Adobe Creative Cloud for Photographers

Is the Adobe Creative Cloud a good value for photographers?

Is Adobe Looking Out for Photographers?

Yesterday at the Adobe Max conference, Adobe announced a change in its licensing model. It will no longer create new versions or update the Adobe Creative Suite. All of its future development for those tools will require a subscription to the Adobe Creative Cloud. With some few exceptions, you will no longer be able to purchase new versions of Adobe software as a stand-alone (perpetual) product. Instead, the only way to license new software is through a subscription that costs $50 per month.

The exceptions are:

  1. Acrobat
  2. Elements Products
  3. Lightroom

The two applications in Adobe's stable that matter most to photographers are Photoshop and Lightroom. If you're into video production, web building or design, then the other applications in Adobe Creative Suite present quite a value. If you only want Photoshop and Lightroom, then the equation changes. You can still opt to pay $50 a month and get both products, along with the rest. If you need to use both Windows and Mac platform, you can get them for the same Adobe Creative Cloud payment. There's no longer a need to buy a separate license for each platform.

That's about the end of the value proposition for photographers, though.

Initial Pricing

Under the old model, Photoshop was not an inexpensive program to purchase. Prices vary, but the current pricing for Photoshop CS6 at B&H is $590. Upgrades for major versions top out at $199, but you could usually find those discounted to $150 – sometimes less.

If you never purchased Photoshop before, the cost of entry is much less now than it ever was. You can get a single app like Photoshop from the Adobe Creative Cloud for $20. There's a catch, though. It stops working when you stop paying. Single app pricing is a month to month subscription, so you can quit any time you want. Most of us tend to process photos on a regular basis, though. That means you're looking at paying Adobe $240/year for the license to use Photoshop. That's still less than the initial cost. So is a second year of Photoshop. After that, the value declines.

That's compared to the old model where you received a discount for being a loyal customer and the upgrade pricing – as I mentioned above – was significantly lower than buying a new package.

Let's be honest, some Photoshop upgrades have been better than others. It's not uncommon for customers to skip an upgrade until something they wanted or needed came out in a future revision. That option is gone now. You pay whether Adobe provides you with astounding tools or crap like they released in CS4.

Some existing owners can upgrade to Photoshop CC for $10/month in the first year. That's nice. We get to pay $120 instead of a $150 or so upgrade fee. Then the next year, we're jacked up to the full price at $20/month. The tipping point hits again and the deal is not so sweet.

Adobe Creative Cloud is a Lousy Value for Photographers

This is basically a huge price increase for photographers and Adobe knows it. Last week, I watched an episode of “The Grid” where an Adobe Group Product manager came on the show to address this issue and demonstrate part of Adobe's roadmap for photographers. Tom Hogarty seems like a nice man. I've never met him, but he came across as a likable person.

Unfortunately, he danced completely around the question of value for photographers. Politicians appearing on “Meet the Press” are more forthcoming than Tom was on that show. I understand that he was respecting his employer's desire to withhold product information, but then why come on a show to talk about things that he couldn't discuss?

There was a brief demonstration of photo editing on an iPad as part of the roadmap for Adobe products. For folks who travel quite a bit, the notion of organizing and making some edits on an iPad could be great news. My reaction was a yawn, though. It's not a feature I need or crave. It's a feature for other people. People who fly and don't want to get up and pull out their laptop from overhead storage.

One of the things that Tom didn't mention was that the Adobe Creative Cloud would soon become the only option to use tools like Photoshop, despite the fact that the show started off with the premise from Scott Kelby that the Adobe Creative Cloud just didn't seem to hold value for photographers.

If Tom Hogarty seemed like he was squirming in his seat during that show, now I understand why. The president of the largest user group for his customer base essentially told him that the planned announcement for next week was going get the same reaction as throwing a Baby Ruth into a swimming pool. After watching comments on Google+, Facebook and in other blogs, the reaction is much worse.

The reason is simple. Adobe Creative Cloud is a slap in the face to photographers who only need Photoshop and/or Lightroom. Adobe may cut the initial pricing to get around it, but then you're stuck with whatever pricing model they dictate for years to come.

Where are the Updates?

One of the key promises of Adobe Creative Cloud is the instant delivery of new features instead of waiting for a release date. After polling some folks I know who have Adobe Creative Cloud, they couldn't really think of any updates that weren't also shipped to the stand-alone base, and certainly no major features. Adobe got their money, but failed to deliver on a central promise. Where is the value proposition if Adobe again reneges on its promise to deliver new features and technology?

Since I often compare Aperture vs Lightroom, let's take a look at those two products to see how the vendors compare on their update schedules. Aperture's last major update was three years ago and it's had 20 free updates. Lightroom has gone from version 3 to 4 and soon 5 in roughly the same time frame with only 10 updates. You had to pay for the LR 4 update, and so you'll pay for LR 5 if you update. Can you look at the feature set shown in LR 5 Beta and tell me that it's worthy of a paid upgrade? I don't see it.

Aperture is $79. Lightroom is $150. Which one do you think has provided more value over the past three years to its customer base?

