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Adobe Creative Cloud: Acceptance & Evolution

Bright skies are here again!Some time ago when the Adobe Creative Cloud was still very much only just being released to the world I wrote a somewhat ranty piece entitled Adobe Creative Cloud: One Size Does Not Fit All where I railed against the annoyance of Adobe not really providing options for the semi amateur photographer who just wanted Lightroom and Photoshop but not spend $50/month to get them. Now some 16 months later I find myself with a full Adobe Creative Cloud subscription and really enjoying it, so what the hell happened?

Adobe Listened

Yes you read that right. It would appear that Adobe did the single most sensible thing a company could do: listened to the feedback and then, much to a lot of peoples surprise, started implementing changes that went a long way to addressing those concerns. They’ll never be able to please everyone but they’ve made some really good moves to allay concerns.

The Photography Plan

Very shortly after my first rant, Adobe announced an introductory plan for photographers compromising of Lightroom and Photoshop for $10/month. The only catch was the plan was only going to be available for a short time. Until they extended that time. And extended it again. And finally during the Creative Cloud 2014 announcements they finally decided to make it a permanent plan option.

This one single plan essentially addressed 90% of my rant. The cost was reasonable, it supplied exactly what most photographers want and it provided all the benefits of the creative cloud system in terms of easy upgrades over time. So I signed up.

Next Steps

So what convinced me to jump from the photography plan to the $50/month all applications plan? Put simply, a change of requirements. My girlfriend had started a new university course which involves graphics work and web design. As a single Creative Cloud membership allows for installations on two computers this meant upgrading to the full plan so she could access Illustrator and other tools actually made complete sense. We sign both our PCs in, she can install the apps she wants, I can use what I want and with the costs and requirements split across two people make the overall product quite reasonable indeed.

As a tangential benefit it has also allowed me to play with Adobe tools like Premier and After Effects which in their previous box suite incarnations were far too ludicrously expensive for me to even think about obtaining and working with. Now as long as we budget the money for the yearly subscription there’s a lot more open to us.

Retaining Access

During my rant I made this statement:

Spent countless man hours creating that Photoshop file? Making all those tags and keywords in Lightroom to effectively sort your collection of photos? Well all that will be useless unless you keep paying. Each month. Every month. Forever.

I wasn’t the only one with this fear and it would appear once again Adobe listened and actually responded. Not long ago they posted a blog entry on what occurs to Lightroom after your Creative Cloud membership ends. The answer was surprisingly straight forward and essentially went:

  • Lightroom will continue to launch
  • You retain access to the catalogue with all your tags etc
  • You’ll be able to keep managing your photos with Lightroom
  • However the Develop and Map modules will become disabled

This isn’t too bad and would appear to be a decent compromise. You retain access your catalogue that  you have worked so hard to organise and they disable the component they hope you will pay for again to use. There is of course those that still demand they get the full application and for the meantime it appears Lightroom will still be sold as a separate boxed application for those that want it that way.

Dark Clouds

It hasn’t all be sunshine, rainbows and lollipops for the Creative Cloud. There’s been the security compromise that required users to reset passwords and in some cases get new credit cards issued. There was the extended outage that caused larger media corps that relied on Creative Cloud apps for constant production major pain as they couldn’t meet deadlines.

Finally from my perspective there has been the Creative Cloud desktop management tool/launcher. All the actual Creative Cloud apps themselves (Lightroom, Photoshop, Illustrator etc) have worked without a problem since they were installed by the central control software launcher has been a major pain.

It has been slowly getting better but along the way it has caused no end of swear words to be issued. Every few months it seems to break and get itself stuck. I won’t update an app or it will act like it can’t log into the cloud. The Adobe forums are littered with people experiencing these problems. The worst bit about this has been what you need to do to fix these problems. Most commonly Adobe support gets you to download and run a somewhat arcane fix it tool which to date has so far fixed precisely nothing for me.

After that they generally get you to located and delete/rename a cache file. This perturbs me as the last thing you really want the average user to be doing on a machine is poking around deleting/renaming files as one false move could leave you far worse off. This “solution” however has fixed thing for me a few times but I can’t help wonder if it’s such a known problem, why exactly hasn’t the underlying problem been fixed? Or at the very least provide an easy system that does the delete/rename for the user.

