever. Regardless of the economics, the fact that Adobe would presume to stop me using software which I may well have paid out hundreds and hundreds of pounds for if I don’t keep paying them hundreds more pounds just grates like hell.

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  11. Stephen Deleski

    No mention of the fact that the cloud MUST be on ONE computer. You can’t run photoshop on a desktop and lightroom on a laptop. Not good for us printing business that have indesign on one computer with a person doing layouts. Photoshop on another tweaking customer work and the owner dealing with his photos and company artwork in lightroom on yet another. What if you want to travel and unregister one system and register a different small laptop for traveling incase you need to open a program. All gone. Right now you can install on 2 comps. Someone will come out with something to fight Adobe and they will let them launch get customers then try to lure them back. Some will move to save a dime. I’ll leave because of their customer service. Scott Kelby already came down on them for requiring upgrades to be only one version behind. When Ford and Chevy tell me I need to buy a new truck every year Schwinn will be the new one in the garage.

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  12. Ruben Vasquez

    I love the irony of the Mis-Information section: ” 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!" If you upgraded your software in 4-5 years, it would have cost $200. Creative Cloud (in that 4 year time period), will cost $840 ($120 the first year and $240 the following 3 years). That's more than 4 times as expensive as it would have been were we given the option to upgrade instead of subscribe.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Ruben, you are forgetting a few things: Mainly, there is the initial investment factor- It is cheaper to just begin subscribing, than to pay $600 for CS6 and $300 for LR at first and then pay another ~$200-300 every few years.

      Also, consider that every few generations Adobe used to just flat-out not offer an upgrade. I forget which generation it was, but somewhere between CS and CS6 we have had one (or two?) new generations where upgrading simply wasn’t possible at all, and thus you had to pay the full $600 again for Photoshp alone. OUCH.

      Either way, I agree with you that from the perspective of the small-time user Adobe is totally money-grubbing. However much of their software is used by professionals to make tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. When you consider that a design firm might make $100,000 or $200,000 per year using Adobe software exclusively, the expense is miniscule.

      I am willing to bet that they simply haven’t been able to develop a business model and product offering that fully caters to the hobbyists and one-man-show photographers out there who need something in between. Maybe a subscription to Lightroom and Photoshop Elements, for dirt cheap? I dunno…

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    • Joe Gunawan

      I agree. People forget that you still have to pay for the full-version of each software initially and take that into account in addition to the upgrade price versus just having the subscription outright.

      But of course, if you already paid for CS6, you’re not going to get a refund or have it credited towards your Creative Cloud, either.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Yep, I guess in retrospect anyone who feels cheated by paying $600 yesterday for CS6 should just wait until they absolutely MUST upgrade to CC, which hopefully won’t be for a few years, in which case they’re getting a decent deal in the long run…

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    • Graham Marley

      I can’t really believe that there is a definite decent deal in the long run: I’ve already paid full price for a PS CS5 license and then the additional 199 two years later for CS6. Part of the money was justified by a perpetual license, which is absolute value-added, because it allowed me the flexibility to choose when I upgrade, and what I upgrade to. Even if the upgrade cycle is 12 months (which I’ll believe it when I see it) eventually we will be paying 20% more than the old license model, and that’s the best case scenario. What happens when it takes 18 months, which would cost 360 dollars, or two years, where it would cost 480 for a similar product that used to cost 200 that we got to use indefinitely. There are too many unknowns for Adobe to tell us that our financial commitments will result in spending less. Part of those unknowns are, we are paying up front in unknown amounts for new features sight-unseen. That’s completely nuts. I’m not saying CC is a terrible idea for everyone (new licensees do benefit), but for legacy users it’s a kick in the mouth.

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    • Ruben Vasquez

      Nobody is forgetting the initial purchase price of Photoshop, it’s the upgrade policy people take issue with in that Adobe is taking away the option to upgrade (at a relatively reasonable price), and forcing anyone who wants to upgrade into a rental system that is far more expensive whether they want the upgrade or not. People had the option to skip newer versions if they felt the upgrades weren’t for them. Not anymore…

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    • Ruben Vasquez

      Actually Mathew, I’m not forgetting anything. I responded specifically to the scenario that you presented (i.e. upgrade every 4-5 years which entails Photoshop had already been purchased). And I have no idea what you’re talking about with not offering upgrades. I’ve been using Photoshop since version 7, upgraded to CS2, then CS4 and finally CS6. The only time they changed their upgrading policy was last year when customers had to have CS5 in order to upgrade but they later retracted that policy when there was a similar uproar from the photographic community. Any way you want to slice it, it’s more expensive to be on the creative cloud than it would be to own a perpetual license.

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  13. Enrique Avilés

    well… time for some licence free software. Thinking Ubuntu as an Os. hmmm…

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    • Filip Suciu

      Ubuntu as an OS is fine for the home user. It’s not a viable alternative for the photo /video professional. Inexistent color management, inability to calibrate screens, lack of an LR/Aperture alternative or a FCP/Premiere one are just the first things that come to mind.

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