Adobe changes to subscription-only for Photoshop, angers photo community

May 09, 2013  •  9 Comments

In case you missed the big news of the week in the photography community, Adobe on Monday announced that they will stop offering boxed versions of their software, including Photoshop, and all future releases will be available on a subscription basis. They are ending their Creative Suite CS product line and replacing it with a Creative Cloud CC offering.

Gone are the days of purchasing stand-alone versions of the software as well as paying for upgrades every 18 months or so. Replacing it are monthly subscription fees. Depending on how many of Adobe products you use, and how often you upgrade, this can at least financially seem like a good or a bad deal. 

This CC policy effects the newest version of Photoshop that everyone was expecting to be CS7. The soon to be released Lightroom 5 will not be effected right away and will be available both in CC and stand alone versions. However I have read that the CC version of Lightroom will eventually have features not offered in the stand-alone version.

For me personally I only use Photoshop and Lightroom and I am not very pleased with this sudden change of course. I am not even using CS6 and am still on CS5. Myself, like many photographers, usually end up skipping an upgrade here and there because, to be quite honest, sometimes the upgrades are not all that worth it. This is probably part of the reason Adobe is switching to a subscription model - to get constant revenue from everyone instead of revenue in big batches when updates come out.

If you are like me and don't update every release, the subscription plan will cost us more money.

If you are only interested in subscribing to Photoshop and own version CS3 or later and subscribe before July 31st you will be charged a special rate of $9.99 a month for the first year with a 1 year contract. If you subscribe after July 31st it is $19.99 - again with a 1 year contract.

Adobe typically upgraded Photoshop every 18 months, and their last upgrade cost $199. If you subscribe for $19.99 a month, over the course of 18 months you will end up paying $359.82 - a $160.82 increase over the course of 18 months. If you subscribe before July 31 for $9.99 a month you will end up paying $179.82 - slightly less than the upgrade price. Note that this is only for Photoshop and as far as I can tell, the Lightroom CC version will be extra.

To sum it up - if you already own Photoshop and get stuck on the $19.99 a month plan, you will be paying more than you did before. If you get in at the $9.99 per month plan before July 31 and always upgraded before when the next version came out, you will pay slightly less than you did for the 1 year contract. I am still not clear as to what happens when your year is up as to wether you can continue on paying $9.99 a month or you will be forced to pay $19.99 per month. My guess is that after the 1 year contract Adobe can do whatever it wants to.

Outside of cost there are other reasons why I don't like this plan. If you stop your subscription you can not use the software. Photoshop will phone-home every 30 days to check your subscription status. Don't pay, and you can't use the software anymore. Nor would you be able to open any Photoshop propriety files on your computer - a very dangerous proposal. This is the same for all of the programs in the CC suite.

A much better plan Adobe easily could have implemented would be to subscribe monthly for updates, and if you decide not to continue your subscription you could continue to use the software minus the updates, allowing you to continue working on your files. What it appears is that Adobe wants to get you hooked and maintain a constant revenue stream from its users.

There are other problems with this model. What incentive do they have to constantly innovate when they are already getting large sums of cash each month? In the old model they had to make upgrades compelling for us to buy (which wasn't always the case). Now locked into a monthly payment they can take a step back and count the dollars rolling in by pushing little updates here and there.

And how much more can they innovate? Digital photography has progressed so far already, is there much more room in the future for ground-breaking ways to enhance our photos? 

As for CS6 - Adobe said it is currently still available for purchase for now (although I can not now find how to purchase it online at their site), but it will not be supported anymore. Photoshop Elements is not part of the CC suite and it is assumed at this point that it will still be produced as a stand-alone - but for how long?

Adobe and Photoshop have long been industry leaders. I have been using Photoshop since it came out, and I am not happy with this new policy. They have a monopoly and it appears they are now flexing their muscles despite the wishes of its photographer customers. The first post of this on brought almost 1700 comments in 24hrs - almost all not in support of this. A poll started yesterday shows that 60.2% of 4,732 votes do not like this because of repeatedly having to pay for access. Even Microsoft is surprised at Adobe and said they will continue to offer packaged software for the foreseeable future.

My hope is that other photography companies will see this as an opportunity and really start to innovate and compete more directly with Adobe and Photoshop. Just because Photoshop is the big goliath in the photo world doesn't mean it is the only player. There are a number of decent alternatives already and I expect those to get better. I will soon start mentioning them in the near future.

So what do you think? Are you in favor of this subscription/rental model? Do you plan on subscribing? Is it a good or bad value for your photography business or hobby? Sound off in the comments below.