The final solution and the one that seems to occur most of the time is just reinstalling the Creative Cloud application. The good news is this doesn’t require reinstalling the actual products themselves, the bad news is it is time consuming and the Adobe website seems to go out of its way to be a pain in the rear about downloading the newest version.

Cloud Acceptance

Overall I’m surprised and reasonably happy with the change Adobe has made to handling the Creative Cloud and just generally impressed at the effort they are putting into customer satisfaction especially in light of their near monopoly in some of the areas Adobe applications cater for.

Is it perfect? No. Has it lost the one size fits all approach? To some extent yes, the new permanency of the photography plan attests  to their acceptance of consumer demands. They have made progress and each little change so far has been well worth accepting it as a useful set of tools.

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Fairfax Can Clique Off

Photography careers are dead bobToday Fairfax Media announced it was firing 80 people which includes 30 of their 50 photography staff, announcing they would source most of their material from Getty images instead.

While this move will be seen by many as merely another note in the funeral dirge for traditional media, the particularly heavy emphasis on firing their photography talent raised a bit of an alarm bell for me on another front.

Not only will this certainly mean a drastic drop in quality of photos in the various Fairfax publications and the continued support of Getty images, a company that notoriously provides very little royalties to photographers themselves but it also raises the question of why would any Australian photographer ever want to be involved with Clique ever again?

What The Hell Is Clique?

The “Clique Photographers Association” sells itself as an association for amateur photographers to help them learn, get some nice discounts and ultimately participate in photography challenges which offer the opportunity to be published in Fairfax papers, The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald.

Clique is partnered with big names such as Canon Australia and Adobe, combined with the relatively low fee of $50 ($25 if you’re a Fairfax subscriber) makes this appear a pretty good deal and overall it probably is. However with this most recent announcement one can’t help but wonder…

Less Clique More Trojan Horse?

I have to admit I’ve never really been comfortable with Clique and for that reason I’ve never made the move to join it despite the potential it offered. The copyright section of the Terms & Conditions never really sat well with me.  Don’t get me wrong it’s no an out and out copyright grab (like some competitions) and they very explicitly state the copyright remains you but you do grant Fairfax (‘the Organaiser’) the following:

However, each participant grants the Organiser (and its related bodies corporate) an irrevocable, non-exclusive, royalty-free, worldwide licence to deal with participants’ images (in any format):

a. for any express purpose identified during the Program (including to publish any winning images on the Organiser’s digital platforms and in print.
b. for any implied purpose associated with the Program (including publication on any closed network associated with the Program or for the purposes of providing feedback in relation to an image);
c. for the purposes of promoting the Program.
d. The Organiser will endeavour to contact the Participant to inform the Participant when and how their image will be used in relation to the Program.
e. Participants’ images will not be stored on the Fairfax Media photographic data base – Fairfax Digital Collections (FDC)

For the avoidance of doubt, the foregoing licence entitles the Organiser to reformat any image for the purpose of publication or display.
You will not bring any claim against the Organiser for infringement of your moral rights in the image.

It’s not the worst I’ve seen but it gives them a lot of free reign to do what they want with your photo and you get to pay them for the privilege. Neat trick.

This Won’t Clique

Which leads us back to the firings announced today. Now that Fairfax management has shown they see photography as burdensome expense they can better replace with stock images (and I’m betting more “crowd sourced” material as well) why exactly would any amateur photographer in Australia want to be a part of Clique? Seriously?

Will Canon Australia or Adobe raise concerns about this? How can they continue working with Fairfax to further educate photographers when Fairfax seems unable to see the value in doing so? Indeed what is the future of Clique in this bold new stock images first world at Fairfax? Will it even remain in place until the end of this year as planned?

For me I won’t consider Clique any further. I won’t support an association run by a corporation that seems unable to support the people that make up that association. There are far better places to interact with photographers and while they might not offer the publishing possibilities of Clique, I’ll be happier knowing they actually give a damn about photography.

