This article is a guest post from Gerard Murphy or Mosaic.  His company uses the Cloud to provide services to Lightroom users.

The Adobe naysayers have been working overtime lately. They aren’t talking about the quality of the Adobe software or the amazing advances in digital photography in the past decade, but their frustration with the change in Adobe’s pricing model.  These frustrations are genuine, but I believe misguided.

The most common phrase I hear from the anti-cloud folks is “I don’t want to rent my software.”  My question to this is why not? Renting isn’t inherently bad. Owning isn’t inherently good.

First, let’s make a differentiation. You are renting software, not your content. Adobe or no one else owns your photos. If you cancel your subscription, you cannot use Adobe’s software but you still own your raw photos. This should and never will change. Vendors like Adobe should never completely lock you in.

Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) pricing changes the responsibilities of both the customer and company. SaaS vendors live and die by customer renewals. From the customer perspective this means every month you get to decide if you want to keep paying or not. The company must keep you happy. Is Dropbox providing me enough value this month or do I want to switch to Box or Google Drive? Is Netflix providing me enough value or do I leave for Hulu or Amazon Prime (or nothing)?

The last listed MSRP for the Adobe CS6 Master Collection was $2,599. If I purchase this upfront, I am making a big upfront decision. I have bought into Adobe. I am essentially locked in. It may feel better because I “own it” but I have made a big upfront choice. If 6 months after I purchase this I want to leave, I lose.  I am out most of my initial purchase.

Fast forward to today. Let’s say 6 months from now, Google, Apple or a scrappy startup comes out with a Photoshop killer product. If I just shelled out a boatload of money for CS6 than I will stick around to get my monies worth. Under the rental model – see ya. Bye-bye Adobe. Hello new awesome product. As a customer I win. Options are awesome.

Don’t think this could happen? I loved iTunes… until Spotify changed the way I listened to music. Things are changing fast. Scrappy companies like Mosaic, HDRSoft, and OnOne Software are adding value in new and awesome ways.

Adobe has actually made the customer switching costs much less. They now have a greater responsibility to wow me every month with new products and features that keep me opening up my wallet. If they don’t, I am gone.

I could also see a model where Adobe goes from pure SaaS pricing to more utility pricing. Maybe I only use Illustrator 10 times a year. My options until the Creative Cloud were to buy the software or use a competitor. SaaS utility pricing gives me the option to use Illustrator for my limited use without paying full price.  If I love the software, I can upgrade for more. Adobe wants this to happen so they will try to wow me. Again, as a customer, I win.

This is just about some of the benefits of “renting” software. We haven’t touched on the other real benefits of the cloud, which is enhanced collaboration, anywhere, access, automatic upgrades, and seamless integration with third party services. This is where the cloud is clearly superior to desktop only software. (My real beef with Adobe is in providing almost none of these benefits for photographers with their current offering).

This is not to say the SaaS pricing doesn’t have some negatives. But to say the upfront “boxed software” / paid upgrade model was perfect is disingenuous.

Change is hard. There were those who thought digital would never be better than film and that editing in Photoshop wasn’t “real” photography. We are still having the HDR debate. Monthly pricing models are good for the customer and for the company. Adobe continue to wow me or I am sure another company will. I for one am rooting for someone to challenge Adobe and give me more choice but until then, I would rather pay monthly and keep my options open.


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Join the conversation! 41 Comments

  1. I was a (very) vocal naysayer about the shift to SaaS by Adobe within my peer group here in the UK. I was bitching and moaning about it for all the reasons you outline. Then I heard about the regular app updates Adobe was putting out and how, by sticking with CS5 I was missing out.

    Suffice to say, I jumped on the single app deal when it came out and, because I had bought and registered both LR5 and CS5 from Adobe when they announced the Photographers Package, my monthly fee went DOWN and they UPgraded my account to include LR.

    I agree wholeheartedly with your post. It’s a good deal for everyone.

    • Nice to hear they did the right thing and gave you the lower price. That’s pretty upright thing to do. Did you have to ask or was it automatic?

