When Adobe announced Creative Cloud, all hell broke loose among photographers. I’m not going to go back and cover that territory again (I can hear you all going “thank god” — which I agree with!), but if you want a good, balanced view of all of this, Jeff Carlson recently published a column on it in the Seattle Times. Â My view Â on it was somewhat different than many: I’ve been watching the shift of computing towards online services and the cloud for a while — if you stop and think about it, many of us are already paying a monthly fee for hosting our web sites and for data and backup storage for services like Amazon S3.
My general opinion is this. Adobe is the first large company to make this shift for consumer applications; it’s a common pricing model in business and enterprise already, whether you’re talking Salesforce or SAP similar licensed software packages. It’s not surprising that we’re starting to see companies trying to figure out how to shift their product line to these pricing models. It’s also not surprising that the people being asked to foot the bill are pissed about it.
I do think that in 3-5 years this will be a non-issue. Part of the controversy is simply that it’s a change, and it’s fairly typical that people react to change by rejecting it. If you look at some of the ‘leaks’ that Adobe has made about their plans for Creative Cloud over the next few years, it’s pretty intriguing, especially their ideas for native post-processing of cloud-hosted RAW files on your tablet. (this new to you? Take a look at this episode of The Grid from Scott Kelby).
That’s the promise that Adobe is selling with Creative Cloud. And that’s the problem. It’s a promise. And they want your money up front.Â A lot of people have a problem with that. I sympathize. This is the challenge Adobe has to face, and so far, they really haven’t.
In the traditional software model, pay the programmers, write the software, package and release the product, and then we the users decide if we’re going to pay for the upgrade or not. Adobe’s new model adopts the SAAS (Software as a service) model that firms like Salesforce use where you pay an ongoing fee for access to the service. It might make sense, except at this point, “the service” for Adobe is primarily “download and activate the software”. For all Adobe wans to push their cloud features, there’s very little there but promises, and having been a member for the last few months, I can’t see any reason why I might switch instead of Dropbox or Box.net.
Despite that, Adobe priced Â this new service so that at best cost is neutral for a user. In practice, for many users — and for all users that occasionally or routinely skipped releases between upgrades, the new Creative Cloud in practice is a significant price increase. No wonder people are upset.
One aspect of this that Adobe might have miscalculated in their pricing. I’ve worked in a number of companies who built their business processes around Salesforce, and I’ve actually written web services that interfaced to Salesforce (but, shh… that’s not on my resume for some reason, so don’t tell anyone). I have never worked in an organization where people sat in meetings and said “Salesforce is a great value….” — most Salesforce discussions I’ve seen in the last five years have been about how to use the service but still keep costs under control. Salesforce is not a bargain, but it’s services are proven and useful so companies sign up and use it.
Adobe’s pricing is set up as if it’s that same proven value as Salesforce, but they haven’t proven anything yet. Another big problem with Adobe’s offering is flexibility — Salesforce does a very good job of building out a strong “ala carte” suite of add-on options. Adobe’s really pushed very hard to get people to buy in to the whole suite. there aren’t options for light or occasional users, there aren’t any good entry-level options. There are a lot of ways this could have been segmented out and priced. Adobe chose the ones that more or less maximized revenue for Adobe. Anyone who’s worked with Adobe for any length of time is thinking to themselves “well, duh” – and that’s the love/hate relationship so many of us have with Adobe. Great technology, not customer friendly in pricing or policy. Because, since Photoshop is a practical monopoly, they don’t have to, and everyone, especially Adobe, knows it.
Adobe knew, I think, that there’s be lots of screaming and whining about the pricing. They also knew, I think, that most people would end up writing Adobe checks, perhaps with gritted teeth. And the truth is, Adobe’s probably right.
I’ve long argued that most photographers don’t need a copy of Photoshop and shouldn’t spend money on it. I religiously bought Photoshop through CS3 and then stopped, and I lived with CS3, or with Photoshop Elements, until the start of this year, when a few features came together and convinced me it was time to get a copy of the program again (I will note for the record that part of that was for my web design geeking, the decision wasn’t purely about photography). I chose signing up for a year of Creative Cloud (the $19/mo photoshop only version), thinking that it was the future direction of Adobe and I might as well adopt in.
