adobeccmoney-480Like many visually creative people, I use Photoshop. Not that there’s a lot of choice in the matter; it is pretty much the only respected player in the game right now. It’s annoying, then, that Adobe has thrown out a dubious marketing structure with its new “Creative Cloud”.

Basically, it’s a shift from you buying a product you own and can use anytime you want, to a product that you lease and can use only for as long as you maintain your subscription. It doesn’t take a lot of consideration to see there are problems with this new approach.

I’ve used Photoshop since version 2.5, when it was first available for Windows (CS6, the most recent disc version, is version 13). In all of this time, it’s never been the inexpensive choice. As I write this, on Amazon, Photoshop CS6 (not the whole Creative Suite, just Photoshop) is going for $676 USD. Every upgrade cycle you have to make a choice: is the upgrade price worth it — keeping in mind that if you skip too many you can no longer upgrade and will have to buy a full version.

I was a consistent upgrader for quite a while. That said, I’ve been stuck on CS3 for almost six years, now. Not that some of the advances since haven’t been enticing, but it was hard to justify the cost of upgrades for only a few tweaks here, a few nifty-but-not-criticals there. I had planned on getting what I’d assumed would be CS7 when it came out — but then I found out about its becoming the Creative Cloud.

The Creative Cloud is basically a lease for a program you download. If you stop paying on the lease, in a short period of time (I’m seeing talk of something around 3-months) you will lose the ability to run the program. This means you will also lose the ability to then open and/or edit the files in Photoshop-specific formats you have already created with that program. As a result, you’ve basically just sent Adobe money to make files you can’t open. They are trying to make a tool act like a service. That’s not going to fly.

Adobe has a variety of pricing plans for the Creative Cloud. Let’s focus on the two common levels, the one CC program at, effectively, $20/mo, and the full suite for $50/mo for an individual. On the surface, this looks reasonable. If I’m a suit in the executive suite, I’d wonder what the hub-bub was about. The fact is that people and companies making a good living from the visual arts, the same folks who have upgraded every version for years, will likely think this a fair deal — at least those that stay connected to the Internet all the time. But what about everyone else? In an age where you are shelling out money for subscriptions to your Internet provider as well as Netflix, or Hulu, or Amazon Prime, or Spotify, or Evernote, or….well the list goes on and on…it adds up after a while as every single service wants their monthly tithe.

There are basically two problems with the Creative Cloud model: the price points and guaranteed accessibility. In terms of price points: I think Adobe needs to be a little more populist. Here’s my suggestion for monthly rates: first program, $12.99; second program, $9.99; each additional program, $4.99. If you only want one program, $12.99 is really at the upper limit of what most people who inhabit the 90% and lower economic percentile will pay a month without feeling taken. Overall, you get to cherry-pick the programs you need and not have to grab a bundle filled with programs you don’t. In fact, since people will feel in control and perceive getting value for their money, they will likely pick up several programs with less grumbling than is the case now.

In terms of guaranteed accessibility: Adobe needs to make this a rent-to-own scenario. After ‘x’ number of months — say, 48 (4 years) — you can opt to freeze your software, or part of your bundle thereof. You get no more non-critical (i.e. non-security) upgrades other than for RAW file access updates, but the software is yours. You can use it without fear of it going toes-up on you. Optionally, if you don’t want to wait the full term, you should also be able to buy-out the remainder of your lease for the same result. I can see Adobe requiring maybe 1-2 years on subscription before you can buy so they are assured a predictable money stream. As for signing back onto the program…there will need to be some prorated compromises on both sides depending on the time away and the number of significant non-bug-fix revisions released.

Unless you opt to buy CS6 while Adobe continues to make it available (soon, only via download), knowing that you will see no future upgrades to your CS6 purchase, the only current option is to indenture yourself, and a portion of your data, to Adobe. Some will shout to use GIMP, or Painter, or Corel, or some other option. While it’s a nice thought, if you want to get work done, honestly, there is only one 400 kg gorilla in this graphics town. Hopefully, Adobe will hear our wailing and see the gnashing of our teeth and realize that people really do want to buy their product — they just need to be willing to accommodate the economic truths their customers and potential customers have to abide by. If they do that, I think they are more likely to maximize their profits.