    • Not to cast any aspersions but in the interests of transparency, are those defending Adobe paying for CC?

      Or being compensated by Adobe in any way?

      • The article was written by Gerard Murphy. He is not being paid by Adobe. I have been an Adobe customer for 20 years.

        Adobe is a sponsor of this site (and that’s fully disclosed). This helps cover the costs of creating original content which we post and deliver for free. All of our sponsors are listed here –

        That sponsorship is a temporary thing. And I personally still buy Adobe software.

      • Hello, I am the author and no, I was not paid in any way by Adobe.

        One of my large point at the end of the article was that I think many people are upset not by the cloud pricing model but that there are no viable choices other than Adobe in the photography space. I don’t think Adobe really wants me saying this :)

      • @WCO in the interests of transparency are you or any of the others attacking Adobe being compensated in any way by Adobe competitors like Apple, Corel, etc?

        • Nope, just a hobbyist.

          I have to admit that I never seriously considered buying Photoshop, because I want to do as little post-processing as possible. I’ve played around with things like Photomatix and stitching software but never really got into it or made it a habit to make HDRs or panos.

          I would absolutely hate it if they ever made Aperture (which I use) or Lightroom (which I may use in the future) subscription-based.

          Or imagine if they did it with more common software, like browsers or operating systems. I think people who’ve bought Photoshop in the past have a right not to like the new subscription model and also not being browbeaten to “get with the program.”

          • So… let me get this straight. All this complaining and you don’t even own a version of the app?

            Do you enjoy just trolling websites and looking for arguments?

            You are free to absolutely hate it, your right. It doesn’t change the reality of what’s happening or that the software industry is evolving.

  2. Subscription might make sense for professionals who make a living from photography.

    But for hobbyists, to spend hundreds a year to rent software?

    Instead of putting that money towards more gear or towards excursions to take more pictures?

    Really shouldn’t surprise anyone that a lot of amateurs will opt to stay with CS6 or older versions, bypass the latest and greatest features. If they even need Photoshop at all in the first place.

    • That’s why Lightroom and Photoshop Elements are sold. For 80% of photographers, those two apps are all they need.

    • @WCO Photoshop has never been designated as a product for amateurs. Even though many amateurs do use it. I am curious – what data can you provide to support your statement “Really shouldn’t surprise anyone that a lot of amateurs will opt to stay with CS6 or older versions, bypass the latest and greatest features. If they even need Photoshop at all in the first place.” While I agree that amateurs don’t NEED it but I’d love to know what research you’ve done that says “amateurs will opt to stay with CS6 or older version.” Any link will do thanks.

      • No evidence.

        Just that a lot of people can’t justify spending hundreds on software every year for a hobby, in addition to the money they spend on the gear, excursions to shoot, etc.

  3. Personally, I would have no issue with Adobe on this if it gave consumers a choice, buy it or rent it, but to tell us the only way you can use our software is to lease it is ridiculous. On top of that, Adobe forces its valued clients to rent this software and then has a security breach so some of those same clients who might never have had to give their personal information to Adobe now have to worry where it may have ended up.

    I use Apple software as much as I can. When my current version of Photoshop is obsolete, I will switch to Aperture. I like Adobe products and have used them most of my professional career, but I refuse to be forced into renting software instead of buying it.

    You write : “Renting isn’t inherently bad. Owning isn’t inherently good.”
    but you do not provide any numbers or statistical evidence to back that up.

    If you can provide that type of proof to back up your assertion, then
    I am not sure you are going to convince many people like me who are not happy with Adobe on this.

    Just think if other major brands did this-

    if Toyota came out and said, you know, you cannot buy our cars, you have to lease them.

    Or lets say Microsoft said, you cannot buy Office anymore, you can only lease it.

    The only reason Adobe can get away with this is that they dominate the current market on certain lines of software.

    That may not always be the case.

    • I need to respond to a few things.

      Personally, I would have no issue with Adobe on this if it gave consumers a choice, buy it or rent it, but to tell us the only way you can use our software is to lease it is ridiculous.

