Lone cloud at sunrise, Mono Lake, CA, USA

Lone cloud at sunrise, Mono Lake, CA, USA

There’s been a lot of internet discussion lately about the new Adobe Creative Cloud. If you haven’t heard about this, Adobe decided that it will offer its Creative Suite applications only by subscription. You can get the whole suite (including Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, Dreamweaver, etc.) for $50 a month, or an individual application for $20 a month. They’re offering first-year discounts for people who own a license to any CS3 or later application.

On the positive side, subscribers will get regular updates to the software when new features are ready, rather than having to wait for a new version to come out. On the other hand, $20 per month for an application represents a substantial price increase. The last Photoshop upgrade was $199. Since the original Photoshop CS came out in 2003, Adobe has upgraded Photoshop, on average, every 20.6 months. If that pace of innovation continued, a $199 upgrade price would average out to around $10 per month – or half as much as they’re asking for a Creative Cloud subscription to a single application.

I might be able to live with the price, but here’s the worst part: if you stop your subscription at any time, you can’t use the software anymore.

Imagine this scenario: You bite the bullet and subscribe to Photoshop Creative Cloud for $20 per month. You continue your subscription for five years, getting all the updates from Adobe along the way and using Photoshop regularly.

Then you decide to stop your subscription. When you do so, Photoshop will stop working – you won’t be able to use it at all, or open any of the Photoshop files you’ve created over the previous five years. You’ll have to go back to Photoshop CS6, or use some other software, but it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to open any of your newer Photoshop files with CS6 or another application (especially if the files have layers).

You will have spent $1200 for the subscription over the course of five years, but own nothing you can keep. Yes, you’ve had the use of the software during that time, but that’s it. If you want to keep using the software, you have to keep paying. In other words, you’re locked in for life. And there’s no guarantee that Adobe won’t raise the subscription rates, or that they will provide any new features that you find useful.

To me it would make more sense – and be much, much more customer friendly – if Adobe allowed you to keep using the software after you let you subscription lapse. You wouldn’t get updates, of course, but you’d still be able to use what you already paid for. You’d still be paying double, but at least you’d have something to show for it when you stopped your subscription. However, there are no signs that Adobe will change it’s terms, despite the online uproar and petitions.

The good news is that Lightroom and Photoshop Elements will still be available as standalone products with perpetual licenses. Personally, I use Lightroom for at least 80% of my images these days, and for the other 20% I’m happy with Photoshop CS6. For me, the biggest loss will be Smart Object compatibility. If I take an image from Lightroom 5 into Photoshop CS6 as a Smart Object, I won’t have all the new Lightroom functions available to me when I open the Smart Object in Camera Raw. But I can figure out how to deal with that and give myself the most flexibility possible.

It’s a sad day for me though. Although Lightroom is now my primary tool, I cut my digital teeth on Photoshop. I’ve been using it since version 5.5 (1999), and have bought every upgrade since. It will be weird to not keep up with the latest versions and not know what’s going on in the Photoshop world. But I’ll take this as a lesson to not get emotionally attached to software created by profit-making corporations.

If you’d like to get some different perspectives on this issue, here are some thoughtful posts by Guy Tal, Michael Reichmann, and Ctein (Part 1 and Part 2).

What do you think? Are you going to subscribe to the Creative Cloud? Why, or why not?

— Michael Frye

Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author and photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to YosemiteYosemite Meditations, and Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Great Masters, plus the eBooks Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom, and Exposure for Outdoor Photography. He has written numerous magazine articles on the art and technique of photography, and his images have been published in over thirty countries around the world. Michael has lived either in or near Yosemite National Park since 1983, currently residing just outside the park in Mariposa, California.