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Wednesday, 12 June 2013


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I'm a long time Autodesk/Autocad/Civil3d user. In a nutshell it's the engineering worlds equivalent of Adobe PS and has been since 1983 when I started on it. About 5 years ago they went to subscription on their main platforms for all disciplines. It was a very similar story to what is going on now with PS with all the same gnashing of teeth etc.

Long story short, it's turned out wonderfully. Autodesk is fairly responsive to it's client base and we get an annual, stable upgrade that actually makes a difference. I expect the Adobe situation will turn out about the same way with one BIG caveat. Autodesk probably has a 90% professional client base. I suspect that there are a LOT more amateurs/casual users in the PS realm. I would imagine that there may be future products in the pipeline to accommodate the folks the same way there are Autocad "Light" products. 2 cents..

It sounds like it's good for Adobe, therefore it's good for us. I'm still not convinced. The single license revenue model drives the company to innovate; to add functionality that will drive license upgrades. Fail to deliver and you fail to earn revenues. The new model drives the company to do enough to get by. To keep people paying "just another month" at a time.
You mention quality. With the subscription model, Adobe will likely be moving (if they haven't already) to Agile development, the latest fad in software development, known for making it easy to respond quickly to changing requirements (not really that important when you're not under contract for a client) and not known for producing high quality results. I'm speculating here, of course (same as you !)
And I'm not sure that this relieves any pressures. If I've paid for CSx ... I'm not in a big rush for CSx+1. The bean counters might be, so the developers are whipped until morale improves. But with the new model, I want something new for my money. I paid last month. I paid the month before. I'm paying again this month. I thought this was supposed to deliver ongoing enhancements ! Where the heck is the new functionality ?
I agree 100% that Adobe is facing challenges; a mature product in addition to mobile apps. To my mind, when you have a mature product and you're not seeing sufficient revenues from new releases because the market sees little reason to upgrade, the solution is to cut development and find something new to work on. And if you're all out of ideas, you're stuck laying people off. Sure, keeping them working is vastly preferable, but asking users to pay to fund this situation is kind of pathetic. It will succeed due to the lack of competition and the nature of many CC customers (pros that view it as an expense).

I find it interesting to compare this new model with the way Google release new versions of the Chrome browser. The time between Chrome releases is very short, on the order of couple of months – version 1 came out in September 2008, and already we're up to version 27 (!).

The point is, though, that smaller, more frequent releases means features can be introduced as and when they're ready, and any bugs fixed in a more rolling fashion, rather than storing up a big bunch of features for a large release every two years, and ending up with an associated big bunch of bugs to fix.

I'm not suggesting that Adobe start releasing a new version of Photoshop every 6 weeks, but since it's now on a subscription model, there's no real need to save up big features for a big release every two years.

The subscription model to anything is much more attractive to the seller than the one-by-one model. Magazines. Theatrical events. Newsletters. Ctein. The onus of performance is greatly lightened with a subscription model.

Yes, there are some potentially beneficial aspects for the buyers. A subscription-based delivery of Adobe products via the trendy new "cloud" marketing model might be very good for some small creative businesses. But the beneficial curve is heavily weighted toward the seller regardless of the comparative cost. There's just no getting around it.

I definitely get the problem for large software companies like Adobe in the brave new world of free or near-free smart phone & tablet apps. (Much of which is collateral damage from falling real wages for 99% of the population...but I digress.) And the end of gruesomely buggy v *.0 software would be wonderful.

But I think that the notion of $9.95 or $19.95 per month as somehow 'cheaper' than paying the upgrade cost every 18 or 36 months almost insults users' intelligence. It implies we can't do math and won't realize that this actually costs more over time.

Of course, the entire rent-to-own model has built a very profitable business on the backs of low income workers, so maybe I'm dead wrong.

I agree with you that Adobe is struggling with keeping alive long-term in a mature market. But part of that struggle is that they created a monster company based on the growth of the market that is now no longer feasible. Like a drug company whose blockbuster drug is reaching the end of its patent protection, Adobe will have to move on and create new products that are leaner and stand on their own.

Sticking with rolling out minor updates for high prices isn't going to keep them alive in the long-term. Companies without Adobe's legacy costs will create newer, more streamlined products.

One thing you don't mention is that Adobe offers no solution for those paying for years of its CC and then stop paying. They have nothing, not even the version which they were last using. When you lease a car, you can at least pay up the remainder of the car's cost and keep it. With Adobe, you'd be stuck with the pre-CC version. That has alienated its customer base.

Another thing to keep in mind is that Adobe is still trying to push its high-priced products out to a market that's shrinking in terms of what individual players can expect to earn as the value of creative work is going down with the deluge of cheap solutions.

[Except what drug companies whose blockbuster drugs are reaching the end of patent protection actually do is to make minuscule changes to the molecule, hope fervently for at least a vanishingly small difference in the "objective" test results showing the new molecule is "better," then legally re-patent what is essentially the same drug. They live by government patent protection, but they scam that system on a regular basis. No correlation to Adobe's business model implied. --Mike]

An interesting read and entirely logical even if a lot of guesswork is involved. But predicting the future, especially the future actions of a large corporation, is a fraught business.

Perhaps it might be safer to give Adobe a little less credit and assume that they will continue to extract the maximum from our wallets in return for predominantly trivial improvements.

It's possible I might be forgetting something, but what important action can a photographer do using CS6 that he/she could not do with CS3?

That's your epiphany? Here's mine. Adobe wants twice as much money from me, and on a recurring monthly basis to use essentially the same product I've been using for a long time. I have no problem with a subscription model. I have trouble with Adobe management doubling my annual costs to use this very mature product line for which the company has already grown accustomed to getting a premium price in the past and for which truly new and innovative features seem unlikely due to the aforementioned maturity of this product line. Disguising the price hike under a new "low monthly fee" marketing tactic is a time-honored marketing practice. But wait, there's more!

As a small business owner, I'm now seriously weighing my options which I never felt a need to do so before. I suspect that Adobe has just handed a new generation of younger, leaner, and hungrier software engineers/entrepreneurs a great opportunity.

[This just rehashes the objections we hashed last week, which we're trying not to do this week. --Mike the Ed.]

I would like the characterization of Wall Street analysts as "the plutocracy who actually own their asses and have the attention span and farsightedness of mayflies" if it was not so unfair to mayflies.

After nearly 30 years in the software industry, I'm not sure I've ever heard the term "code jockey", and I don't think I want to hear it ever again, thank you very much.

No, the "code jockeys" do not want releases every two to three years. That's not true, and suggests that Ctein hasn't been keeping up with changes in the industry. What most of us want is frequent, smaller-scale releases in which new features and improvements can be perfected iteratively with feedback from real end users. We actually don't want to be cloistered in a corporate campus for three years working on The Next Big Thing with no information about what real users will think about it when they finally get it. The open source community's mantra "Release early, release often" has been very influential, not least because many of us who work on commercial products actually prefer to use open-source software when we can.

I'm still not sure I want to pay a monthly subscription for software, because it's nice to have the option of continuing to use the old version for free (having already paid for it) if I don't feel that the new upgrade really offers me anything I need. But for those who always want the latest and greatest (which I generally do, even if I want the option of not upgrading), it probably doesn't make much difference in their total expenditure. And it is certainly true that a low monthly subscription drastically will attract many new users who may not have been inclined (or able) to spend $699 all at once.

It still bugs me, though, to have a software company starting to behave like a public utility, charging on a monthly basis. This leads one to wonder if Adobe will eventually start charging by usage, with people who spend all day in Photoshop paying more than those who just fire it up occasionally. It's an interesting thought, actually. Certainly you could argue that the product has more value, and therefore should cost more, for those who use it the most. A $50/mo. subscription might be justifiable for a graphics professional for whom it is a core tool, while the casual user could perhaps pay only $5/mo.

Slow internet connection in rural areas is not good for subscription based services. Too often my computer 'times out' on the service and download.

My work computer, where I do my photoshop work, does NOT go online. Not ever. Looks like Photoshop CS6 is my last version of the program. I'll start looking in a couple years for whatever comes along to replace it if I need more than it has.

part 2 of your epiphany reminds me of the old companies in the British motorcycle industry. They sold the same old under developed and often over enlarged designs for year after year, and they are all gone. Riders had had enough. Any old names on new machinery (Triumph, Royal Enfield etc) are different companies.

The Japanese industry stepped in. Not with perfect products, but with products that were more reliable and needed less maintenance. They were quicker too.

