Subscription Versus Standalone

(commentary)

A lot of photography users are balking at the move from packaged software to subscriptions. This isn’t the first transition we’ve had in the software business, but it’s the one that’s generating the most discussion, probably because the Internet is fully grown these days and allows that discussion more readily and its easier to see. 

I was at the forefront of one of the early changes in software: bundling with the hardware. We wanted the Osborne 1 to be useful out of the box. Moreover, at the time (1980), the typical consumer personal computer purchasing decision involved dozens of sub-decisions (how much memory, how many drives, which drives, what monitor, what software, etc.). I wanted to take all decisions out except for one: do you buy my product or not?

Thus, we bundled Wordstar (US$500), Supercalc (US$400), CP/M (US$150), and Microsoft BASIC (US$100) with our US$1800 pre-configured computer. That’s a lot of software for free. Updates, though, would cost you money. 

I mention that because Apple is fully using this same strategy now. Numbers, Pages, Keynote, iMovie, iPhoto (to become Photos), and much more come free with the computer. Updates, though, may cost you virtual money via a different route: iCloud subscriptions. Because these products all will be fully enabled amongst all your Apple devices only through iCloud, Apple picks up downstream revenue to keep the cost of the products free.

Some people think that I’m anti Adobe Creative Cloud because of the subscription fee. I’m not. Especially with the now permanent Photoshop/Lightroom offer, the per month price of the subscriptions are probably a bit lower than the packaged update prices I was paying amortized over the same time period. It’s not the price of Creative Cloud that’s the problem (at least now; it was with Adobe’s original CC pricing). It’s the fact that when I stop subscribing I don’t have anything. Moreover, too often terms and conditions change with updates, which means now if I don’t like a change to the user agreement, I have nothing when I decline the changes.

Those last bits are the big change in the transition from downloaded software (which previously had been packaged, and previous to that had been packaged with manuals ;~) to subscription software. I much prefer Photo Mechanic’s model: pay for yearly updates, but if you stop paying, you’re stuck on last year’s product. 

A lot of Aperture users are getting upset over unknowns at the moment. Aperture used to be US$400. Then Apple lowered the price in stages to US$80. The replacement, Photos, will be free, and should understand what to do with your Aperture library if we’re to believe what’s been said publicly so far. If you want to take advantage of the centralization of your data so that it is fully accessible on all Apple devices, you’ll need to subscribe to iCloud, which is a per month fee. But if I’m correct, Photos doesn’t require that your images live in iCloud, it just opens up new potential if they do. 

One of the problems with rumors and pre-announcement leaks on the Internet is that they get a lot of discussion and incite complaints even before people actually know what it is they’re complaining about. Too many people are focused forward with too little information, and not using the Internet to focus backward with abundant information. In other words, they’ll debate rumors and speculate about their future far more than they’ll use the Internet to research best possible current practices with existing products. 

How you work with your photos and what you work with them using will change soon. Almost certainly. Adobe, Apple, and Google—to name just three companies—are frantically trying to meld cameras, mobile, editing, viewing, television, and personal computers in ways that haven’t been available before. Microsoft probably is, too, though it’s unclear where their focus is at the moment. Absolutely things will change. If those companies mess things up, third parties will swoop in on the opportunity, because the problem attempting to be solved is an immense one. It’s also a problem that professional photographers want solved, though we want additional tools available and have some special additional needs.

So I’m not overly bothered about the future of workflow: it will change, and given the minds working on it, I believe it will change for the better. 

In the meantime, established workflows will experience upset. I suggested earlier this week that you virtualize (or at least create a bootable system with your current workflow separate from your regular system). That’s your best choice for maintaining your current workflow. 

However, I’m going to point out something here: in my digital career I’ve gone from paper tape to cassette tape to floppy disks to minidisc to hard drives to RAIDed systems to cloud. I’ve gone from hand-coded boot to CP/M to DOS to Mac/Windows to iOS/Android as an operating system. I’ve gone from hand-coded to Electric Pencil to WordStar to Word to NisusWriter. I’ve been through 12 (I think, it’s getting hard to count) iterations of Photoshop. Things change. You have two basic choices when change happens: (1) stick with what you’ve got until it dies and risk a dead end; or (2) stay with what’s happening and modernize every chance you get. Most people try to do something in between, mostly because of costs. In between doesn’t work as well as sticking closer to the other two. 

Our current workflow problems are these:

  • Macintosh is incrementing substantially to Yosemite. This will likely break some existing software if it doesn’t get updated. Moreover, there are substantive changes under the system that won’t get taken advantage of unless applications get updated.
  • Windows 8 never really got new workflow that supported the changes from Windows 7. If Microsoft’s ecosystem is to resolve, that will need to happen soon.
  • Nikon has deprecated Capture NX2 and replaced it with the less useful NX-D. 
  • Apple is going to deprecate Aperture and replace it with Photos. 
  • Adobe has introduced new architecture which means that Photoshop CC is now frozen (as was CS6 earlier) and Photoshop CC 2014 is the new entity for the future. We’re all worried that they will deprecate CS6 at some point not too distant.
  • Other players have been changing constantly, too: Bibble sold to Corel, iViewMedia sold to Microsoft who then sold it to Phase One. Consolidation has been happening, and new ownership means changes in direction and often temporary (or even permanent) disruption.
  • No one knows what’s going to happen with the Nik Collection long term. Those are very useful tools and essential to my current workflow, but Google doesn’t really appear to want to be in the application business.


Each of these pose independent problems for photographer’s workflow, but together they potentially really mess someone up (e.g. Mac user on Mavericks running Capture NX2 to send TIFFs to Photoshop CS6 using Nik Collection plug-ins). Unfortunately, that will mean change for some folk. Until all the new products are out, though, what change that really should be is still a little unclear. 

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