      Ridiculous… no of course not. It’s their right, just as its yours to shop elsewhere. Or to buy Lightroom. Or to buy Photoshop elements. In order to stay agile and keep Photoshop (and the other apps I need) constantly updated with the latest features, I deeply prefer the new model

      On top of that, Adobe forces its valued clients to rent this software and then has a security breach so some of those same clients who might never have had to give their personal information to Adobe now have to worry where it may have ended up.

      All major companies that do online business have had breaches including Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and others. And it WASN”T cloud users only that were affected, it was a bank of Adobe IDs. Company was transparent, asked everyone to reset. Haven’t heard of a single incident of anyone’s data being misused.

      I use Apple software as much as I can. When my current version of Photoshop is obsolete, I will switch to Aperture. I like Adobe products and have used them most of my professional career, but I refuse to be forced into renting software instead of buying it.

      Read that Apple terms of service too. Apple makes new versions of their software not run on hardware that’s typically over 3 years old. So if you want to upgrade, there will be a fee there too. And read terms of service on ALL software… You license it, not own it.

      Just think if other major brands did this-

      They already do… and most are in process of switching.
      Adobe still sells Lightroom and Photoshop Elements. Buy those. Those will always BE SOLD.

      Tell me 3 things that ONLY exist in Photoshop that you have to have.

    • Actually several cars are sold on a lease only basis – most of them electric cars. Just saying…

  4. Good article! And for emphasis . . . . Every time you spend a dollar, you are voting. Every time you agree To a renewal, you are voting.

  5. The price break that Adobe gave existing users for Photoshop and Lightroom is worth noting.

  6. Here is the faulty logic: “Fast forward to today. Let’s say 6 months from now, Google, Apple or a scrappy startup comes out with a Photoshop killer product.” – even in the times before “CS” nomenclature, Adobe had so much permeated the market that it is de-facto undisturbable standard. True up to the “old” Photoshop 4 or 5. Not now.
    True logic:you buy software. You have it forever. To get more of your money software company is market driven to make something worth a new purchase. If they don’t, user is not affected – he uses what he paid for. Company is affected. Market forces push company to do better or suffer monetary loss from missing new purchases. New “rental” model? – Customer pays on and on. Has no other feedback but to completely stop using software if he is not satisfied with what is provided. Customer is punished by forcing him completely out of the game if he decides to stop rental. Company is punished too, but to a lesser degree as it is able to bully customer by complete denial of use of something that is de-facto standard. Result – poorer product – you remove market forces that exclusively push the software maker and take some power out of consumer hands,… free market sez’ – poorer product is inevitable.
    Correction available to Adobe – after at least a year of rental consumer has right to continue using said product without further payments but without further updates too… That is a good cloud solution.

    • True logic:you buy software. You have it forever.

      This has never been the case.

      Hardware changes, operating system changes, new camera models released, etc.

      There are LOTs of factors (many outside the software manufacturer) that require upgrades to software.

      I have lots of software that I’ve bought that I can no longer run as the computer I use needed to be replaced. Newer computers don’t support the older OS, leading to a need to upgrade in a ripple effect.

      Adobe still sells software, buy one of those.

      But at $10 a month for two apps… you really think that’s unreasonable?!?

    • Thank you for the comment. I am not sure I follow how a “poorer product is inevitable.”

      The new “rental” economy is actually tough on the cash flow of a company. If you buy a box of software for $400, the company gets that cash upfront (assuming no supply chain etc.). If a customer pays $40 per month to rent that software, then it will take the company 10 months to make back the cash that would have been made in a purchase.

      When “rental” / SaaS models work for companies it is only when customers are going to stay long enough to make back the investment in that customer. Adobe has nothing but incentive to keep you as a customer – paying them every month.

      Under the “purchase” model, they had an incentive to sell you the box…. and then sell you the upgrade later. I would argue that I want them to continually delight me rather than wait for release cycles. I think this will lead to better software not worse.