Their lack of development was for other reasons than the one you state here, but if you are stuck by the side of the road with half a conrod sticking out of the engine your day is still ruined.

I think you are largely correct in why the change is occurring. But there are a couple of things which may make the switch somewhat more problematical. First, is that there are really two sets of buyers for PS - the professionals (photogs and illustrators) for whom the cost is a business expense, and the non-pros (like me) for whom the $120 per year (or more - I'm not sure you're right about eventual pricing) is an issue. Yes, I paid a lot more for CS5 when I got it, but frankly I'm in no rush to upgrade. Newer versions, for me, don't offer that much improvement.

Second, the tablet is great for camera control and overall adjustments, but when you need to do cropping, detail work or pixel mods, that 10 inch screen just doesn't make it re a good 20+ inch display or even a good size laptop. The pros aren't going to settle for a small screen. And, I think many users may find it won't work for them.
Will these issues sabotage Adobe's strategy? Probably not, but they may shrink its market some.

I agree with Ctein’s take on the situation. Given the choice of $700 up front or $20/month, I chose the subscription. Previously, I played the game by buying the academic version (back when I qualified) and toughing out the increasing awkwardness of a stale version. The current version of Photoshop has new features that I really like and I’m happy my copy will stay up to date.

Users are concerned that Adobe will inexorably raise the subscription price, but Adobe can’t do that without discouraging sales. I don’t worry about it.

Hmm. . . So the current corporate hunger game that drives the whole business to release crap products too soon so as to keep rich people rich can be finessed by releasing less buggy products at a more leisurely pace, thus keeping the corporate parasites even happier and this merely costs the user MUCH more per decade of use but provides perhaps a slightly less buggy product and . . . we're supposed to be happy about that?

C'mon, people. Free yourself from this game that's played on your back to benefit a few, as Ctein points out. Just buy something else; excellent products, free of Adobe's corporate philosophy, are out there, as the last few posts here have shown. Adobe and other corporate overlords will listen when people stop being happy they're not getting screwed as bad as they could be.

Funny, so it sounds like what digital photography and stock photo sites did to photography, the ipad and iphone apps did to the major software companies. Basically reduce the value in the consumers mind. I know Photoshop is a much larger program and can do a lot more than say Snapseed, but it is worth it for most people.

I also suspect the Plutocrats you mention are part of the problem. I always wonder why we can't have private, non-profit companies with well paid workers, and with any surplus returning to research and development.

Perhaps you are right. It could be that the subscription model helps Adobe shift out of the boom-or-bust routine while keeping the owners happy enough about the cash flow. The only question remains is how responsive they will be to the many complaints that the price is just too high. It seems that Adobe wants to have HBO pricing and status, but many of its users would prefer a Netflix option.

Much though I dislike the subscription idea, what you say makes a lot of sense. As you said in your last article it's the way Adobe went about the switch that rankles (and it's not so cheap in the UK).

One wonders how much it would hurt Adobe to let anyone with a recent legit licence to move to CC for free in the first year? Possibly less than they will lose by upsetting their current user base.


After 40+ years in the software industry, including time working for Digital Equipment Corporation and for Sun Microsystems -- it's a recent term, and what I hear used privately is "code monkey" (thank you Jonathan Coulton), but I'm hearing "code jockey" a lot more lately. I suspect people think "code monkey" is perhaps a little too near the bone.

But yeah. Releases are a huge pain, we don't want them too often. They interfere with getting work done. Also we don't like them pegged to exact dates. Software engineering is art and craft more than science, and is not very predictable. Trying to fake predictability by working ourselves to death is not a very good way to handle it.

Certainly incoming new customers are the obvious huge winners here. They don't face that $1k stone cliff-face. That's clearly a good thing for Adobe and for the users.

And having Adobe increase their Photoshop-using population is gonna be good for their cash flow, which is a necessary pre-condition to surviving.

This may be different enough from other subscription fees (it differs at least by being new; I don't think I've ever paid a brand-new subscription fee before) that it won't behave the same. But every other monthly payment increases pretty regularly.

I have trouble with believing top management (where pricing is set, and where effort levels are committed) won't get lazy and think "we don't need to do much development, and if we need more money we'll just turn this dial up a notch".

Sorry Ctein but I don't buy it. With a subscription you need to feel like you get that much value per month. With a utility it's easy to see as you use up X gallons of water or Y KWh but how do you measure the value from Photoshop? Did I get X bugs fixed and Y new features I want to use this month? It has to feel a lot better than the "stale" version of Photoshop, and it has to do that every month! Additionally if you don't use it for a month or two you'll feel like cancelling it as it feels wasteful. Now you have to get those customers back but you can't point the to a brand new version with must-have features, it's just the same as what they felt they weren't using.

Lastly, I can see bean counters squeezing the R&D department, making it a smaller and smaller group as there is no longer a deadline for getting out a new version. Who's to say you have to finish feature X in one month? Lay off half the team and finish it in two months.

I think your thought that the $10 a month price will be permanent is just wishful thinking. At $10 per month it would be equitable for most users. Unfortunately new users will be billed at $20 per month. Will their subscription go down to $10 a month after they become old users? I doubt that seriously. Why would they be willing to pay $20 per month when old users are on a permanent $10 per month. At a permanent $10 per month guarantee I would subscribe, but at $20 per month I will use CS6. I find I'm doing most of my work in Aperture and basically just doing a few finishing things in CS6 out of old habits. Seriously, between Aperture, Snapheal and the NIK plug-ins I could function without CS6 with no problems. I own all these programs and I like it that way. I don't want to lease my software for the same reasons I don't want to lease a car.

Commenter Dennis is bang on the money, IMHO. This is a way for Adobe to continue to earn previous levels of revenue for a mature commodity product that is now characterized by incrementalism rather than true innovation. The time has come that PS has so much functionality, that the vast majority of users don't need much, if any, more functionality than they have today (and it may well have reached that point already). The installed base will be as big as it's ever going to be, and there be no more growth in Photoshop revenue...it's in the "indefinitely elastic middle period" of maturity that Geoff Moore so eloquently describes in Crossing the Chasm.

The option for Adobe then, is for "holding the customer captive" tactics like charging them $120 every year for PS, year after year after year (assuming that the price stays indefinitely at $9.95 for current license holders, which I don't think will ever happen, despite what Ctein says), rather than allowing them to pay for an upgrade when and if they decide that it actually creates value for them.

The bottom line is that Adobe's taken the choice and decision of what creates value for customers away from customers. And that is never a good thing.

>> I'll bet you anything that by the time the "introductory year" is up, that first-year price of $9.95 a month will become the permanent price for installed users.

You're on! What are we betting?

I'll even increase your odds. If Adobe rolls out either a daily or per use fee in addition to the monthly subscription, you win as well.

Your optimism vs my cynicism.

Surely there's a way to make the point (recurring revenue allows for better planning and execution) without insulting Adobe, software developers, and investors? Examples: "screws everybody over, badly," "plutocracy who ... have the attention span and farsightedness of mayflies," "[t]he folks in charge certainly don't care," "code monkeys." Most of the managers and programmers I've known (that's my field) work just as professionally as I'm sure Ctein does. It's extremely irritating to read yet another web piece full of gratuitous personal attacks.

Furthermore, while I think Ctein was careful not to explicitly say that Adobe runs their software development in this shoddy way, as the column is about Adobe, that's how it reads. This is shameful attack on one of the best software companies around, one that I'm sure is totally without foundation. How would Ctein like to be criticized because of the poor behavior of some fly-by-night wedding photographer, just because he's in the same profession?

Well, my immediate thought was, yeah, but here's another scenario: beancounters see subscription money roll, guys with big corner offices all award each other mega bonusses, happy Wall Street, and hey, since there's no competition anyway, why not cut our overheads a bit. Do we really need all those developers, testers and QA guys? Hell no, we don't do huge rollouts any more, we can sure cut back on those expensive engineers.

Cynical ? Yes, but frankly, Ctein, I'm hoping that you're far better informed and connected than I am, and have some basis for your rose tinted view. I've been following Adobe for quite a while now, in a different industry sector, and in my experience, at least their middle management's behaviour does not fill me with confidence.

We used to use the term "terminal jockey", but I like "code jockey" better.