That has given me the chance to compare Photoshop CS6 and Photoshop CC side by side, and to be honest, Photoshop CC is in fact a pretty nice upgrade over CS6. (Another mistake Adobe made was announcing this new Cloud pricing when it shipped with CS6, so there was no technology upgrade for photoshop users, and that they later shifted to CC and it’s updates is lost on a lot of users who haven’t taken a fresh look).
Adobe has also updated Lightroom to Lightroom 5, which is also a rather nice upgrade. It is not part of the cloud offering, and Adobe probably realized their users would burn the corporate buildings if they tried to force them over to the cloud for Lightroom (still, Adobe could have mitigated some of the pricing pain if Lightroom had been made part of Cloud. But they didn’t. Again, it seems Adobe has proven it’ll never voluntarily leave a dollar on the table).
So, what to do?
I’ve been asked that a lot in the last few weeks. What to do? Here is my current advice, based on being a Creative Cloud and Lightroom user.
- If your workflow primarily depends on Photoshop instead of Lightroom, I have to ask the question “why?” and I’ll answer it that you probably got into digital photography fairly early on (in the days of Lightroom 3 or earlier) when Lightroom’s processing wasn’t as good. Or you were taught post-processing by a photographer who went through the early days when the only real way to get a decent image was to futz with it in Photoshop. Those days are long gone.Â My suggestion to you is this: upgrade to Lightroom 5, and invest some time in upgrading your digital darkroom skills. There are still things that can only be done in Photoshop, but they are a surprisingly small number of operations. Once you spend the time to learn how to use Lightroom well, you will likely find you spend a lot less time per image because the Lightroom workflow is a lot faster and more efficient. Yes, there’s a time (and money) investment up front, but for most creative professionals, their biggest resource constraint is how many hours exist in a day, and if you can make your image processing 10% faster with equivalent quality, then that’s a very good investment.
- If your workflow is built about Adobe Bridge I’m sorry. But seriously, you need Lightroom. And here’s a hint: have you seen what Adobe is doing to the Fireworks product (effectively putting it out to pasture….) — Bridge is on the short list to join it. I wouldn’t want to depend on Bridge for my workflow these days.
- If you are an owner of Photoshop CS3 or CS5, first, you need to stop complaining about how Adobe is screwing you as a customer. You haven’t given Adobe any money in so long you are now an ex-customer. And it’s now time to give Adobe some money….
- If you are an owner of Photoshop older than CS3, I’m sorry. But seriously, the Ford Pinto you drive will stop working some day, too, and you’ll have to spend money some day. It’s probably time to replace both that ancient version of software and the Pinto.
- If you are an owner of Lightroom version 3 or older, you really want to upgrade to Lightroom 5. If you’re an owner of Lightroom 4, the upgrade to 5 is nice, but I don’t think it’s a ‘must do today’ upgrade, although I’m really starting to like the Radial Filter. But the difference between how well Lightroom 4/5 processes and image and how earlier versions did is amazing. If you live in Lightroom 3 or older, I understand why you think you need Photoshop, because you really do. Lightroom 5 can help wean you from that very expensive addiction.
- If you are an owner of Apple’s Aperture I salute you. And I hope Apple does you right and releases a version that kicks Adobe’s butt. I’d love a reason to switch over to Aperture and stop giving Adobe money for Lightroom or for Photoshop, but to be honest, Apple started out strong, fumbled it badly, and has shown no sign of this changing. Apple, please prove me wrong, okay? but what I said a year ago still stands. (and if you want a serious tester for Aperture 4, folks, you have my email. And if you want it, my resume…I’m not holding my breath, though…)
- If you use a pirated copy of any of these tools, well, go to hell. Buy a copy of the software. And stop complaining about people ripping off your images without paying for them, too.
What to do?
My first recommendation is that you upgrade to Lightroom 5. If you are already using Lightroom 4 or Aperture 3, that’s fine. But anything older than that it’s more than worth the investment to upgrade. If your workflow isn’t built around Lightroom or Aperture, it should be. Seriously, you’ll thank me someday for pushing you about that. If you’re organizing your images via Bridge, you are wasting a precious resource in your photography business: your time.