  7. Seriously – are we still having this discussion? It’s freaking $10 a month. Don’t like it – don’t subscribe. I have no idea why were’s still having the conversation but to those who don’t like this get used to it. You will end up subscribing to EVERY piece of software you use some day. This is the future business model for software companies. Microsoft is doing it – Apple is doing it – Adobe is doing it and all the others will follow. We’ve listed (elsewhere on this site) numerous alternatives to Photoshop. Use one of those.

    These comments (as well as most I’ve seen on the Internet) STILL contain some of the same old misconceptions, out and out falsehoods, misinformation etc., and show a complete lack of understanding of what is actually going on or an outright desire to falsely portray it.. At some point I think it’s just time to declare that there are individuals who live in this world and who will never be happy. All companies should accept that and let those customers go. For those who specialize in seeking out offense you ‘ll always find it if you look hard enough.

  8. thank you for the thoughtful and informative article. a lot of users were so against adobe’s new paying scheme but I understand their frustrations.

    As a person who runs a small business that involves a bit of design; and as a freelance photography who occasionally take up jobs, I find the move to be extremely beneficial to me. to fork out few thousand dollars just for a software is almost impossible for me, considering the scale of my business and monthly income.

    Then again I think that adobe will benefit more (from their customers) if thy do offer both full purchase and subscription based method.

  9. I think you’ve got to be very careful not to defend Adobe with a combination of straw man arguments and wishful thinking. No-one is saying the rental model means your photos are dependent on continuing to pay the subscription – it is the PP work and time that you put into them that is undermined. No-one’s saying the upfront model was perfect, but that doesn’t justify a complete switch to a suibscription model. Switching from iTunes to Spotify, Netflix etc is a spurious analogy when discussing an effective monopoly in a class of software. And so on. As for dismissing objections with “change is hard”, don’t you think that’s rather trite? You can excuse anything on that basis! Change is not always positive, and often leads to dead ends. So a rather disappointing defence!

    • John actually TONS of people are saying that the “rental” model (a misnomer for sure) means your photos are dependent on continuing to pay the subscription price. I see it in almost EVERY single forum. So you’re the one creating a straw man argument. That kind of misinformation is just the tip of the iceberg. And Adobe did NOT propose a “complete switch.” Again – this is out and out false. If you have to rely on spreading misinformation it usually means you are on the wrong side of the argument. You can “buy” Photoshop. You can “buy” Lightroom and Elements.” So it is not a “complete switch.” But even if it was, Adobe doesn’t have to justify it and neither does anyone else. And there is no effective monopoly. More than two dozen alternatives exist. You might just as well be saying that Ferrari has an effective monopoly on cool cars. Maybe you (speaking of wishful thinking) desire a Ferrari and want it on YOUR terms but that is not how business works. This is a business. And if the change is not positive, Adobe will change back. But so far, they have seen very good uptake on this model as has Microsoft as has Apple, etc. This is the way of the future. Adobe is allowed to charge how/what they want any way they want and you’re free to play elsewhere. Why all the misinformation?

    • John, thank you for the comment. I agree with you that Adobe has an effective monopoly. Part of my larger point of this article was that some of the trapped feeling customers have is not actually against the cloud or against subscription pricing. I end by rooting for another company to challenge this monopoly.

      • @Gerard I’d be interested in knowing your point of view (as a developer) that Adobe has an effective monopoly. There are 28 programs (that I know of) that can open, manipulate, etc some version of a file created in Photoshop and 24 that you can use to create images from scratch without Adobe’s help. Your own software does a pretty darn good job of making some of Adobe’s features irrelevant. So while I am a big fan, I don’t see the monopoly thing but would love for you to enlighten me.

      • I don’t think the monopoly is as real as it feels, but it still feels pretty real sometimes.

        If you read photo forums, take online or in-person classes, almost everyone teaches on Photoshop. It’s the standard, and so ubiquitous that it’s the generic term for a whole class of image manipulation. A lot of people don’t even realize that there _is_ an alternative, much less several to choose from.