Adobe Eliminates Consumer Options

Adobe Creative Cloud wasn't invented to provide more value to its customers. Instead, it's an enormous gift to Adobe's accounting department that creates a steady and increasing revenue stream. Basically, Adobe found a new way to squeeze more juice out of the same lemon. Hint: you're the lemon.

Instead of putting out major releases and having a revenue stream that resembles a seismograph during an Earthquake, it's found a way to provide a predictable revenue stream. Adobe lowered the barrier of entry so more users can enter the subscription trap. It's also eliminated its incentive to deliver new features and upgrades on a regular basis. You're going to pay just to use the software and that becomes the new normal. In the past, Adobe had to keep upping it's game to make more money. It had to constantly sell you a new version. Now that obstacle is gone.

Sound like I've gone on a crazy rant? Perhaps, but I see the potential changing with regard to Adobe's incentive to remain creative. They have no direct competition for Photoshop. If they left Lightroom as a Creative Cloud only application, there would be a sudden departure to Aperture, Capture One, Photo Mechanic and any other DAM that didn't require a subscription service.

You may have noticed I've said nothing about the new features in Photoshop. Neither has anyone else in the discussions that I've read online since the announcement. The capabilities of the product announcement were eclipsed by the impact of Adobe's decision to eliminate development of the Creative Suite product line. That should give us all – particularly Adobe – some inkling of what's most important to customer base.

Money goes where it's treated well. Adobe may well lose a significant portion of its customer base because it isn't treating their money with respect. I've reading a lot of discussions about switching to a combination of other products, even GIMP. People don't want to pay for things they don't desire or need. Many photographers simply have no desire for cloud storage, video processing tools, web or design tools, or other features in the Adobe Creative Cloud. They recognize the individual pricing for Photoshop as a significant price increase over the traditional upgrade pricing. Adobe just slapped most photographers in the face.

I just hope they don't take as long as JC Penny to realize that they alienated their customer base.

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5 comments

  • Scott Baxter May 7, 2013   Reply →

    It seems to me that what’s missing is an option to pay for a year (or maybe even two) at a time in exchange for some sort of substantial discount. I have a license at work for the Creative Cloud, and frankly, I love it. Of course, in my job I use Illustrator approximately as much as Photoshop, with a generous side-order of InDesign. There are other apps I don’t currently use but may need in the next year or two, a few that I like to dabble and play with (such as Adobe Audition), and probably a few I’ll never use.

    The irony is that when we decided last year to do the Creative Cloud, I couldn’t get the normal subscription approved. Despite the very good price, they didn’t want to pay by the month, even though Adobe offers the option. So we wound up paying more by finding a vendor that would allow us to pay for a full year at once. I spoke with the guys in my IT department at the time and their feeling was that the university should figure out a way to make the subscription plans work with their accounting, because they believe that most major software packages will eventually be sold this way and this way alone.

    • William Beem May 7, 2013   Reply →

      One of the things that bothers me is that the DRM protection prevents the software from working when you stop paying. That isn’t the way most other software subscriptions work. While you’re subscribed, you get access to support, updates and new features. If you stop, the software continues to work. You just don’t get any new features or support.

      This is a disrespectful change to existing customers who get the worst end of the deal. At least, if you’re a Photoshop/Lightroom user. For folks like you who need and use other applications, the value proposition changes. For me, there’s no value for including applications I don’t need or want.

      • Scott Baxter May 17, 2013   Reply →

        Yes, it certainly has issues, to put it mildly, as it currently stands. Unless it changes, I expect that some new avenues will open for those who find themselves caught up in the scenario where they have .psd files and no access to Photoshop to open them. It could be as simple as a utility that converts the files to TIFFs (or whatever) or as elaborate as a third-party service that will open and convert to your specifications (and yes, I know that neither of these is a perfect solution by any means and the latter would open you up to potential image theft. Is there any non-Adobe software currently available that can open .psd files and keep the layers intact? I’ll bet if there isn’t, there will be …

        Worst case at moment to me seems to be that you could get a single month of Photoshop and use that time to batch-process all your .psd (or .psb) files — either down to flattened TIFFs or just to re-save with “Maximize Compatibility” turned on. Speaking of which, is there any non-Adobe software that can open the layered TIFFs that Photoshop can create?

        Of course, I’m in good shape … for now. If I were to lose my job, it would be a different story. I was laid off once about three years ago (when my office was a two-man shop), but I was recalled when my former co-worker decided to retire early. Now I think that not only will I not get laid off again, I may not ever be allowed to retire!

        Truthfully, I enjoy my job. It’s a good thing, because I got into graphic design just before the web started to explode. Consequently, I know almost nothing about web design and production, and frankly, I feel no real design to learn it. Just keeping up with what I do know keeps my plate full.

        • William Beem May 17, 2013   Reply →

          I’ve been laid off twice. Now I just don’t believe in job stability or employer loyalty. They look at us as resources and will cut us loose if things don’t fit.

          Even if a layoff isn’t a concern, there are other potential financial difficulties that could happen. Wen they do, Adobe will cut you loose now.

          • Scott Baxter May 20, 2013  

            Most definitely, job security is an illusion — though it is better some places than others. But then, most of us would cut an employer loose for a better opportunity, so …

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