I rebut David Hodgins' comment equating hardware purchases and software. While we photographers may spend more money on a tripod than a copy of Photoshop, once we have paid for the tripod, we will have use of it for years if we take care of it.

Software does need updating to keep up with OS changes and new cameras, but not all photographers do. I don't update my computer or camera bodies every year. It takes me a couple of years to push either to their fullest capability and the latest batch of features is often of no interest to me. I also want to maximize the return on my investment. Some will argue that staying on the leading edge and reselling gear while its resale value is still high is the way to go, but I find the time it takes to become familiar with new equipment slows me down too much.

My copy of PsCS6 will likely be perfectly fine for several years. For what I use it for, PS Elements might have been a more prudent purchase. If Adobe can sell copies of Elements for under $100 dollars, they should be able to sell PS for $200 even with the claimed piracy.

The biggest thing about CC that scares me is how updates are handled. I haven't seen any discussion about it and I'll admit that I haven't looked through Adobe's info releases. I am not as bold as I used to be when it comes to updates and beta software. I generally like to wait a period of time to find out if the latest update breaks things that would affect my workflow. With an auto-updated piece of software, there is no going back to the install disks and laying down a fresh copy. If the latest update just forked your favorite plugin suite, you're hosed until somebody fixes the problem. The same goes for output file errors your printing service finds that keep them from running your order. I tell all the people that I know to rigorously turn off any auto-update features in their software.

Microsoft tried to institute online verification with XP and it failed miserably. They had to delete that "feature" or risk losing their large volume corporate clients. Their system didn't have a grace period and didn't seem to realize that not everybody was online all of the time or had access to the internet at a moments notice. I know several photographers and graphic designers that keep their production machines offline. It adds a couple of steps to their workflow, but it also insulates a very important work tool from malware and takes away lots of distractions.

PS will be the leading photo editing software for some years yet due in the most part to inertia. If Adobe does not back down on their plans for a subscription only sales model, they will lose market share to other companies such as Corel. This could give these other companies the revenue boost they need to invest in building their products up to the point where they compete feature to feature with PS.
8.Matt Suess
Patrick - software companies are under no legal obligation to keep supporting older versions. CS6 will eventually stop working on newer operating systems, camera raw will not be updated for it for new cameras, etc. and eventually CS6 will become useless - could be years though.

David - I am in a pickle - I use layers a ton and save in PSD and large format document for files larger than 2GB. I also do a lot of layer blending and need to keep separate layers intact. There is possibly nothing stopping Adobe from making those formats proprietary in the future. I do minimal work in LR and do the heavy lifting in PS and with plugins. I too could live without Adobe - I was working on digital images before they came around using a Leaf scanner - would completely change my workflow however. On-One has a layers program as part of Perfect Photo Suite 7 which I am looking at now. Fortunately I have some time as CS5 wont stop working right away.
7.David Hodgins(non-registered)
I would disagree with "it would basically be Photoshop at that point". I would amend it to "It would basically be the parts of Photoshop that photographers use at that point". And I'd be ok with that.
I do hear the concern with rentals vs own it, but who's rented a lens?
It seems to me the solution is as simple as adding a step to the end of your workflow. When the edit is finished, save a flattened high-res TIF. If you stop paying, the software goes away, but the file doesn't. Which means the only thing you lose access to is the ability to edit the PSD format, in that format. You can still see it in LR. You can still perform LR edits (or Aperture, for those inclined) you just cannot revisit the PSD in a layered format and edit that. Heck, you can even take the file into the standalone suites.
Dear Adobe: go ahead and change your business model. I can already live without you. If we break up, I'll be over you by lunch time.
6.Patrick flood(non-registered)
Can they legally not support CS6? I have posted and read many other blogs, there are a lot of p/o people out there. Me being one of them. My biggest concern is that eventually CS6 will not work on some newer operating systems and when I do decide to buy a new camera it many not be supported by CS6. right now most of the work I do on my images is in Lightroom. I only go to CS6 to clean up hard to get to dust spots and resizing before posting to the web. I wont be doing any work up in the cloud, and Adobe has its head in a cloud or up somewhere else.
5.Matt Suess
Excellent points David! I'd say the only part I disagree with is that, yes we all spend thousands on gear - but those are purchases we can use when we want to - and not rentals which this subscription really is. Don't pay, can't use anymore. And yes most plugins are more advanced than Photoshop - all we need to do is have them become stand-alone products in and of themselves (some are already) and we wont need Photoshop as a host anymore. The points you make on Elements is great - don't see Adobe advancing it that much though because it would basically be Photoshop at that point.
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