Creative Cloud Conundrum
I wanted to wait till I had fully absorbed the news of Adobe's switch to an all subscription model for its creative suite of software before commenting on it. It's a pretty big deal for anyone who works in the creativity business, and there has been a lot of disinformation and hysteria written over the past week about the move. Not all of it is unjustified mind you. The decision by Adobe means that you will no longer be able to outright buy a licence to use their software. From now on you will only have access to the software by paying a monthly fee. Before I get into the nitty gritty of why I thick this is kind of an unfortunate move by Adobe, I should note that I am currently a creative cloud subscriber. I have been since the service first debuted. For me it was a great deal. I could get access to the full suite of software without having to pay for the whole creative suite upfront. As someone who works across disciplines and industries, Creative Cloud was and is a bargin for me. As a small operator, the subscription model allowed me access to software that I otherwise couldn't afford. However, I can see that this model doesn't suite everyone.
It's not about the price
Some of the people who have complained about this decision by Adobe are objecting to the price of the subscription. For me the big issue isn't the price. The full creative suite in Ireland used to cost over €3000. With creative cloud you pay €50 a month, which is €600 a year. This is significantly cheaper than buying the suite outright. At that rate, in order to reach the full cost of the suite, you would be paying a subscription for 5 years. And that doesn't cover the cost of annual or bi-annual upgrades. Even if you only get Photoshop, that's about €20 month, or 240 a year. Currently Photoshop costs around €720 here. So again, it's not a cost issue, because the subscription is much cheaper.
It's not really about software ownership either
The issue isn't that you don't own the software either, because as Aharon Rabinowitz pointed out in his excellent post on the subject, you don't own your software right now, nor have you ever owned it. You only ever licence the right to use software. You don't actually own it. This is true of all software, and unfortunately that is just one of the wonderful realities of intellectual property law. Now I know that's a matter of semantics for some people, but it's a fact, unfortunately. So what is the issue then?
What if I stop paying?
At the end of the day, the big issue, is that under the creative cloud model, if you stop paying, or can't pay, you loose all access to your work. Before creative cloud, if you didn't continue to update your software, it would still work and you can open your files for as long as your computer is operational, but with creative cloud, as soon as you miss a payment and the software de-activates you can no longer access your work. If you're just using Photoshop, at least the photoshop format is relatively open and widely supported so you will be able to at least open your files. You may not be able to access layers and other features, but at least you will be able to open the files. If you're using something like After Effects or InDesign or Premiere, then you're kind of screwed. It doesn't matter how long you've been paying your subscription either, so even if you've paid more than the software would have cost, and you can't pay for a month, your out of luck.
For some it may seem that making monthly €50 payments wouldn't be that hard for a business, but as the phrase, goes, S*@t happens. I think it's probably easier for individuals and small houses mind you. If you are a large shop, and you have multiple subscriptions, and your company is going through a hard patch, it's not unfeasible that you might miss a payment and then your entire company is suddenly unable to do any work. In such a scenario you are utterly screwed, because client's won't understand, or be forgiving, and a business may never recover from something like that.
John Knack, a product manager at Adobe has sort of addressed the concerns in a non committal, stay tuned kind of way over on his blog:
"Your work is absolutely your property. Adobe fully agrees, and that’s why we’ve worked so hard over the years on things like the DNG standard (meant to ensure that your photos always stay readable), turning PDF into an ISO standard, etc."
Which kind of misses the point, but he goes on to say...
There are solutions here, and we’ll work on sharing more details. In the meantime, your suggestions are most welcome.
So at the very least, Adobe is aware of the issue. Whether or not they do something about it remains to be seen.
How this all plays out remains to be seen, but there are understandable reasons to be concerned at this move. I think that there is an even bigger issue at play here though, and that is the lack of competition in the creative software space. Since Adobe acquired macromedia, it has had the whole market pretty much to itself. Sure there are some small apps out there like Pixelmator which can offer some of the features of Photoshop, but there's nothing that comes close if you are a high end user. Even Apple used to be a competitor for some of Adobe's Apps, and that competition pushed Adobe's development, but Apple's software seems to have been in a state of limbo for the last few years. I think one of the funny things about this whole situation is that many of the editors who rushed over to Adobe Premiere after Apple released Final Cut Pro X were jumping on forums going…"Everyone, back over to Final Cut Pro".
As I said earlier, I think some, if not most of the hysteria is overblown, but there are significant legitimate concerns, so again, how this all plays out is up in the air at this point. What do you think? Please let me know what your concerns or thoughts are in the comments?