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Adobe Creative Cloud: One Size Does Not Fit All

Enter the corporate cloud of no return

The Background

Last Friday three large corporations, Microsoft, Apple and Adobe, were pulled in front of the Australian Parliamentary Inquiry into IT Pricing to justify their vastly inflated prices in the Australian markets for their goods, most notably their digital only ones that seem to have a higher price tag, simply because they can.

Why these three corporations? Well because they had either refused or had been evasive in supplying submissions to the Inquiry previously and were being compelled, under threat of fines or possible jail time, to appear and provide justification of their pricing schemes.

It’s worth noting that the Inquiry is merely after answers, it is not a trial nor were the corporations being accused of any illegal activity. Its s simple task was to get at the heart of the pricing disparity issues for Australian consumers and possibly make recommendations later that might help narrow that gap. The three corporations summoned however treated the entire affair as if they were directly under attack.

I won’t be covering responses from all of them or the various arguments used as these have been covered in-depth elsewhere, instead I’ll be looking at the word that the Adobe representative waved about as a get out of jail free card: CLOUD.

CLOUD, CLOUD, CLOUD

The Adobe representative, managing director of ANZ Paul Robson, seemed to think the best way to get out of every single question asked of  him was to pimp Adobe’s Creative Cloud system. Or as I tweeted at the time:

The big argument was the Australian pricing for the Adobe Creative Cloud was on par with the US pricing and therefore Australian consumers should be happy. End of story. Please stop asking difficult questions.

To be fair yes the Adobe Creative Cloud pricing is indeed on par with the US pricing (although interestingly it only became so just weeks before they were pulled in front of the inquiry) but the problem is the Creative Cloud is not the fabulous one size fits all solution Adobe sells it as.

The All New Shiny

So what the hell is the Adobe Creative Cloud service anyway? Well basically put it’s a subscription service which allows you to use either one or all of the suite of Adobe products for a per month fee. The service fee includes free upgrades to each product as it comes along, with some storage as well. On the surface it sounds awesome and for some Adobe users it is, particularly those that use either all or a large chunk of the suite of Adobe products.

The problem is there are many, myself included, that use just one or two Adobe products and once you start running the numbers on the cloud offerings and pricing you quickly realise it’s not such a good deal after all and that in the future there could be some serious problems.

Small Costs Add Up

The example I’m going to work with is Adobe Lightroom which (in my opinion) is by far the leading photo sorting and manipulation program available. I’ve tested many competitors, both commercial and open source, and nothing comes close to how good Lightroom does its job. It’s very much worth the money even we in Australia do pay a premium for the privilege. But that’s where it ends. As an amateur photographer Lightroom does everything I need, I don’t require the absolute power of Photoshop or any of the other suite of programs supplied by Adobe. I know for a fact I’m not the only one in this boat.

So how does accessing Lightroom via Creative Cloud stack up against purchasing the box set (or digital download) outright? Well not very well as we’ll see.

First the pricing. Adobe likes to throw the figure of “Only $49.95 a month!” about. This is technically true. These screenshots were taken from the current Creative Cloud AU pricing page:

Creative Cloud per year cost[notice]Note there is a stream for a single application purchase via the Creative Cloud for $20/month. For some unknown reason however Adobe Lightroom is not currently among the “select applications” available via this subscription and therefore not relevant to the comparisons we will be making.[/notice]

First off the $49.95 a month isn’t exactly right. It requires a 12 month lock in which immediately means you’re looking at a $600 yearly spend. What happens if you decide you might want to opt out at any time? Well the price jumps just a tad:

Creative Cloud Month on Month costs

 

For an equivalent 12 month period you’re looking at $900 spend but at least you can cancel at anytime. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this pricing structure as it helps Adobe recover costs from those unwilling to subscribe long-term to their service.

So Where’s The Problem?

The problem lies in the fact I just want one application. Adobe make a great argument that yes for a mere $50/month I could get every application at my fingertips, all the time. Problem with that however is I’m extremely unlikely to ever use them and I am generally against throwing my money at services I’m never going to use.

