On Software Subscriptions

September 4, 2021
5 Minute Read

One of the things that has started to bug me of late is that it's getting harder and harder to simply "buy" software. I mean we've always been at the mercy of companies with their license agreements and sometimes DRM, but now it's starting to feel even worse.

If you go back ten years and you wanted the latest version of Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop, or just about any other piece of paid software, it was simple. You went online or to the store and you purchased it. You got the installer either digitally or on CD/DVD, probably a license key and you installed it.

Nowadays, so many pieces of software require you to purchase a subscription in order to use it. Photoshop & Lightroom can't be purchased standalone, you have to buy an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription for $10/month. Office is pushing people towards purchasing an Office 365 subscription instead of a standalone copy. Now apps on Apple's App Store and Google Play are getting in on the action. Now, no longer are you allowed to pay $5 for an app, now you have to pay $5/month to have all the features of the app.

I write about this as I'm planning on getting back into my photography and am trying to decide how I want to handle my collection. I bought Adobe Lightroom 5 a while back (back when it was brand new which probably shows how long ago that was), but have since switched to using the $10/month Adobe Lightroom/Photoshop Bundle. Now that my old MacBook Pro bit the dust and I'm starting fresh on my new M1 MacBook Pro, I'm trying to decide if the $10/month is really worth it for how much I'm thinking I'll use it. Now, don't get me wrong; Lightroom & Photoshop are fantastic pieces of software. They're incredibly powerful, and do what they were designed to do fantastically well. The issue stems from having to pay for them in perpetuity.

Now I want to say unequivocally that I have absolutely no issue in paying for software. I'm a developer so I understand what it takes to build software and I believe that companies and developers should get paid. My problem with this model is that I can't simply buy the latest version of Lightroom or whatever other app or software I'm looking at. Like others, in the case of Lightroom, Adobe no longer sells Lightroom. All they sell is the subscription to USE it. Cancel your subscription, cancel your ability to use the software.

A previous example of this is the app I used to use on my Mac, iPhone & iPad. Airmail was my favorite email app for the longest time. It provided a bunch of useful extra features that I enjoyed. I paid for the app on both my iOS devices & my Mac. Then all of a sudden, they jumped to a subscription-only model. If I wanted to continue using the app to its full capabilities (including notifications), I would have to start paying for a subscription. I was bummed, and that was the last time I used the app. I opted to go back to the default iOS & Mac Mail apps. It annoyed me. I paid for the app and it felt like they were playing a bait and switch game. I paid for certain features and all of a sudden they pulled those features away from me. If they had released a new version and required me to pay for the new version with the new features, I would have been much more understanding. At that point, I would simply look at the new features they were offering and see if they were worth the additional money to me. If they were, I would have paid the money and bought the new version. Again, I'm not against paying for new versions or even new functionality. In Airmail's case, I was even more angry because they took away functionality that I felt that I paid for.

I think another reason why I feel a little peeved about this is that in some of these cases, I feel like there's not a reason for a subscription outside of a money grab. Again, take Adobe Lightroom & Photoshop as an example. I can't see any reason why someone shouldn't be able to be able to simply buy the software to use. There's no real reason why it needs to be subscription only. They offer Adobe Creative Cloud and cloud storage as part of the bundle, and if that was what they were charging for, so be it. But I don't use their cloud storage. I already pay for Dropbox for my cloud storage and I don't really need any of Adobe's sync functionality. Let me simply pay for the software and if I decide I do want the cloud offerings, I'll gladly pay for them. With Lightroom, I was able to find an old installer download, so I'll soon find out if it still works. If it does, great! If it doesn't, I think I'll give Darkroom a try.

I guess what a lot of this boils down to is that I miss simply buying the software I use and not having to pay a subscription for it. I'm also worried that this will start to become more and more normal to the point where all of a sudden Windows 12 becomes subscription-only.