In the old days of mainframes and mini-computers, we used to get major OS system upgrades every year or two, and we'd get some warning about what was coming so we could prepare our in-house applications. Subscription fees were in the $thousands per year, not $10 per month. When we started using the new releases and found bugs, they were reported immediately and the suppliers took the reports seriously. Bugs weren't cute, they were embarrassing defects.

When you're an at home amateur (or even a pro) and only spend $10 (or even $600) on a product, when you find a bug, I get the impression no one really cares. If that attitude went away, that would be a step in the right direction.

I read a quote from some silicone valley CEO once, "Commitment starts at 80 hours per week." Uh-huh, and when you only pay for 40 of those hours, it's no mystery why he'd like all his staff to feel that way. At one place I worked, we made small point-of-sales PC-based systems. Our sales teams used to make crazy commitments for product releases. They got their commission when the contract was signed. Half the time, given the turnover in those jobs, they had moved on to a new company by the delivery deadline, and we "code jockeys" were the ones who worked summer weekends to deliver on time. In a sane world, those salesmen would have been canned for their incompetence, instead they drove away in their Porsches to their new jobs, and we lost our summers. The way things work always serves someone's purpose. That company went belly-up 2 decades ago, but those salesmen kept their cash bonuses and I still lost those summers, so no, it doesn't balance out in the end.

Steve D (first comment) nails it for me. And succinctly

An iPad does not have the computing power to run PS and handle large files, cloud or not.

$9.95 is for one CS program and you must be current. Not many will qualify. Later versions are $19.95 and most will end up at $29.95 for the full suite.

I have a friend that owns a printing business. His cost (and he is current) for his business is $30/work station. That is a big monthly bill. He currently keeps one station current and runs older versions on other work stations and saves files to older versions if, he needed to share work back to an old station. It was an economical way to run Adobe Suite products in his work. This new payment model will eventually make that impossible.

So, $30 x 10 stations will be a lot of money for him. Big bucks for Adobe, not so good for the user.

Will you give odds? I'll bet one of my digital prints against one of yours, winner's choice. I'd prefer to bet on the full Cloud price rather than just PS though, since that's what I use.

On the subject of tablets, I find that Photoshop works quite well on my Surface Pro, but Lightroom is kind of a nightmare. PS would be awesome if Adobe got around to implementing a toolbar for stylus input of keyboard shortcuts; digital artists have some third-party tools but they're not customizable enough and most of the functions they need aren't that helpful to photographers.

Lightroom, on the other hand, has an incredibly fiddly interface. Hitting those sliders right with a stylus is really difficult, and the alternative of text boxes isn't very useful without a keyboard. (And the boxes are small enough to be hard to hit, too.) I hope there's a tablet version of LR at some point - and I'm pleased that Cloud means I'll be able to run both of them - but the interface needs a full redesign first.

The discussion of software development cycles leads me to add this comment. In large systems development there is an increasingly common approach called 'agile development' which comes in several flavors, including one called "Scrum", which is the most formalized, but is often not used. Agile development basically is directed a creating frequent, relatively small updates to system software, rather than larger, less frequent updates. Sometimes the cycle is as short as two or three weeks I suspect Adobe is going that route.Agile works under some conditions, but unfortunately, management sometimes thinks it is a way to 'short circuit' proper system design, analysis, module interface control and test. In that case, each update can -and often will-be buggy. And these bugs may affect a number of features not intended to be modified. If Adobe is going that route, they - and the users- need to be very careful in how they update their software. PS/CS is a complex software product with lots of interactions among software modules. The risk can be significant

Your scenario is lacking drama and complexity - it is in fact quite dull. And therefore likely to be quite accurate. Good job!

The problem for consumers is that there are a limited number of things that people do with Photoshop - for some CS5 was enough, for some CS6. If I only need a subset of what Photoshop can do today, then I only need to rent Photoshop until a fixed-price competitor appears.
For example:
I rent Photoshop for two years for $240.
A challenger appears!
For $120. The market is telling me that I could buy it for a 50% discount relative to that sunk cost. That is a great deal! In two years I am unlikely to have changed cameras, printer, or computers, so I can easily imagine an additional two years of usefulness, at $60 a year.

Which is a short version of saying, I don't think this is going to work out for them in the amateur market, but it's to their credit that they are trying. I think they might become the Kodak of the digital age, with all that entails.


One benifit of all tis has been to revisit the GIMP site. I hadn't tried it for over ten years and was very pleasantly surprised! And I sure don't mind putting the equivalent of one months CC subscription in their tip jar! I know they won't yank it out from under me if I don't pay them next month!

Kenneth Tanaka wrote:
" But the beneficial curve is heavily weighted toward the seller regardless of the comparative cost. "

I'm generally wary of most any change corporations make. They exist to make money and their changes are going to be geared toward making more money, not toward satisfying me more as a customer. In fact, there would be no interest in satisfying customers if it weren't a prerequisite for making money, outside of a handful of small, private businesses that take pride in their work. It's a good thing to keep in mind when evaluating most any expenditure. Like extended warranties. If someone is offering it, then they're making money on it. (Not that extended warranties are always automatically bad ... but they're not doing it to be nice !)

I find I'm much more cynical about capitalism than I used to be. I don't know if it's me getting older, me getting wiser, or if corporate/government greed is really becoming a bigger problem than I thought when I was younger. (I suspect it's a combination of the three).

I might agree with this rosy, glass-half-full picture of the subscription model, but there's a big caveat: that you never get to keep the software, no matter how long you've subscribed or how much you've paid for it over the years. This means that if you want to continue to use the software you have to continue to pay every month, and there's nothing to prevent Adobe from raising the price, and no guarantee that they will continue to provide upgrades that you find useful. By subscribing you are making a lifetime commitment, without knowing what you'll get, or how much it will cost.

Under the conditions that Ctein presented, I would be more amenable to the subscription service. He's right; the psychological difference between US$20 and US$10 is, for me, significant. However, and sorry to reiterate any rants, but we have a very large and precarious "if" hanging over our heads, and this is the disconcerting point. What if the monthly price continues to gradually creep upward, eventually becoming unaffordable? What would I have left, especially if having already paid into this service for a decade a more? And I think this is a legitimate concern more than a gripe.

Dear Dennis,

Most subscribers to, well… anything… don't view their subscriptions as payment for a constantly improving product. They just see it as money they pay out each month to get that product. I'm not arguing you don't feel differently, but the typical purchaser psychology around this is different from yours. It may bother you (and some others) that their monthly payment isn't buying them as many new features as they'd like, but most people won't care. That's just the way this stuff works.

I think you misread my economic analysis. I didn't say that Adobe wasn't seeing sufficient revenues from new releases. So far as I can tell from their financial statements, they're doing OK with that (for the moment, anyway). But, without a constantly growing market for their product, they don't get a lot of revenue (from new customers) BETWEEN product releases. That's where the problems arise.

If you really, truly read what I said as being equivalent to “if it's good for Adobe, it's good for us” you totally didn't pick up on my attitude and which side of the 99%/1% culture and class split I'm on. Maybe I need to state these things more forcefully [VBG]:

I don't give a f**k what happens to Adobe or its plutocrat masters, so long as things don't get so bad that it goes out of business entirely. I only care about what good it does me, the end-user, and I'm not one of those brain-dead trickle-down apologists who think that making things better for the uber-rich in any way improves **MY** life.


Dear Geoff,

If you think I've insulted user's intelligence, I'm sorry for that. But what I stated is such well-established and confirmed fact about purchaser psychology and how marketing works that it's not an arguable point. It may not be the way you think. It's the way most people in this country think. Hell, it's the way I think. There's stuff I end up having to buy “ongoing” even though it costs me more than paying the upfront cost, because I simply don't have the upfront cost!

$500+ dollars is a lot of money for most people. Approximately half of all Americans don't have the reserves to handle a $1000 emergency expenditure (scary, but true). Most Americans can come up with $10 or $20 a month.

I don't know about the rest of the world. I'm not writing about the rest of the world; I'm only writing about what I know.


Dear David P.,

If I read your post correctly, so far as you're concerned there's nothing important that CS6 does that CS3 doesn't, so there's nothing to disagree with. You know your own mind.

Personally, every release since then has had at least one “must-have” improvement for me.

