When Adobe, makers of virtually every piece of industry leading graphics software applications, announced that it was shifting to a subscription only offering in lieu of its previous perpetual licensing model, many users were decidedly up in arms. There have been petitions started, angry and negative comments on blog posts, and Youtube videos detailing the reasons for discontent.
Granted, some or even much of that criticism was from misinformed Adobe users. There was misunderstanding concerning pricing, how the software would or could be used, how often E.T. had to phone home, and some certain other problems. Most of this was cleared up rather quickly it seems, which is good — no one is well served by misgivings that result from a lack of factual information.
But, now that the facts have had a chance to filter through the matrix, I have become concerned over my perception of everyone’s reluctant acceptance to the new system. And, I think that that reluctant acceptance, if my perception is correct anyway, is due to the fact that as better information did filter down to Adobe consumers, there was at least a small helping of misunderstanding filtering down as well. At the least, there has been a failure to grasp an important point.
Gimme my files, please.
One of the biggest gripes directed at Adobe with the change has been about future access to files created or edited in their software. Well, obviously, since the subscription model only allows access as one continues paying for the service, if the user had a compelling reason to stop, such as a financial crises, a more suitable software package becoming available, etc., then they would lose access to their files. Understandably, no one is going to go for that.
This fear, however, was put to rest as people pointed out that there are always ways to save files in different formats, some more widely usable than others, and often virtually universal format saves are possible. Voila! Future file access problem solved! Yay for team Adobe.
But are there really compatible formats?
While it is perfectly true that the only way for someone to lose access to their files would be through unbridled stupidity, it isn’t the full story; not nearly.
As it turns out, one of the most basic and compelling reasons to use many of the Adobe products — indeed, so basic and foundational to the system that it has apparently been taken for granted and thus escaped notice to be at the root of the creative cloud file accessibility problem — is layers and other such editing features which allow non-destructive tweaks to files.
As Adobe users know, saving a file with layers, for example, intact, is part and parcel of the system. This preserves file integrity so as to give top-notch output at the other end of all of your work, even if that work takes weeks, months, or years. No matter how long it takes to finish a creative project in Adobe software, one can rest assured that saving the file to disk and walking away for even an extended period is fine; no pixel level destruction takes place.
Yes. No. For a fee.
I know that I, for one, often do just that. I have many images on my computer from Photoshop CS that, even had I moved on to other software than Adobe (I haven’t — I currently own a copy of CS 5), I could still fire up my original CS and start from where I left off in my editing, with all my layers, masks, etc., etc., intact. No other software can open those layers and apply them correctly. I certainly cannot continue from where I left off. If I lose my Adobe subscription, I lose my work. Period.
“But you can still do that! You can still open them with Adobe years later.”, many would say. And they’d be right. I can . . . for a fee!
“Well, yeah, but is that unethical? Or illegal? Come on! And it’s not that much money.”
It aint that much.
First, about it not being that much money. No, it isn’t that much . . . currently. It could go up. And if all of observed human history is any indication, it will go up. But even if it didn’t, since it is so little money, why not let the billion-with-a-“B” dollar corporation take it in the shorts?
“Well, they’d have to do it for everyone then. And that is a lot of money.”
And we’ve now dispelled the myth that “. . . it isn’t that much.” It is a lot! LOT! LOT! LOT! And Adobe has done their research. They know very well that it is a LOT! They believe that their new system is going to rake in a LOT!
“But still. Unethical? Illegal?”
If the similarities were only similar.
Here is where one needs to see some fundamental differences between some common types of subscription services and Adobe’s Creative Cloud. The new Adobe system has been compared, for example, to paying for your monthly mobile phone service, web hosting space, etc. But the crux of the issue comes down, again, precisely on the proprietary deployment of the nondestructive ability to save files for later use. When I cancel my mobile phone service there is no outstanding conversation or some such thing that I lose my ability to continue developing. When I switch my hosting service, I don’t have a scenario where I cannot continue to edit an article unless I pay my old hosting provider.
With Adobe’s new system, I’d have to do precisely that. If this new system had started at CS, for example, I would now be in the bind of not being able to start from where I saved my files years ago. If I wanted to finish the work I started, I’d have to pay Adobe, even though I may have moved on to other editing software. I pay, or I start from scratch.
So, with other subscription types of services, I am free to move on to other providers or plans. Not so with Adobe. Well, one can move on of course, provided you are either willing to trash all your hard work, or to pay Adobe to tweak it for certain output.
It’s the output, stupid.
And “output” is a part of the whole equation as well. So far, I think I may have only shown that Adobe’s new plan isn’t very nice, though certainly not unethical or illegal. But please bear with me.
What is the point of Adobe’s graphics software anyway? Isn’t it output in some form? Does anyone pay Adobe only to look at and create their work within the applications themselves? Of course not. It is all about output, no matter to what medium.
