This is the third and final post in a series on photo software. A lot has been said and written about the whole Adobe move to the subscription model of photo software. While researching and writing my last two posts on photo software upgrading, and my move back to Aperture, I came across this episode of Scott Kelby's "The Grid" where the gist of the conversation was about the why's and wherefore's Adobe went with the subscription model.
Kelby says Adobe lays the blame at Apple's feet, but more on that later. Now, just for a quick historical context, when Apple brought out Aperture v1.0 in 2005 it retailed for $499.00 and it revolutionized the photo industry. That same year Adobe released Photoshop CS2 (Creative Suite) which cost around $600.00. In 2007 Adobe released Lightroom v1.0 for $299.00. Apple answered the price war in early 2008 with Aperture 2.0 for $199.00. When Apple opened the Mac App Store in January 2011, it offered Aperture 3.0 (released the year earlier) for $80.00.
Now to Scott's comment about Adobe blaming Apple (among other reasons too) for going to a subscription model. The last version of Photoshop before jumping off the Creative Cloud cliff was CS6. By then Adobe had upped the full version price to $799.00 and Lightroom was still $299.00. Scott says in his "The Grid" episode (at the 30:34 mark if you want to jump to it) that he was talking to a high-up former Adobe exec friend who said the reason Adobe went with a subscription is Apple set the pricing model expectation of what an app was worth with the App Store. He said the days of selling $700-800.00 software was over.
The Adobe executive told Scott that Adobe could no longer be competitive with selling a pro-level software at such low pricing and continue to innovate, and considering upgrades (paid versions) usually had an 18-24 month cycle before generating revenue, it was no longer financially viable. So Adobe opted for a low-cost subscription based solution. But here is where I disagree it was the only solution. The argument that Adobe wasn't generating revenue in between upgrade cycles doesn't take into account all of the people who were buying into the program for the first time while new features were being developed.
Apple's App Store didn't force Adobe to choose a subscription model. There are plenty of rather expensive apps being offered for one-time purchase, although not at the $700.00 price point. Look at Apple's own pro-apps pricing. Not cheap, but good value for its market.
Adobe set the bar long ago of what it thought a "pro-app" should cost, and really put it out of reach of many people coming into the market who couldn't afford it. If you want to appeal to a niche "pro" market and price accordingly, that is fine but your user base will be decidedly small. The problem with the subscription only model is you are forever locked into paying if you want to use it. If Adobe had set a middle-of-the-road price point of $600.00 for Photoshop and Lightroom, and allowed users the option to stop their subscription once they hit that cumulative price point and then "own" the software at that point without any further updates, essentially a rent-to-own model rather than an always renting solution, it would be a better model for those who couldn't afford the full price upfront.
Finally, Kelby says he thinks everyone will be offering software on a subscription basis, and points to Capture One Pro as an example (currently offering a subscription and perpetual license.) I disagree. Serif's Affinity Software (Photo / Designer / Publisher) prides itself on offering really powerful Adobe alternatives (and despite naysayers, these are pro-level apps) for an incredible price with no subscription. I would say for software companies contemplating going to a subscription only model to think instead of reasonably pricing your software for your intended audience, and perhaps offer "in-app purchases" for additional features. Always give your users the choice of owning what they pay for and give them compelling reasons to choose options. But stay away from going subscription only, it's a dead end... eventually.