No, I'm not going to produce a list, that would just have people arguing about what they do and don't think is important, which is entirely personal. And no, I'm not speaking from the viewpoint of a graphics/press production/special effects professional. I'm just an advanced photographer and photographic printer.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Steve D,

I think that your mention of 96% pro user base is the key here. I think that what happens to make this all work out is that after a lot of grumbling, many of the amateurs wean themselves off of PS, and the subscription service sees an even higher percentage of pro users than it does now. Meanwhile, Adobe probably enhances Lightroom to make it a more complete solution for photographers, and maybe does something different with PS Elements. And it will all turn out to be a lot of hand-wringing for nothing ;)

Marc Rochkind, I appreciate your defense of our industry. However, while I agree that developers and managers are much more honorable than your interpretation of Ctein's remarks, the corporations that employee those developers and managers and that make the decisions about how to charge consumers and what functionality to implement (and this is not, by any means, restricted to software) are run by greedy executives whose purpose in life is to boost share prices, thus earning them prestige and bonuses (usually paid in shares of the stock whose price they just boosted).

On a scale of 1 to 10, this little quake is about a 2. Adobe is too smart not to pursue this pricing model and along with a lot of things in life, I go with the flow. I think PS6 and LR5 are terrific and use the latest features gleefully, and I'll feel the same when I opt for CC in the next few months. Adobe's programs are as necessary to my career as the $100 I pay monthly for gasoline. If you need/want it, pay for it; if you don't need/want it, don't pay for it. Either way, stop quibbling. Adobe doesn't care whether you think there may be a worthwhile argument.

The more I read about this, the more I remember my 88 year old mothers frustration (mom's "gone" now), with why computers don't work like refrigerators, i.e., once they have a stable program that does a certain thing, leave it alone, and use it forever. She would practically be in tears using programs that were "pushed" through to her computer, that looked entirely different than the one before, and worked just different enough to make the buyers think they were getting something for the money (but frustrating my mother), even tho they (she) still used the program to do the same stuff they (she) were always doing on the old ones.

I'd rather buy a program that would work perfectly when I bought it, did a specific thing a certain way, and I could transfer between machines forever. I would rather have new releases market to me, with a list of differences between the old and the new, that would not shut down my old one, and I could make the decision on whether I wanted to buy the new one or just keep using the old one.

Someone said on here that a company has to realign for it's mature market, and I agree. Most of the people I know end up getting fired anyway, when their company doesn't need them anymore because their product/market is mature. It's the new reality, as bad as it is...

BTW, I got a camera software program with a Nikon a while back, that worked on Windows 95, 98, Millenium, XP and Vista, but only worked with Mac 10.4.1! Now that PC type of "sell through" is what I'm talking about...

Like someone else said on here, I still know people using PhotoShop 9!

I think you missed one secondary but very important advantage: incremental upgrades minimize the need for user retraining, since it's easier introducing them gradually to one new feature at a time than making them stay with Office 2003 until the very last day before 2007's release.

I think I mentioned it in the last conversation, but I think it bears repeating: this and other arguments in its favor aren't hypothetical make-believe, the Free and Open Source community by and large switched to a model of permanent development and continuous releases (called "rolling releases") years ago. And as someone who's been part of it for close to a decade I can tell you that yes, it does reduce user frustration with new features, yes, it does produce better and more reliable software on average, and no, it doesn't result in every project under the sun taking up Agile Development either. Which, by the way, tends to result in very high quality, albeit highly specialized software—when implemented correctly at least, which inevitably nobody ever does. It's also strongly oriented towards small teams, which Adobe's Photoshop team is likely not.

In fact, it's such a nice model of development, for users and developers alike, that I believe the only reason it doesn't see wider use in the industry is the strong aversion of customers to the subscription model it requires for monetization.

Well, to be fair it does pose many problems as well—it's hard to conduct security audits to an ever-changing codebase and certifications of all sort quickly lose their value, but we're talking NSA-grade software here; home software such as Photoshop has never had such an extensive audit, regardless of development model, and customers don't care whether the latest version is compatible with which version of POSIX.

Dear Craig,

Well, I've got over 40 years in the industry; on the jargon, see DDB's comment.

You took my release cycle point out of context–– read all the content and you'll see that I was NOT saying that the jockeys preferred a 2-3 year release cycle over incremental improvements. I was comparing the jockeys to the money mongers. That's all.

The utility thing bugs the hell out of me, too! That's why it surprised me when I thought through the implications of this for me and decided I actually LIKED it. sometimes I surprise myself [smile].

Charging on a usage basis is a really interesting notion. I don't think that's possible without intrusive measures at this point (I'm pretty sure most people don't want Adobe spying on what they're doing on their computers). But in the longer term, it wouldn't surprise me to see more and more server-based applications from Adobe (the inter-web infrastructure currently won't support it, but give it another 5-10 years). I can see that possibly being really attractive to the small user. Possibly–– the real problem is coming up with a pricing structure that produces enough revenue for Adobe, has a really low-end price for the very low-end user, but doesn't get ridiculously expensive for the high-end user.

Accordingly, the metrics get tricky. Do you charge by the number of photographs processed? Or do you charge by the file size? Either way badly screws some heavy-use people, And you don't want to tick them off because they're disproportionately influential opinion-makers.

I have to think on this one for a while. It's very intriguing. Thank you!


Dear rnewman,

Wasn't suggesting a tablet as a replacement for large-screen computer. It's a field tool. But damn, it's a useful one! And it is the growing market sector in the computer business. In 10 years you'll be hard-pressed to find a (digital) photographer who doesn't own one.


Dear Jeff,

I'd be totally with you on this, except Photoshop does a lot of wonderful and important things for me that other products DON'T do. This is true for an awful lot of people. It may not be true for you, and I'm happy for you for that, but for most people using Photoshop, saying that they should just switch to something else is kind of like telling people who are unhappy with their water and power companies that they should just go “off the grid.” For some people that's really easy, but it's not for most.

So how much do I want to screw up my photographic life, just to send a message to Adobe? Not very much.


Dear DDB,

Yeah, I thought about saying “code monkey” all the way through, but felt that for a lay audience it might sound too insulting. That's kind of insider talk.

My GUESS on the pricing is that it's going to stay at $10 a month or even drop over time, but that's totally a guess based on pressure from the “$.99 app” mentality (which is problematical in the extreme, but currently seems to be what the people want).

But, yeah, they could go to the dark side route and decide now that they totally own you they can start to squeeeeeeze.


Dear Ed,

I'm wagering my reputation as a brilliant and insightful commentator! As the TV commercial says… priceless.

(What are you putting up?)

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

You have a point that the "pile 'em high and sell 'em cheap" method might work for Adobe, there is a much larger market for them if they reduce their prices. What annoys me is not being given the option, I would like to have a perpetual licence option as well as the creative cloud option as I am one of those people who budget for alternate upgrades of photoshop. Yes sticking ten pounds in the bank each month while saving for an upgrade is the same as paying a monthly subscription but the money is earning me interest, not Adobe.

In short, I don't see why Adobe's cashflow should be my problem, especially as they really have an idea of how to manage it by now. Though given that our banking system is in such a mess, it might be to much to ask. In short I have nothing against the subscription service, for many it will be a good idea, I just dislike the idea of not having an option for a perpetual licence, with upgrades for a limited time.

Still I will bite the bullet and if there is no viable alternative to Photoshop when CS6 becomes inoperable then I will move to the subscription system. Though this doesn't mean I will have to like it, or remain a loyal Adobe user when a rival to Photoshop comes along.

It seems contradictory to refer to Photoshop as a mature product, while praising the new subscription policy as a means to promote greater innovation by the developers. "Mature" implies that there are few major innovations remaining to be added to the program. Therefore, periodic upgrades will most likely consist of minor tweaks and frilly features. Nevertheless, Adobe is asking users to pay continually for the privilege of using software that may not be improved substantially over the coming years. It is clear how this is to Adobe's advantage, but not so clear how it is to ours.

Ctein,are you sure this is the good part of the Cloud story?

We were called code monkeys back when I worked at the company that makes the other ios, most of the time unless it was on an invoice where we were "engineers".

In the bug* tracker system if you checked in code that broke something but also broke something else if it was regressed just before going on a 2 week "wilderness trek**" you would be called many things that no monkey would put up with.

*the name of which escapes me because company policy was "it is not a bug unless a customer submits it"

**what you had to say to get away with being unreachable by phone - see "hiking the appalachian trail

A subscription model is great for Adobe, and bad for users. Take a fraction of that money you pay to monopolistic Adobe and support an open source project like Gimp. When there are competitors everyone benefits, especially when those competitors are free and open source.

Mature technology, mature market, lack of significant future growth except for irregular upgrades... Wonder how long till Canon, Sony, Nikon et al. switch to a lease plan for their cameras?