        When CC was announced, someone (I forget who) asked if I would use it. I said no (I use PSP these days), and a question came back: But if you don’t use Photoshop, how are you going to get training??? And, frankly, it wasn’t a terrible question. I know my way around software, and how to translate information from one into useful action in another, so Photoshop-based training has served me well using competitor products. But for someone who’s not spent their entire life mucking around in new software, that could be a real challenge – and hence the feeling of monopoly.

      • @Jill there is affordable, accessible online training available for Aperture, iPhoto, Elements, Lightroom, Gimp, Corel and others.

  10. By the way Adobe has officially been accused of being a monopoly twice – in 2005 and 2010 – both times either the Justice Dept refused to pursue the allegations due to insufficient evidence or the case(s) were thrown out.

  11. The more I rent the software the more I become reliant on that that softwares’s special features. So the day I stop subscribing any image that I have saved as a psd with all the new features will either not work or open as a flattened image. Since I already own the CS6 suite and the forced subscription method should I have to cancel it would default to the CS6 I might as well stay with CS6.
    Also I’m aware of at least three very professional photographers that exist in remote locations were it is very hard for them to access internet. So having to be on line at least once a month just to clock on with adobe is impossible let alone all those very avid photographers around the world who can’t access the adobe subscription at all.
    To me, it has never been about price or subscription, it’s about choice and /or exit strategy.
    I used to adore adobe it stood for a very powerful creative force/ brand, (their technical staff still is), However I now see it as a narrow minded accountant driven company for no regard for it’s long standing supporters. And it could all be fixed in one simple stroke, Offer both subscription and the old model, and all these argument would cease to exist!!

  12. One question from an owner of CS6
    Will adobe limit how much they can raise the monthly charge ?
    Once your hooked by the $10 a month offer , how soon before it becomes. $40 a month

    • They have stated they have no intent to raise prices any time soon. And such a jump would be nonsensical. I have been told that $10 a month is intended rate for a very long time.

      • Thanks for the reply
        I will give its try

      • Just stumbled over this very interesting discussion (although I am a bit late to the party) and this reply hit home with me – this is probably what makes me and all the other naysayers fear CC the most:

        Adobe told people to upgrade to CS6 (at a significant cost for some of the users of older suites) if they wanted to be able to upgrade to CS7, then turned around and dropped CS7 on the spot and gave upgrade rights to CC to owners of older suites as well (not quite as affordable as for CS6 users, but still). You can’t really fault those users for not trusting Adobe with regard to any future intentions they may disclose.

        As for raising prices – why would that be nonsensical? Adobe have a defacto monopoly on the professional market and to those users, the price of switching to another product would be substantial when factoring things like training and productivity loss in a transition period into the equation. Adobe is a business and it is very obvious that the financial department is calling the shots when it comes to decisions involving money of any kind.

        Add to this the fact that these companies would still need to have at least some subscriptions active in order to open and manipulate their existing files created with CC (and no, I am not talking about simple photos, I am talking about layered files, created with expensive and advanced plugins that are Photoshop only – those are pretty common in the professional world) and I am pretty sure that even doubling the current subscription rate would be possible without a significant amount of users moving to other alternatives.

        This (having to have subscriptions for opening existing files that has been created with CC) also means that switching to a new and perhaps better product becomes financially hard and will keep competing products effectively in check in the future.

        The situation is very much like the one we faced in the computer retail business in 1999-2000 when Microsoft demanded a Windows license fee for every PC assembled in the factory, regardless of whether it was actually delivered with Windows or not. Failing to comply with this would mean that ordinary OEM licenses would suddenly be out of stock for the foreseeable future, bringing your sales to a grinding halt. Any desire to deliver computers with anything but Windows was effectively killed with that move since you had to pay for Windows anyway.

        And yes, it did happen that way. Yes, I participated in those meetings with Microsoft and watched my CFO fume, then agree to the terms. Microsoft could do whatever they wanted at that time and they did with no hesitation whatsoever, and I honestly see no reason why the financial department at Adobe should not do the same right now, they will never be in a better position to cut off the air supply to the competition once and for all.

        • @Anders first let me say that your comment offers the same old tired (and somewhat debunked) arguments. Let me address each point.

