Photoshop, by the hour (or at least, by the month)

News 14 Apr, 2011

Inside the Enterprise: Adobe's move to offer its software on subscription should please more than cash-strapped graphic designers.

It's easy to become blasé about software companies' "point" releases; IT PRO receives dozens of press releases about minor upgrades to products every day. But just sometimes, it is worth scrolling through the emails, as companies can hide significant information below the list of new features.

So it is with Adobe's point release – 5.5 to be precise – of its flagship Creative Suite software. Creative Suite, or CS, is in fact a family of products, based around programs such as Photoshop, Premiere, Dreamweaver and InDesign, with different suites for print designers, web page developers, video producers and so on.

To be fair to Adobe, there are some useful new features in CS5.5, especially for businesses and design shops creating content for smartphones and tablets. But for IT professionals, the real significance comes with Adobe's announcement of a new, subscription-based, pricing option.

Adobe's professional software is not cheap. That is not to say it is poor value. In fact, I use an Adobe application almost every day and wouldn't be without them. But when any company makes something that makes Apple's offerings such as Final Cut Studio seem like a bargain, it is certainly not an impulse purchase.

Adobe's Production Premium suite, for video editors, costs £1,509 and its Master Collection, with all the toys, costs an eye-watering £2,303, according to Adobe's estimated prices.

Upgrades for existing users will be cheaper, but Adobe does at least realise that software costing this much makes a significant call on the cash of the freelancers and small design and production companies who make up the bedrock of its customer base.

Unlike large corporates, these users do not qualify for volume licence discounts and may well struggle to find the money up front for software that costs more than their PC or Mac.

So Adobe's decision to offer the suites on subscription is a sensible move. At the most basic level, a user can rent Photoshop on its own for £28 a month, or the whole Master Collection for £116 a month. Adobe says the subscriptions will be flexible too, allowing a designer, say, to mix and match applications on outright licence purchase and subscription, take out annual subscriptions, or pay for just what they want for a month.

A graphic designer could then buy InDesign, rent Photoshop on an annual contract and take out a monthly sub to Premiere and After Effects just to complete a video project.

The subscription works by installing the full software on the user's computer, so there's no need to download a large file – and Adobe's apps are large – for each project or to run the software over a possibly unreliable web connection.

Provided the subscription technology works as described, it could be an incredibly useful option for companies that only do occasional creative work or that need to preserve their cash flow.

Just as with car hire, renting software is rather more expensive in the long term than buying a licence. Indeed, a user renting the CS Master Collection would be better off buying after 20 months. But for many the flexibility and cash flow benefits will outweigh the longer-term costs. One day, maybe all software will be offered this way?

Adobe's subscription plans (US pricing)

Stephen Pritchard is a contributing editor at IT PRO.

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