I'm someone who is perfectly capable of doing the maths (as we call math in Australia) but became someone who paid for, rather than simply 'acquired', Adobe products when it went to a subscription model.

The other important factor was that in Australia the subscription pricing is at parity with the US pricing*, whereas the boxed software was typically double or more than US pricing.

My conversion to a semi-honest customer began when I bought Lightroom on special from Amazon (via a link at TOP). I had the box sent to a mate in the US, and got him to email me the licence code which I used on the app which I'd downloaded directly. At the time the boxed software cost ~A$400 in Australia, whereas I think I paid about A$120.

* In Australia the subscription service started at A$64.99pm, but just before Adobe were due to appear before a government inquiry on software pricing it -- entirely coincidentally, I'm sure -- dropped the price to $A49.99pm to match US pricing.

Craig wrote:

This leads one to wonder if Adobe will eventually start charging by usage, with people who spend all day in Photoshop paying more than those who just fire it up occasionally. It's an interesting thought, actually. Certainly you could argue that the product has more value, and therefore should cost more, for those who use it the most. A $50/mo. subscription might be justifiable for a graphics professional for whom it is a core tool, while the casual user could perhaps pay only $5/mo.

I'm surprised usage-levied subscriptions aren't more widely seen, because they relatively easy means for price discrimination. (You know the milk in the no-name carton often comes out of exactly the same vat as the branded milk costing twice the price, right?)

Take Spotify, the on-demand music subscription service. In Australia it costs just A$12pm for the ad-free, mobile phone-enabled version, which is about half the price of a CD, and less than an album on iTunes.

I'm listening to far more - and far more varied - music than I ever have (on some Audioengine A2s - thanks for the recommendation, Mike!). That's because I was too tight to risk parting with my hard-earned for an album I'd never heard before. In the past ten years I've only bought a few albums per year, but now I'm listening to ten new albums per week, and typically one or two become part of my 'collection' which I listen to again and again.

On the other side of the coin I have (younger) friends who were buying an album or three (~$50) per week. Now they pay $3.

Music on demand is easily worth $100pm to them, and $25pm to me. It amazes me that Spotify doesn't have a stepped subscription model, based on time or number of songs played per month, or some other metric which better discriminated between hard-core and casual listeners.

And it amazes me that Adobe doesn't do the same thing. There are professionals for whom CS apps are probably worth $50 every day to them. And amateur photographers who it's probably only worth $5 on the days that they actually use it.

And the way Adobe will get the best return to their shareholders is if they can capture both of these markets (and everyone in between) at the prices that better approximate what the user is prepared to pay.

Being a software developer myself, I have to disagree with the implication that what's best for Adobe's developers is best for Adobe's customers. Left to our own devices, I don't think mot developers would ever ship anything. Shipping software, and the inevitable compromises that it entrails, does not come naturally to most developers. There are always more bugs to fix, more code to rewrite, etc.

Consumers may say they prefer less buggy software over frequent feature releases, but I don't think that's true. If Adobe waits 24 months or longer to release PS CC2, I'm sure we'll hear a cacophony of rants about the lack of releases. Witness Apple Aperture, and that's not even subscription based.

Of course this is all speculation. Adobe may just move to more frequent, smaller scoped updates. Or maybe nothing will change. I don't think there is any inherent value to consumers in a subscription model unless the equivalent cost compared to ownership is lower, which it isn't in this case.

There are many things Adobe could, and should, do to ease the pain and make the whole announcement much more palatable for their large, loyal if not very lucrative non-intensive user base.

For one thing, LR is aimed (and priced) for photo enthusiasts, has the same excellent RAW converter as ACR and many excellent DAM and editing features.

What most of us need from PS actually accounts for about 10% of the product (layers, decent masking selection, dodge and burn, advanced healing brushes, gradient fills, etc.). Not very much in other words compared to the power of the base product.

Adobe would do well to address the potentially large (and currently on-board) market of enthusiasts with an editor for LR that actually has these features...

Oh hang on, that would be Elements, right? Well no, Elements has it's own DAM, supports way too few 16 bit tools and isn't colour managed. It's a complete tool, but aimed even lower down the consumer scale.

In other words, they could solve the whole problem for most of us here with a very simplified version of PS selling for around $150 retail as a plug in, or combined with LR for $250, or both as a CC option for $100 a year.

Now THAT would be worth buying, especially if I could upgrade each component individually as required.

And the other thing they COULD do is to provide the CC product on a pre-paid basis for a number of years, at a hefty discount. Say a four year subscription for around the price of three years of monthly renting.

Would provide a nice cash boost.

It's the lack of imagination and options that really bugs me with this whole announcement. Their presentation is Adobe-centric, not customer centric.

Many people have already commented on the subscription model. I won't. I'm qualified to comment on how Adobe is doing software development. Developers don't love 3yr development cycles, in fact many it turns out love customer feedback. Adobe has been adopting Scrum (a specific flavour of Agile) for a number of years. Large parts of the organization are now using it. I don't if all of the photoshop team is yet but I'm pretty sure all of lightroom is.

Done well and Adobe is doing a pretty good job it allows you to produce higher quality and adapt to client needs faster.

Caveat emptor I make my living helping people use Agile.

Subscription model brings a steady cash flow to the company. But companies need to grow. So the only way to grow the business is to either find new subscribers, and that may be possible to some extent by tapping those people who do not want to use pirated products, or buy raising prices. When 'all' are converted to CC, that is the time when Adobe starts to gradually raise their prices. That 9.95 is no more. It becomes 11.95, still cheap, everyone agrees, and then 13.95. Year after it will be 15.95 and before too long 19.95. And it will not stop there. The other need every company has is to make a profit. As costs always increase, Adobe needs to keep making a profit. One part of that comes from raising prices. This can easily be improved on by reducing the effort put into developing new products. And since the income flow is stable, there is no need to keep improving it as much as before when you needed to convince people to buy an upgraded version. So, mark my words, you will eventually get two things: significantly higher prices, and less frequent and less significant upgrades.
This will eventually open the door for a competitor and it is entirely possible that Adobe will then topple from its platform and become another Kodak or Nokia, a company who believed in it's own superiority a little bit too much.

Many good insights in the comments here. I believe that Ctein is making some assumptions that i suspect will not be of benefit to photographers.

Under a subscriptions model the norm will be to have frequent and smaller updates, with frequent bug fixes. This will probably be good, as we will likely see a more stable product.

But the downside is that we will probably not see any major improvements in the future of PS. To do any work that takes longer than than the release cycle of the CC products would mean that they would have to create a separate branch for that work, and Adobe went CC only because they said they could not support having a separate code branch for working on major releases beside the CC code branch...

So in the future we will only see addition of minor new features and filter etc. but no major rework and upgrading of PS.

On the money side of the corporations. The owners is share holders that have one interest only: making money on their investment in the share. In the previous "sell upgrades" model the owners had an interest in investing in significant development of the next version to make sure that enough people buy the upgrade so they get their money.

In the CC model there is no such incentive. As Ctein says, most people just want the product as is, and for the most part don't care about upgrades. Apart from fixing bugs and making sure that the product runs on new operating systems from Microsoft and Apple, any money the shareholders use on development is money out of their own pockets that they would be better of keeping for them self.

If I were a "code monkey" at Adobe, I would seriously consider my future. Because under the CC model that future is depending on the generosity of the shareholders.

The problem with your logic though is that it is entirely US centric, if you live and work elsewhere you have to pay more at best or not be able to subscribe. If you live in Europe and Australia, New Zealand and a few other place Adobe is charging like a wounded bull. If you are in Asia forget it Adobe doesn't want anyone with an IP address originating in Asia anywhere its cloud. Which seems short sighted as India and China are huge markets.

I'm not really bothered about this as I really don't upgrade anything very often. I've got LR3 and CS5 with a whole bunch of plugins that works very well for what I'm doing for photography and FCX handles my video requirements. If I need to upgrade LR in the future and it has gone to the cloud then I'll probably switch to Aperture and that is no big deal as I'm already familiar with it.

Further to CC as a utility, user fees, and rent.

Utility firms include the usual suspects (electricity, gas, water, cable) and the transportation industry (e.g., airlines, mass transit, taxis).