So let’s do a comparison. Let us assume we only want Adobe Lightroom, how much would it cost us to get over a 5 year period via the Creative Cloud vs box/digital download outright purchase? We are going to assume that costs stay the same over the period of time.

Creative Cloud

Best case scenario we are looking at 5 years at the $49.95 per month rate which brings us to a total of $2997 AU ($49.95 multiplied by 60 months)

Worst case scenario we foolishly opt for the month to month pricing for 5 years which brings us to a total of $4497 AU ($74.95 multiplied by 60 months)

And hypothetical best case, Lightroom becomes available on the single application subscription which brings us to a total of $1199.40 AU ($19.99 multiplied by 60 months).

Box/Digital Download Outright Purchase

Since this is not quite an apples vs oranges comparison for the box set we are going to assume an initial outright purchase of the software, followed by one upgrade a year for each of the five years (which is usually inline with the Adobe release schedule).

An interesting side note that during the inquiry the Adobe representative did reveal what many have suspected in that the pricing for the digital download version of the boxed software is priced the same mainly to keep resellers of the boxed software happy.

At current pricing the full version of Adobe Lightroom 4 is $187 AU. To upgrade is $108. We’ll assume the upgrade cost stays the same each release (which is normally roughly the case) leaving us with a total cost of $727 AU ($187 initial cost, plus $108 multiplied by 5 years)

That’s a full $472.40 AU cheaper than even our best hypothetical Creative Cloud scenario or for a direct comparison $2270 AU cheaper than the current real best case Creative Cloud scenario. That’s not an unsubstantial sum for an amateur photographer. That’s a new lens, maybe even a camera body upgrade in savings right there.

The Cloud Is Coming

The biggest potential issue is however I doubt that the boxed/digital downloads will be around in five years time. Adobe is already crowing over how successful the Creative Cloud is and it will be only a matter of when, not if, the Creative Cloud becomes the only method to access Adobe software. On that day many of us may be entirely screwed as there are several issues:

What happens when you stop paying your subscription? Well the application stops working. You don’t lose your files as they are all handled by your local machine but you will be held to ransom if you ever want to access the proprietary Adobe file formats again. You’ll need to fork over the subscription again.

Spent countless man hours creating that Photoshop file? Making all those tags and keywords in Lightroom to effectively sort your collection of photos? Well all that will be useless unless you keep paying. Each month. Every month. Forever.

During the inquiry the Adobe representative made repeated reference to the fact that Creative Cloud pricing for teachers and students in Australia is substantially cheaper, even than the US educational offering. Again that’s entirely true but it’s not out of altruism. Like every other corporate entity  that provides cheap educational pricing the purpose is to lock them in while they’re young and the Creative Cloud gives an added level of lock in. Want to keep using those tools you spent years learning after you graduate? Well you better fork over the full price. Each month. Every month. Forever.

Finally the Creative Cloud is geared towards market that have bandwidth to spare and, alas, the average Australian household or even business is still lagging well behind the rest of the world in bandwidth, particularly in terms of upload speed. This doesn’t have a huge impact on Creative Cloud which operates mostly on your computer but there are times when it becomes a real pain.

The Final Cloud Down

At the end of the day the Creative Cloud will be the new way forward and it does hold promise of making several things easier for the end user, automatic upgrades being one of them. As it currently stands however it is far from the one size fits all solution that Adobe sells it as and I personally hope a different approach will be taken for those consumers in the middle ground that do not need or want to pay for an entire suite of software they will never use for the privilege of using the one application they love and respect the company for.

Update – 2013-05-07

As predicted when I wrote this post it was only a matter of when, not if, creative cloud would become the only method of purchase. That day is today. Adobe has announced that the Creative Suite will be rebranded the Creative Cloud and will only be available by subscription from here on in.

It’s not total doom and gloom however, this FAQ indicates that, for now at least, Adobe Lightroom will remain available as a separate boxed product which possibly shows Adobe is aware there is a market for those that only use one of their products. I don’t think for a second the Australian pricing for the boxed version will get any fairer but at least for now you won’t have to strap yourself to the Creative Cloud just to get Lightroom.

Oh and Lightroom is still not available on the single app purchasing subscription model via the Creative Cloud. I wonder why this is?