Consider Plug-ins and Photoshop Elements
Most photographers can live very nicely with just Lightroom or Aperture. I’ve found most photographers who don’t think they can live without Photoshop can wean themselves off of that expensive package by buying a copy of Photoshop Elements, and/or some of the processing plug-in suites. I use the Nik software suite (now owned by Google) in a lot of my workflow. I also own and use the OnOne software and I use their Pixel Resize tool since Nik doesn’t have an equivalent. Their other tools are quite good, and the packages are fairly comparable. Topaz labs also has a suite that many users like, and it’s the one that Trey Ratliff uses. All of them have timed demos, you can download them for free and work with them. Any of them will remove much of the need for Photoshop and save you a lot of money if they stop you from having to pay for Photoshop.
I would strongly suggest your second upgrade is a good plug-in package. My personal recommendation is the Nik package or the OnOne package, but download them and demo them and find the one you like most.
Do you still feel the need for Photoshop? Then the question is
Should you upgrade to Photoshop CC?
And honestly, unless you are doing enough graphic or web design work to warrant it, and unless you need access to the other tools in the Cloud offering, my answer is no.
I think it’s a better investment to buy a boxed copy of Photoshop CS6. No matter what Adobe does, it’s not going to break until your hardware gets old enough that you have to upgrade to hardware that won’t run CS6. That gives you three, four, five years of leeway before you have to worry about Creative Cloud and the monthly pricing.
When my current one year commitment to Creative Cloud is up, that’s what I’m going to do.Â Â I’m buying a boxed set of Photoshop CS6, and closing down Photoshop CC. A few months ago I felt the opposite, but having studied this in more detail, and having used both CS6 and CC as well as trying to figure out what else about CC makes it worth the money — my current decision is that CC is paying today for promises being made for tomorrow. And I’m just not a big fan of that.
My hope is to live and work with CS6 for a couple of years, at which point one of three things will have happened:
- Adobe will have brought out some of the things they’ve hinted about with Creative Cloud and I’ll happily pay them the money for that service.
- Adobe will have figured out Creative Cloud is a stupid idea and driving off enough users that they go back to boxed copies, and I can then buy CS7 or CS8 or whatever.
- Adobe will have found out the hard way they they created a market opening for some other company to come in and create a product I can buy instead of Photoshop and I can leave Adobe behind.
And so if you’re a photographer, that’s my suggestion: unless you’re a web or graphic design pro, Creative Cloud is an expensive product selling promises and not solutions. Take a long, hard look at your workflow and see if you can live without Photoshop completely. If you can’t, upgrade to Lightroom 5 and Photoshop CS6 in a box, and plan to live with it for the next few years (at least two, probably four). By that time, we’ll know if Creative Cloud is successful and a good value or not. And if it’s not, Adobe will have come up with alternatives such as returning to boxed software. Remember, the more of us who choose to go the CS6 in a box route and not pay for Creative Cloud on a monthly basis, the more we can maybe influence that long-term decision by Adobe.
Or maybe someone else will see this as an opportunity and release a product that will finally take on Photoshop an challenge Adobe. That’s my real hope here. Lightroom and Aperture have made Photoshop unnecessary for most photographers, even if they won’t believe that, but there’s still a need for someone to replace Photoshop completely. I think this new pricing model creates an opportunity for that to happen. I’m waiting patiently to see if someone actually tries.
So… Lightroom 5 (or Aperture). CS6 in a box if you feel you must. Then get on the sidelines and see what happens. By the time you need to step back in the market and replace CS6, all of this will have sorted itself out. And you won’t have been paying a month to month rental to Adobe while it does…
The price for the boxed version of a brand-new, not-upgrade version of CS6 is about $700. Currently the base price of Creative Cloud is $19.95/mo for just photoshop. That means that the break-even here is about 3 years. If you buy the box and then wait 3 years before moving to Creative Cloud, you break even (assuming Adobe doesn’t raise prices. Not something I’d assume over three years, but…). If you decide to upgrad to CC in less than 3 years, then this might cost you some money over going to CC now — but if Adobe convinces me to shift to Creative Cloud sooner, I’ll consider handing them that money acceptable. All they gotta do is build a cloud that I can’t live without….
How hard could that be, anyway? (looks at Apple and iCloud. Oh, well).