In the case of utility services, you know what you're paying for, or you pay as you go. But, in addition to the utility services you consume which can be metered (in kwh, cubic meter, mileage), there are lumpy sunk cost which service providers will "unitize" and pass on as surcharges to their customers. In the case of public mass transit, you not only pay for them as you go with your tickets or tokens, but you also support them with a portion of the local taxes you pay, whether you avail of their services or not.

These "hidden" charges are a form of rent. And like taxes, everyone wants to avoid paying them, if not evade them entirely.

There's legitimate rent (what you pay your landlord or LensRentals) and there's illegitimate rent. The latter is the proceeds of rent-seeking. The difference between what's legitimate and what's not can almost be wholly attributed to transparency (and in the case of monopoly rents, competition is what whittles them down).

The business model that Adobe will eventually arrive at will be a mix of rent and user fees (as adverted to by Ctein, Craig and others). Surely CC users wouldn't begrudge paying Adobe some rent for its intellectual property—Photoshop's legacy kernel and updates to keep it up to speed with the latest OSes (an example of what Mike calls "wrappers")—and subscription for new functionality. User fees are transparent. How Adobe keeps tab with your work may be not. But most everyone has gotten used to eating cookies.

The business model used by digital utilities (cellular telephony carriers) may show the way in respect of user fees. Prepaid or post-paid "subscriptions" depending upon the size ("consumption") of the user.

Adobe may be unloved as a monopoly capitalist "rentier." But they do provide a ("one-stop-shop") service that nobody else can (so far). Landlords and capitalists are universally unloved, because their income—rent, interest, dividends—are considered as unearned (by labor, intellectuals, and government). Adobe will be earning its income if it keeps on innovating rather than resting on the laurels of its "legacy" and depending on its monopoly power.

But Adobe will continue to be hated if it persists with a disingenuous ("creative") and non-transparent subscription road map for CC. A non-transparent pricing policy is a clear indication of rent-seeking behavior. As Ctein pointed out in Part 1, this (the perception of Adobe as a rent-seeker) was self-inflicted and totally unnecessary.

The problem with your argument is that what Photoshop most needs is support for new hardware, operating systems and cameras, not new features. Unlike features, those things happen on a timetable outside Adobe's control, so no amount of relaxed feature timetable is going to help. The subscription model actually raises users' expectations of timely delivery of, say, support for a new camera in ACR.

Another example is support for the new Mac Pro. It has ATI GPUs which don't support CUDA, the proprietary nVidia technology which Adobe uses instead of OpenCL.

>> I'm wagering my reputation as a brilliant and insightful commentator! As the TV commercial says… priceless.

Rats! I'm completely out of that. Let me stay at a Holiday Inn Express tonight and I'll have some to wager tomorrow...

Ah, the moneymongers (sic):

"On the whole, consumers find it more palatable to pay $10 a month on an ongoing basis, than to have to spring for $150 every year or two. It's not about how much it adds up to, it's about how much it hits the cash flow and how it's perceived psychologically. Equally importantly, more people find it palatable."

"Palatable"? Let's look at all this from a different perspective:
Could it not be that this 'psychological perception' is the result of the masses' succumbing to constant bombarding from the powers that be whereupon any measure designed to tie the consumer to the banking chain is good for THEM even if it's not good for US? More and more subscriptions/monthly payments/direct debits have the double advantage (from their standpoint) of greater fiscal control and more dependency on banks.

Am I from a different planet? You may well ask - yes, but I still have to live here and thankfully there are more and more of us who have to keep thinking outside the box ...

I have to say that this column was great. Not everything may pan out the way Ctein writes, but here's some fresh thinking and not repeating the same herd responses to CC that have been all over the Internet in the past weeks.

Elaborating a bit on the release cycle, from a technical and user point of view, frequent small updates is the preferable option. This is because large releases create unnecessary drama in the software company, making the process less lean and roadmaps rigid. This actually has a negative impact on quality and makes roadmaps too rigid: future changes are locked long before they are released and invariably the world changes waiting for the release (just look at how quickly iPad made an impact).

How this works out for Photoshop really depends on Adobe's culture. I'm hoping that this would now free planning to enable both small changes to happen in a tighter interval, while larger features can get longer time to mature. The most important features for me are the ones that make my most used workflows faster and I don't want to wait in a multi-year release cycle for improvements to come.

> than to have to spring for $150 every year or two

I paid 260 euros (338 USD) for CS6 upgrade.

Sounds like a load of humbug to me; pay more for the software and we will get better quality?!?

Disclaimer, I am in software development, a LightRoom user, but don't use PhotoShop (too expensive).

I agree with the statement that in a saturated market with a good enough product, it becomes more difficult to make money. But that is what innovation is about, invent what your customers didn't know they need (like Apple's approach), enter other markets with new products, and so on.

The fact that prices for mobile device/tablet software are low doesn't mean that a good product can't be sold for a good price. Mobile/tablet software is cheap since the low price makes consumers buy things just to try (even if they end up not using it) and the volume does the rest. But I'm not convinced that is a sustainable market in the long run; how many people are going to buy the next version of the app? Probably a lot less. How much support do you get with such cheap software?

I agree that $500 apps are reserved for professionals and pro-sumers. And it may easily be worth it to them, but for me as a consumer that kind of price that makes me look for- and live with open source software instead. I bought LightRoom4 when I could get it for 100 euros, knowing I will use it often.

If customers buy a subscription, it means there's less incentive for Adobe to innovate. They get a more constant and predictable flow of income, but why would that reduce pressure on software development?
If it would, Adobe will simply reduce the number of software developers to increase the bottom line a bit more; in the end Adobe's purpose in life is not to generate profit, not to make life easy for their developers.

All the statements about new releases being buggy, software devs preferring a 2-3 year release cycle, I don't know where you get that from. Decent working conditions are always in the interest of both employees and employers since the employees are part of the companies' capital; they have the knowledge and the experience that allows the company to make good products within reasonable time. Give them bad conditions and their productivity decreases, they will leave, both being bad for the company in the end. You cannot just replace one engineer with another one, the learning curve and lack of experience costs a lot of money.

Making a good-quality release is also in the company's interest; dealing with bug reports not only results in a damaged brand image but also in extra cost for service departments and disturbance for the engineering guys that now have to fix bugs quickly and test/release updates for the existing product rather than work on the next release.

Maybe some companies don’t realize that, but that is not going to change the day we as customers accept a subscription model.

If you want to get Adobe or any other company to make better quality software, you should take your business elsewhere when you're not happy with their products; that's how they will learn that the quality is important.
Subscribing only results in more lock-in, and allows Adobe to lean back and watch the money come in every month (until someone else comes along with a better product).

Death by 1000 (code) cuts.

Anyone who thinks shipping lots of small incremental releases is easier never developed software.

Sure, it works for simple apps which use a single interface layer on top of standard system utilities (like an iPhone app, or a web app) but for complex software it has some implications.

Any change to core functions (any low level function call that's used in many places) requires a lot of regression testing (of all the places that call it). Testing a mini-release can involve as much regression (compatability and stability) testing as a full one, but you have to do it a lot more often. Hard to plan, hard to organise.

And as for training, it's easier to run one training course every two years to address 20 function changes than it is to run 20 little mini courses every year, especially if you have a large number of employees. For one thing you can download the beta for version X+1 and write the course while everyone is still on version X.

And major releases allow you to make much more profound changes than mini ones. Like creating a full touch-enabled interface, for instance.

Mini-releases are almost an admission that "not much is going to change from now on, folks".

There is still a powerlessness that comes with subscription models and as the world transitions to a more interactive and internet-based landscape (cloud, eCommerce, telecommuting etc.), the precedents being set today are disconcerting to say the least (DRM cases in which people don't 'own' the content they purchase on iTunes come to mind).

I for one will offer to purchase Adobe products at a reasonable price (they were already too pricey imo) so I can possess the ability to use said products at a time and place of my choosing. I will not be subscribing to anything going forward.

I hope this whole brouhaha comes down to "New Coke in the end."

Dear Chris,

Nope, I've been unaware of Photosmith. Send me a license code and I'll see if I can find some time to play with it. No promises… But then the wonderful thing about virtual products is it doesn't cost you anything, either.


Dear Rob,

You can make anything sound contradictory if you insist upon defining rather vague terms exactly as you please and then drawing highly limited and dichotomous implications from that.

I'm not inclined to argue on the playing field that you create, by your rules.


Dear Rick,

Yeah, that's what I said about Photoshop and the iPad. Current technology won't support it. Give it five years, but definitely not today. Light room/Bridge are another matter. They don't demand resources beyond the iPad's capability.

