It's Time for Artists to Send a Message
In the last few days I discovered a license policy change in a software I use that brought a large sense of exasperation and helplessness to me. It wasn't the well-known Adobe licensing change, but a much smaller company. But it brought home a shift in the mentality of software publishers that is simply bad for consumers.
Everyone in the industry already knows that Adobe Systems Incorporated changed its entire policy towards selling software. They stopped selling software. Instead, they only rent it to you. The marketing hype around this change is that it is good for you, the consumer. And while it may seem helpful for very short-term usage, it reduces the staying power of your purchases—and puts a smaller than ever half-life to every dollar. All purchases of Adobe software are now more akin to buying bread than software—if you don't hurry up and use it you just lost your money. Whereas previous purchases of Adobe software were an investment, the new model turns Photoshop, Illustrator, etc, into a recurring and inescapable utility bill.
It's pretty obvious why Adobe likes this model.
I paid $2,500 for the Adobe CS5 back in 2010. Since that time, there has been no updates to the software package that would warrant me, personally, to update the software. Averaged out, it means that I've paid $66.66 per month (at the time of this writing). But at the end of next year, that average drops to $50. Another year it is $40. Another year, $33. You get the point.
The same software collection Adobe wants you to lease for $49 per month. Long term, this is not good for users.
There is a much worse problem to leasing the software. And that is this simple fact—if you lease it you are completely at the mercy of the vendor and their decisions about price and policy. Whereas the owner of Adobe CS products before the move to the so-called Creative Cloud can use their software indefinitely, the lease route is very dangerous. What if your business has a slim period and you can't justify the extra monthly fee? Well... you are screwed. You can't use the software anymore—even if you had been paying monthly for years on end you suddenly don't get to open your files in the software you've been paying for.
To put it in perspective... I paid $2500 to own the software. If you lease Adobe for the next 48 months (totaling the $2500 I spent) then decide you want to stop paying... well then you are done and can't use your software. But I still can. You have to keep paying, indefinitely. And I can simply keep using the software, indefinitely.
One counter-claim about this is that by sticking with an older version of Adobe, I'm missing out on new features and tools. That might be true in some instances... but as Digital Arts Online reported, "Pretty much all of the relevant new features added in InDesign CC, Illustrator CC and Photoshop CC could be classified as nice, but aren't creatively exciting or time-savingly useful." It went on to say that some interfaces were made darker, adds a few other minor things like rounded corners in Photoshop, and again went on to say, "again they’re relatively minor."
If Adobe had wanted people like me to upgrade, they would have to do a lot more than that to justify an upgrade. And maybe that is the problem... Adobe is running out of ideas.
My gut tells me that when companies start implementing these kinds of business models, it is a sign of detachment. The heart and soul of the company has been replaced with spreadsheets. Instead of enticing new sales with innovation, the strategy is to increase sales through increased prices.
My guess is that the it's even worse for the consumer than painted above. Very rarely do businesses reduce their fees. It's more likely that Adobe will, over time, increase these monthly fees.
Take the case of the software company that enticed me to sit and write this editorial. There is a certain 3D landscaping and environment software that I enjoy using on occasion made by a company called E-on Software. I've spent a pretty penny on their software over the years, including an annual maintenance on their flagship product. I also paid for a license server (a simple program that runs on a computer that allows other computers on the network to "check out" any valid licenses you own). It really doesn't do anything other than that. Many other competitor software, in fact, do not even charge for license servers.
I just learned that the latest updates to their flagship application will not run off of a license server unless you pay the company an annual fee of $200. That's a fee that never existed before. It's a fee that was enacted simply to generate a new source of income—but they are expecting that of customers without simultaneously offering any enhanced utility, service or benefit to the user. It's not as if a new license server works any better than the previous, or saves anyone any time that the old one couldn't save.
What am I getting above and beyond what I had before?
I'm getting less money, that's what.
Ironically, such a strategy is counter-productive. Sure, a company might get a certain percentage more money from avenue A, but they lose some from avenue B. As an artist, I could probably have used in a beneficial way one of their other products for $200 this year. But instead, it might go to a piece of software that doesn't even add any new ability whatsoever.
For the consumer, the problem is that the software companies can, in a way, hold us hostage. That's exactly what happens with software rental—keep paying or lose everything! It generates a lack of trust. As one artist said to me regarding Adobe's change in policy, "and they wonder why piracy is so rife?"
Other companies are playing with these same models. Autodesk's CEO Carl Bass said that Autodesk is looking into similar models. According to Studio Daily, Bass said, "we're starting in a different place than Adobe, we don't feel the need to force people, as they did, to go to these new license models and end perpetual licenses."
Bass' claim that Adobe forced people into this new model is telling.
Corel seems like it may also try to move in this direction. In CorelDRAW Graphics Suite X6 there are a few new "premium" features that are locked in the user interface. You can only unlock them for a limited time with their annual premium fee.
The case of Corel is especially odd. CGS X6 retails at $429 at this moment in time. That includes PHOTO-PAINT, CorelDRAW, thousands of image assets and fonts and more. But the premium membership of $100 temporarily unlocks a handful of functions. One I especially found amusing is a premium function called "sepia toning". Giving an image a sepia look has already been simple in PHOTO-PAINT in the last fifteen years I've been using it! A premium fee of nearly 25 percent of the full retail price should do more than unlock a handful of functions. Yes, it does get you the next version of Corel software if it comes out in the next year, but CGS does not typically come out every year.
I just cannot frame these changed outlooks by the software companies in any other way than bewilderment. All of the companies mentioned in this article have employed brilliant magicians to create awesome software. They have grown to be extremely successful. They have a ton of money and talent and brain-power behind them. How is it that they seem to have run so dry on ideas for growth that they literally are willing to sit on the golden goose—us, the artists who buy their software? How is it that they have so quickly forgotten our role in helping them succeed? Why is it that they are doing things that make us feel less like excited participants and more like hostages?
My hope is that some of the companies start looking at the big picture. Profits and success and growth are very important. But raise your price, then I get less from you. That means I have to make more, which I have to pass on to the next person just to stay afloat. They, in turn, keep doing the same, on down the line. Eventually all prices for all things go up as someone keeps trying to pass the bill onto the next person. But in the end, it comes full circle and the increased fees never really did anything in the long term but hurt more people than helped—because, at the bottom, are the people who have no one to pass the bill onto.
I think everyone should boycott Adobe. Even though they are only one of the players, they are big enough for a large boycott to mean something. It would send a message to both Adobe and the others. I think the artists of the world need to send a strong message. I think we should remind the software companies that, as much as we love all the cool things they build, they need us even more than we need them!
2015-3-31: Autodesk has shared news that they are moving to a rental model as well. When I first read this news, I was irate. As many people know, I'm always pushing Autodesk's 3ds Max. I've cooled down some on the Autodesk move because I have learned that current perpetual licenses will still be able to be maintained and updated. Also, new perpetual licenses of Max are still available by purchasing the more expensive creation suites. I've even used the monthly subscription of Mudbox because it is so cheap and not as essential as Max is to me.
I really hope that the software companies realize how much these moves can harm the customers when forced on them. Please, Autodesk, do not continue moving down that path. Offer the rentals for the customers that can benefit and who want it--but don't push it as the only option.