And, if this output is to be professional as Adobe has built its reputation of being very good at, then the data has to be kept integral until the final moment of output. This is the advantage to using Adobe. They should know! That is one way they preached to us as to why their software should be used. And we believed them! Nondestructive editing. Tweakable to many types of output. This is the very reason that people spend as much as they do for their Adobe licenses.
Pay Adobe today, pay Adobe tomorrow.
But if this is the case, then it really is unethical! Adobe has taken the very thing that is the backbone of their software, the main advantage to having and using it, and used it as a ball and chain. I cannot stop paying Adobe! You cannot stop paying Adobe! No one can stop paying Adobe. Even if we stop, we pay! We pay in losing critical work that may be even tens of years old. It’s ours! But those layers that were the reason to use Adobe to begin with are now the things holding knives to our pocketbooks. Either we don’t access the file for the output needed to make money, pay by taking the considerable time needed recreating the work in other software, or pay Adobe. Either way, we pay! There is no stopping paying tomorrow for using Adobe today.
Can I try to make this more simple for a moment? I thought a good analogy that I came across was that of using tools to build your house, and then being told that since you won’t continue to pay for your tools you could no longer live in the house you made using them. But let me tweak this a bit.
Hammers for rent.
Let’s say I buy a special hammer to build a dog house. A year later, I decide to sell it to someone who needs it just a little modified. Good. A year after that, the buyer asks me to modify it yet again. Fine. Three years later I’m asked to refurbish it. No problem. Why? Because even though I built it with the special proprietary hammer, I bought the hammer.
My special hammer breaks! Rats! I’ll buy another one. Oh! Wait. They only rent them now. But the hammer really does build superior dog houses, so I rent it. A year later, I modify the new dog house, pay the hammer company. Another year later, modify the dog house, pay the hammer company. Three years later, refurbish the dog house, pay the hammer company.
Now how ethical is it that the hammer company gets to enjoy the fruits of my labor? What benefit do I have from this new system? A “non-breaking” hammer? As if I wasn’t able to fix or replace my old hammers? What do I gain? I gain nothing. I get less. I don’t have a hammer on hand all the time unless I pay even more. The hammer company gets money from my work . . . forever, and ever, and ever.
And let’s further say that this special proprietary hammer is so good at building dog houses just at that point of it being good for tweaking to different outputs; it is nondestructive until the point of sale for example. So, the very reason I bought the hammer was that it was good for making the modifications that I know are necessary in the dog house market. And the hammer company has now found a way to make that fundamental selling point a chain to tie me to their product, ’till death do us part.
I’m aware that the reader is probably as tired of reading this analogy as I am in writing it. But just a moment more, please.
Want better tools at better prices? Nah!
Let’s say an up and coming hammer company goes all in and creates a vastly superior hammer and sells it reasonably cheaply.
Now, I love the best dog houses and the hammer is a really, really good deal; especially compared to the rental model I am now quite unhappy about. So, what do I do? In normal circumstances, I switch and don’t look back. In this situation, however, since my old hammer is proprietary, I cannot further maintain my old dog houses for my customers without . . . you guessed it! Paying the OLD hammer company!
So even in the light of a better hammer at a better price, I’m STILL tied to the old hammer company!
Folks, I think that is unethical. And folks, I think that is Adobe.
Even if another company kills it and outdoes Adobe in either one or all of their current products, I’m still tied to Adobe, like it or not — and be sure, I do not like it, and neither should you.
Who said “Antitrust lawsuit?”
And the remaining question is, then, will the courts like it? Is it illegal?
I honestly don’t see how this model could survive an antitrust lawsuit. I really don’t. Adobe has locked out competition by making sure that even if a competitor creates better or similar software at even substantially lower prices, Adobe still gets paid. They have locked people in, or, at best, tricked them into a parole officer program whereby they have to “get permission” for the low monthly cost of $xx.xx, to touch their previous work. This further creates an atmosphere where potential competitors would have little or no motivation to undertake developing in the same market.
The only way out for Adobe is unrealistic. Burying the terms or warnings about not being able to access files with adjustment layers, or any other ways that non-Adobe applications cannot read, deep in some EULA will not be enough. It must be made up front and crystal clear if Adobe wishes to avoid being targeted in an antitrust suit. But if Adobe does that, who will submit to their terms?
I love Adobe’s software. It really is that good to be very tempting to submit to the ball and chain knowingly. Hey! Many would argue it already was a ball and chain with their upgrade model and not pushing camera model compatibility out to older versions of their software. Maybe so. But any way I cut it personally, I don’t see Creative Cloud as Adobe’s newest innovation. I’d have to give that honor to their new Leechware business model.
“Suck, suck, suck . . .” forever.