Your discussion of your friend's situation is outside the scope of what I said I'd be discussing, which is Photoshop for single-user photographers. Adobe has A selection of licensing arrangements for multiple sites in multiple programs. I am not conversant with them and they don't particularly interest me.


Dear Timprov,

That's a bet I'll take! There are definitely prints of yours I wouldn't mind owning.

But no bets on Cloud, just on Photoshop, Single-user license. As I said in the first article, that's the scope of my discussion because that's what I'm familiar with.

The Photoshop interface isn't bad on a tablet; I've been using it on my iPad slaved to my MacBook Pro when I travel. But there's no way the current iPad can support Photoshop's resource demands.

You're right about Lightroom (and for that matter Bridge and ACR) -- they have too many small fiddly bits to work really well on a tablet, but my perception of it is that doesn't demand a complete interface redesign, just a certain amount of simplification and elimination of some redundant ways to do things. In other words, it wouldn't interface exactly the same way as the desktop version but it would have the same functionality.

Main point, anyway, is not to replace the desktop, but to provide a workable tool in the field so that when yer traveling, you don't have to wait until you get back to your desktop to start messing with/editing/sorting your photos.

In any case, at least hardware wise that's doable, where Photoshop is currently a pipe dream.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

To you " they can concentrate on rolling out new capabilities as they develop them and on fixing the deficiencies that bother users the most" means continuous improvement, but to me is "software trapped on a perpetual beta-state"

It's the tomato song all over again.

Ilkka wrote: Subscription model brings a steady cash flow to the company. But companies need to grow.

I've always been curious about this statement. If you don't mind, please tell me why, exactly, companies need to grow? If they can attract enough new customers to replace those they lose for whatever reason(s) and if they are able to keep pace with technology such that the product or service they're offering doesn't go stale and out of date, why can't a company that is doing well stay exactly the same?

It seems me that trying to grow a company simply because everyone says that's what one is supposed to do has been the ruin of quite a few otherise worthy and profitable companies.

After all, baseball games can be won by a string of four singles just as well they can by a home run...

At ~420 dollars / year here in Switzerland to subscribe to the "Creative Crowd" just to use Photoshop I think my days using Adobe products are short-lived. Though I found LR3 to be useable the "improvements" in LR4 make me wonder. That said, I'll start testing Capture 1 & GIMP as time allows.

If these blood-sucking corporations were more interested in creating products that actually benefited society I'm pretty sure their profits would follow suite. Sound idealistic? did Mr. Jobs manage to do exactly that? Quality & Innovation equaled Massive Profits.

On the issue of speculating whether the subscription rate stays $10, I'd only point out that it's only $10 for existing users. So in order for it to stay $10 instead of going up after a year, it would need to drop from $20 to $10 for people who didn't previously own it, otherwise, it only applies to a class of users grandfathered in. Maybe that's just mincing words, but I think the distinction is important. In order for it to cost $10/month it has to not only stay at that price (for some users), it has to drop to that price for others. It could happen ... I wouldn't bet more than pocket change against it, but I'd bet against it.

I speculate that Abode is in the process of distinguishing "pro users" (i.e. those that make money and write off the business expense of CC) and "amateur" users (those who don't). Some of this was though about before subscription only PS was rolled out and some as become clear since the the rollout.

I suspect you will see two things in the future:

1. "Photoshop Player" that will let you access to print and export PSD files when your subscription has expired i.e. essentially ship a version of PS without the ability to change or edit PSDs.

They need to to coax in people who have thought through the "lock-in" aspect of the subscription model. There was a blog post about "hearing our pain" into the problems of subscription lapses. This would be the simplest way to do it.

2. A "Photoshop for Photographers". This will have the subset of features most used by photogs and not be of much use to "graphic design pros" that PS CC is really aimed at.

Photoshop for Photographers might be a standalone app (and so include ACR and keep the core "soup to nuts" in PS photogs happy. They could also do this by improving Elements (i.e. moving it out of 8 bit only editing). Or even making yet another product ("Elements Pro"?) though I think that unlikely.

Or, the more likley outcome I suspect, it might be those features find their way into Lightroom as a "Photoshop module" or perhaps as a set of features in the Develop module (adding layers and integrating it with brushes and masks).

That "LR + Photoshop" may actually be sold as a subscription ("LR CC") but with lower per month cost. $5 per month would be about the same as yearly upgrades for LR and cheapr than the (soon to be rising prices) for CC.

If there is a subscription LR version I suspect they'll keep the older LR non-subscription production around with camera updates (they're essentially free especially as they end up in Adobe DBG Convertor anyway) to avoid a backlash. After all there is competition out there at a reasonable price (for Mac users Aperture undercuts LR). The subscription only LR CC will then get all the new features.

So that's all speculation but I wouldn't be too suprised that somewhere in Adobe someone is working on this.

Mike C. said "DRM cases in which people don't 'own' the content they purchase on iTunes come to mind"

In fact iTunes Store is (and has been) DRM free since 2009 **

Of course how this came about was a mixture of fear of monopoly investigation, a need to diffrentiate themselves against competition and Apple using it's "monopoly" power against the recording companies.

It's an interesting example of how an initially bad decision (using DRM because the record business required it) can be reversed when people and competitors start to be irked by it. Especially if it looks like you may have a monopoly, rent-seeking position.

** There are a few DRMed songs out still there but they're a tiny minority and mostly in the "album only" purchase.

My initial thought's about this go back to your discussion of the groups of users. Not only are there people out there that would gladly use Photoshop if it wasn't going to cost them $500 to do so, there's a large user base that currently pirates the software that would gladly pay $10/month to use a legitimate version.

Could the discussants say a bit more about what happens after we process our photos using Photoshop CC for a few years, and then unsubscribe? We'll still have our original raw and .jpg files, but won't have access to any of the .psd and .jpg files we created with Photoshop CC. Right? Is that a problem?


OK, Photoshop alone is fine. You're going to have to refine your prediction a bit though or we'll never know when we're done. Photoshop Cloud to be under $10/mo for ?who? by ?when?

PhotoShop is professional software for use by professionals. Profesional Retouchers/Graphic Designers have been using the cloud from the get-go. The subscription price is just a cost of doing business for them ... no-BIG-deal! The person I work with uses Illistrator and InDesign as well as PS. She couldn't be happier.

But unlike AutoCad many PS users are amatuers who don't make much (any) money by using PS. For many of them PS may be the wrong product used for the wrong reasons.

Hi, I'm a "code jockey" and work for a "mature well established software company", knowing people in plenty of other companies. Your assessment about quality is wrong. Most of these companies do not operate like start-ups. Quality coding is the norm, not the exception.

Your assessment of revenue model is -in my opinion- correct though. A subscription model allows smaller releases and thus faster development cycles. Whether this will deliver the benefits normally associated with faster development cycles remains to be seen (most likely it will).

I'm sorry, Ctein, but "It's good for Adobe" isn't much of an epiphany. (I usually respect your insights). This might not actually be good for Adobe, if many of us jump ship. I was a happy Adobe sheep, grazing with a big flock of Adobe Sheep, but now many of us have seen a wolf at the edge of the pasture. Grazing just isn't the same now, in this jumpy, edgy situation.

To avoid the block of editorial italics (Hi Mike!), I won't go through my negatives, but I will tell you my actual behavior change over the last month. In a nutshell, I'm keeping my eye on the door. I've flipped from using Lightroom only to tag and organize, compare and do quick visualizations with Photoshop as the heavy lifter. Now I'm doing as much as I can in Lightroom, only leaning on Photoshop for its strengths. I've just switched to using Lightroom only for printing, and it was a very good switch. I'm also thinking about Aperture. I probably would have tried buying Aperture, but Jeffrey Friedle's Lightroom publishing plug-ins have become essential to some of my workflows, including how I build my website.

As a web professional, I now launch Pixelmator, which I just bought a few weeks ago, to process web images -- unless I know I will need a Photoshop feature. I'm trying to see if I can wean myself. In fact, though PIxelmator is far from photoshop for photography, I'm finding for some workflows it is very streamlined, sleek, and powerfully expedient, a sports car compared driving the big rig.