          Adobe TOLD you to upgrade like every other company TELLS you to upgrade. Your language there is purposefully inflammatory and it’s frankly pretty lame. Adobe like all companies offers regular upgrades to their software. People are free to upgrade or not. At no time has Adobe put a gun to your head and MADE you upgrade.

          And your recitation of how the upgrade path developed is simply not factual. All the actual evidence of the truth is out there. If you bought CS3 or above you can have PS and LR for $10 a month. Or you can keep your CS6 and LR stand alone versions and never upgrade. You can even use one of the 25 or so programs that open Adobe files or the four or five significant competitors to Photoshop if you don’t want to pay.

          2. Here you spoke of nonsense but I think that it is your statement that Adobe has a de facto monopoly is nonsense. I just stated (and we provided the list here at Photofocus) that 25 other programs open Adobe files and there are programs like Aperture, iPhoto, Adobe Photoshop Elements, and Capture One which offer solid, useable, popular and affordable options using the non-subscription model. Your statement here is again simply laughable. And you may not approve of capitalism but since we are a U.S. based site, and we serve a primarily U.S. – based audience we love capitalism. Who do you know who doesn’t want to make money? Please provide me proof that you have refused every raise your bosses have ever offered you. The notion that there’s something wrong with Adobe wanting to make money in return for its hard work and risk is wrong-headed, silly, and downright idiotic. Adobe has a legal obligation to its shareholders to attempt to conduct a profitable business. Nobody works for free.

          3. Adobe files can be opened with multiple programs and there are other applications you can use. You can ALWAYS open files with your stand alone CS6. If Adobe (or Microsoft) or any other company wants to get paid for every computer running their software it is their right. You don’t have to use their product. Period.

          And lastly, the comment you make “this is probably what makes me and all the other naysayers fear CC the most” implies you speak for someone other than yourself. You do not. This is a common tactic used when people are seeking to make their argument appear more relevant than it really is.

          In closing, this is the future – software subscriptions have been adopted by Microsoft, Adobe, Apple and others. I personally find this model to be profitable for my business. I understand that some may not. They (as described over and over and over and over) in the comments and the post, and you have the freedom to make choices that avoid Adobe. The constant mis-representation of the actual facts here causes me to think that there is no reason to discuss this further. Some people have secret or hidden agendas. Some people just want to be mad. Some people are just plain old trolls and haters. It seems that facts rarely matter to these types. We’ve covered the facts in detail here. It’s time for everyone to decide for themselves.

  13. I have no problem with Photoshop being a product to rent, but I am not so sure it’s a good thing with Lightroom. Photoshop stores files in a format that can be opened and edited with other software, so switching from PS to another future killer photo editor is not a big problem. You can not say the same about Lightroom. Yes – photos can be exported from LR before you chose to leave LR for something else but unless you do that (and LR does not come with a feature to export all photos retaining the folder structure) my LR catalog will be completely useless without LR. So with LR users already locked-in and thus doomed to rent LR forever (if Adobe choses to stop selling LR).

  14. Full Disclosure: I am a subscriber: ;-)
    For 10 buck a month it was an easy decision.
    This article brought forth a thought process that I sensed in my decision but had not articulated… Unless Adobe remains good, me and lots of other subscribers are gone. Long term this gives me freedom.

  15. […] Gerard Murphy for PhotoFocus- strongly for […]

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About gerardatphotofocus

Gerard has had a passion for photography since borrowing his Mom’s Pentax as a kid on family vacations. Later, Gerard turned this passion into Mosaic which he co-founded. Gerard grew Mosaic from a PowerPoint and a dream into a service used by tens of thousands of Lightroom users daily. He is also an avid Lightroom advocate and teacher of Lightroom tips and tricks. His Lightroom videos have been seen by hundreds of thousands of photographers. Gerard has been featured on many national podcasts and large photography publications teaching Lightroom and talking about the future of photography. He has also been featured in Forbes Magazine as a young entrepreneur. Gerard lives in New Hampshire with his wife Elizabeth, daughter Caroline and son James. He shoots on a Nikon and uses Lightroom on both his Mac and PC.


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