Here's what I thought your epiphany was gong to be: not how this is good for Adobe, but the one thing I can think of that could be good for US. (As a public company ultimately responsible only to its shareholders and tasked with profit-making, I don't believe very much that what is good for Adobe is the best for those of us feeding those profits, always). My one silver lining in this dark Creative Cloud is this: suddenly the prospect of competing with Adobe is viable, and the whole world can open up in new possibilities. Right now venture capital is flowing to independent developers. Right now formerly fringe lightweight competitors like Acorn, Pixelmator, etc. have made recent profits they never would have dreamed of last winter. They can hire, and work with a new hope for their future. (Pixelmator shot from off-the-list to number 3 on the Mac App Store paid app list, while it was on sale for $15 at the time of the announcement.)

Personally, I've seen some very fat times and very lean times in my personal and professional situation. I can easily imagine not being able to pay my Adobe bill at some point in 7 or 10 years, when CS6 will no longer run on my computer. But with my epiphany, and adapting work style, I have gone from actual depression a month ago to a confidence that I can continue to be a photographer, if not actually continuing to work as a designer, without Adobe.

Companies need to grow because that is what the owners expect, that is what the stock market expects. People want more money next year, families grow and their expenses are bigger.
There are some privately owned family companies that do not grow. They just grind out the same product year after year and support the family. But they are exceptions.

Dear Sylvia,

Take a look at the previous column and the Adobe links therein. Yes, it's a problem and yes, Adobe is taking real seriously. I don't have any doubt that they will have something like Kevin's “Photoshop Player” in place before this becomes an issue for anyone.

Not the past performance is any indicator of future behavior, but Adobe has actually been pretty good about making sure that people don't get locked out of their work. Sometimes it's not official policy, only things you find out when you have a problem and contact them, but it's a problem they've been sensitive to consistently in the past.

Of the many things I find problematical with the CC approach, this is the one I worry least about.


Dear Timprov,

Okay, here's the bet I'm making: when single-license Photoshop CS users' Photoshop CC annual subscriptions come up for renewal a year from now (oh, let's say June 30 2014 to put a firm number on it), they'll find that the “introductory price” of $10 has become the “permanent price” for them. That's all.

I don't care about institutional or educational buyers, I don't care about multiple-app or total Creative Suite package buyers, I don't care about people who are using other Creative Cloud services or features, I don't care about multisite licenses, I don't care what's happening outside the US. (For all the folks who keep complaining that this is only the US perspective, yes, that's all I'm ever going to be writing about. I can only write about what I know. I'm sorry for any problems you're having elsewhere in the world, but they are outside my scope of knowledge and expertise.)

I'm not making any bets on what happens with new subscribers, just on the people who get in under the introductory rate. A sensible way to handle that would be that they paid $20 the year for the first year and then after that it's only $10 year, analogous to the way people pay more for their first copy of Photoshop but pay less for upgrades. But that's just the way I would handle it. I don't have any insight into how Adobe will.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Dear folks,

A couple of bigger-picture issues that I didn't discuss in the column, because I don't have any data about them, but they clearly affect whether or not this turns out to be a good idea and plays out like I opine.

First, there's the whole business of versioning and development cycles and scheduling. I don't know what Adobe's internal policy and workflow looks like on these. If I did, I probably couldn't write about it. (Heck, given how fast and unthinkingly they rushed this out the door, I don't know if they figured it out in advance.) As many writers have pointed out, there are a dozen different ways to cook those eggs and some of them are good and some of them are really, really bad. So I'm not predicting Nirvana, nor am I buying into the disaster scenarios that several readers have suggested. We just don't have the data, so we're all spinning hypothetical scenarios, but we don't have any information to back them up with.

That's why I wrote my column as equivocally as I did. I don't think the subscription-revenue model is any guarantee that we, the end-users, will be better off (or that Adobe will be better off), I just see that it has the potential to be, whereas so far as I'm concerned the release-revenue model is inherently bad, broken, dysfunctional, and abusive of employees.

The other big issue is the actual shape of the market. Presumably Adobe has studied this, but I'm not privy to their studies and neither are any of you. Crudely, you can break it down this way: of all the photographers out there who have some reason to be using photograph-manipulating software (a lot don't, but we don't care about them), what percentage are current Photoshop customers, what percentage will never use Photoshop no matter what Adobe does, and what percentage would like to use Photoshop but couldn't afford/stomach the buy in? (We also don't care about the people who are committed to pirating Photoshop. They're not much affected by this, and they are definitely not a high percentage of the total pie we are slicing up.)

I think it's almost intuitively obvious that the third segment is very, very large, but I don't know how large that is, and I certainly don't know at what price points they would be willing to buy in. I opined that $20 a month was probably too high for maximum penetration, because it is well known and established that single digits are magic marketing number in general (that is not debatable). But does that rule applied to Photoshop in the specific? I don't know. Or has the $.99-app mentality made even $9.95 untenable in substantial markets? I don't know.

These are the big questions we don't have data to have an informed opinion about (unless you're in professional marketing research or inside of Adobe).

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Two things:
1) due to a wrinkle in tax accounting things youe rent are fully deductable, whereas things you buy must be depreciated over a number of years. In some cases this makes rental of Adobe stuff more attractive.

2) As to maturity keep this in mind: there is always something driving change. 8 years ago it was digital cameras and today its tablets and touch devices, but there are always motivators for upgrades, even in mature products. Photoshop on computers is mature, but for tablets, its just beginning.

Dear John,

Well, gee, I'm sorry, but did you even bother to read the whole column before firing off your rant, or did you quite halfway through??? Because I thought I'd made it awfully clear that "what's good for Adobe" is the least of my interests. And if somehow the column didn't make it clear enough, which it should have, my reply to Dennis most certainly did.

So, you're arguing with me over a position I didn't take, in fact one that I explicitly rejected.

Next time you want to take me on, do me the courtesy of first reading everything I wrote, please? It'll have the additional benefit of saving you from going off half-cocked.


Dear J.E.,

Under the US tax code, you can expense off software in a single year; you don't have to depreciate it. Unless you make so little taxable income compared to your expenses that it won't matter or you're expensing off a huge dollar amount of purchases.

"Mature" doesn't mean "stagnant." Anyway, 'Photoshop iOS' or whatever is either several generations of hardware off or else would be a very different product from Photoshop CS/CC, so it doesn't really bear on maturity.

pax / Ctein
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com

So unless I'm reading that wrong I would state the proposition as: On June 30, 2014 the price for Photoshop-only subscriptions for standard US customers who upgraded from the pre-subscription model will be equal to or less than $10/month.

The stakes are a single digital print to the winner from the loser's regular catalog, of the winner's choice.

If this is acceptable, please post "booked."

Sorry if I'm being overly anal for this context, but after seeing a few of these things go wrong for six-figure sums nailing everything down at the beginning gets to be a habit.

One possible, and I would even say probable, misconception in all this is the assumption that Adobe knows what they are doing. They clearly made a blunder in the introduction of this. Why do you keep assuming that Adobe has all the necessary data and is interpreting it correctly? We don't have the data so we are speculating. Sure we are. But all companies always think they know what hey are doing, they read the market correctly, or are so powerful that customers simply have no choice. IBM thought so in computers, Nokia in hand phones, Kodak first in film before it was bludgeoned by Fuji and then again in digital, until it went bankrupt. I am not predicting that Adobe will go bankrupt, but it is entirely possible that they have completely lost their way in this one.

Adobe (and some of it’s parrots, like well known Photoshop bookwriters/training company owners, but I’m not mentioning names) sstates that this is a *VERY GOOD* deal for customers.

In fact, the deal is so good that for the “reasonable” $50/mo subscription they will require a yearly commitment. If you want to pay on a month-to-month basis it’s $75/mo.

Tell me how convinced Adobe is that the product is so good that I want to pay $50 per month for it, when they're offering a $300 discount if customers commit for an entire year?

That tells me that Adobe doesn’t think CC offers good value. If even Adobe doesn't think CC offers good value (and they're biased) then why would it be good value for the customer?

And if it’s not good value for the customer, then why would CC be a good thing?

Dear Timprov,

Can't we just shake on it, in a week?

Or we could just do what artists normally do, which is trade artwork.

But the bet's more fun.

pax / Ctein

As a photographer outside of the US of A (in Israel) the price for a CC yearly subscription is US$ 880.00! I have Design Premium CS4 and it is not possible to upgrade to CS6. A new stand alone CS6 Design Premium will cost me US$ 2384.00!!!!! without any possibility to upgrade in the future.

I think my biggest dislike about the creative cloud was how suddenly they sprung it on us. There was no real warning. The more I hear about it the more I'm thinking I will convert.

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