The problem with Adobe’s subscription model

I started creating graphics and editing photos long ago, on DOS operating system — using software like Deluxe Paint II, Neopaint and others — moving then to Windows 3.1 quite soon. In these years I could definitely not afford Apple computers — although dreaming of them — I could barely afford a very slow IBM compatible PC — and I have to say DOS was not terrible, at all. I learned a lot using it — I learned to appreciate limits and how to overcome them. 

This is what I used for my first ever photo retouching. At the time this software seemed unbelievably powerful 🙂
This is Affinity Photo running on Mac. Science fiction if compared to poor NeoPaint on DOS.

At some point (around year 2000, even if my first experience with it dated around 1996, with an exotic CD containing Slackware) I started using Linux — without abandoning Windows — and I discovered the world of open source software. This meant learning Blender, Inkscape, Scribus, Gimp, etc. At the time I was still mostly into 3D gfx and digital painting, doing very few photo post production.

All following Affinity screenshots in this post (except the cover image with one of my photos) are taken from Affinity website. Yes I am that lazy.

I started using Adobe software — Photoshop Elements, to be precise — around 2005, in combination with Corel Painter, because I loved how Photoshop brush engine dealt with opacity through a single stroke. With time I did less and less work as illustrator and more work as photographer, so I got deeper into Photoshop tools. At some point I learned Camera Raw and began developing my photographic workflow.

Affinity Photo on Mac.

Fast forward and I included InDesign, Premiere and lllustrator in my profession. And of course Lightroom. So I had to switch to Adobe CC subscription. I say “I had to” because Adobe decided to stop selling their software and required users to pay a fee for the right of using it. Quite a brilliant move on their side, because their business kept growing. But as we all know, most users felt unhappy with the choice, for various and rational reasons. Being Adobe a huge corporation with a substantial monopoly, they did what all huge corporations with a substantial monopoly do: they didn’t care at all about what users thought, and just forced everyone to conform to their subscription model.

Affinity Designer on Mac.

Even worse, they showed the way to a multitude of other companies, and it’s largely thanks to Adobe if now we have all kind of apps requiring a subscription for working as they are meant to: calendars, note taking, word processors, games, photo editors, email clients, and the list goes on. It seems companies expect us to spend hundreds of euros/dollars every month just for using their software. A monthly subscription for using an email client or a fancy note taking app. Let that sink in.

Affinity Designer on iPad.

Back to Adobe. Until now I paid and accepted this situation. I have always been against pirate software. My reasoning was: these are tools for my business, spending 760 euros every year for something Adobe produces and that makes me earn my living seems fair. In some ways I still think this. I love to pay for my software. But? There’s a but, and that’s the topic of this post.

Affinity Designer on iPad.

I recently thought again and more seriously about something apparently trivial that in the past didn’t manage to impress me as deep as necessary. I am referring to the fact that if you stop paying Adobe you can’t access your work anymore. This is absolutely unfair, it goes against ethic and I think we should stand against it.

Affinity Designer on Mac.

I happily paid Adobe for the rights of using their software for creating. That’s understandable. But if I stop paying I can’t access my work, because it is saved in their proprietary formats. These files are the product of a combination of my hours of work and of the software I used and paid. There is no reason in this world that can justify the fact that I can’t access these files if it stop being an Adobe CC subscriber.

Affinity Publisher on Mac.

Had Adobe been an ethical company, they would have released tools for properly viewing and exporting files even once we are not subscribers anymore. They obviously don’t do it, because they want to disincentive the users from canceling the subscription.

Some files may be opened in alternative apps (we get there in a moment) but the compatibility may be not optimal and in some cases (InDesign, Lightroom, etc) this is not possible at all.

Luckily, times are changing and there are indeed some alternatives. There is the open source road, which makes sense especially if you are on Linux. And there is another way too, which is in my opinion even better if you are a Mac or Windows user. I’m talking about Affinity suite. And this explains why I am lazily using their screenshots for adding color to this post.

Affinity Publisher on Mac.

I downgraded my Adobe CC subscription from the full package to the cheapest one, which only includes Photoshop and Lightroom. For me Affinity Design takes Illustrator’s place and Affinity Publisher takes Indesign’s one. These two new apps are just amazing: fast, stable, rational, stuffed with features. They follow an opposite philosophy to Adobe’s apps, which are bending after the weight of legacy code, with user interfaces that are sometimes borderline psychotic.

But what’s best is that Affinity software is being sold, not rented. You pay once and the app is your, it will never stop working. You will not lose access to your files if you decide to save in their proprietary format. And Affinity apps are unbelievably cheap if we think of their quality.

Affinity Publisher on Mac.

I can’t leave Photoshop because it’s the only app integrated in Lightroom, so it lets me do stuff like “open files as Photoshop layers”, for instance. It may seem a small feature but even such a feature means a lot when you are working on thousands of photos and you have a deadline. And I can’t leave Lightroom because there is no alternative that has all the features I need, and I work fast in it and for me as a professional photographer speed is important.

I looked at Capture One but it doesn’t include some tools I use often, and by the way they are also testing the waters and shifting to a subscription model. I tried many alternatives (DXO Photolab, Luminar, ON1, Nikon’s and Olympus’ ones, etc) but nothing comes close to Lightroom.

Affinity Publisher on Mac.

Lightroom itself is far from perfect: it is quite slow, the image quality it produces is sometimes lower than Capture One,  and of course it is still a subscription model. The catalogs are saved in a proprietary format and if you stop paying you can’t access them anymore. Etc etc. My goal is to replace Lightroom as soon as it becomes practical and this way also drop Photoshop in favour of Affinity Photo.

Affinity Designer on iPad.

Affinity Photo and Affinity Designer are also existing on iPad, with real complete features, not the myriad of half baked toys Adobe pushes into iOS since years. This means you can start working on Mac, save on Dropbox or iCloud, and keep working on iPad. This brought my mobile studio to anew level. Affinity said they will bring Publisher to iPad soon, and this would make me finally consider getting an iPad Pro 12″ instead of the 10.5 I own.

Staying a moment on the iPad topic: on the same device I also use Procreate (for sketching, painting and photo retouch), Lumafusion and iMove (and other apps) for working on video, plus many other littles apps for specific tasks. I can confidently say that I could still be productive and do almost everything using just an iPad, if needed.

One killer feature in Affinity suite is Studio Link: all the 3 apps are somewhat linked together, so you can switch on the fly between them. Example: you are in Publisher, working on the layout of your next book, you notice a photo needs some work — in Adobe world you would have to open Photoshop, open the file with it, edit it and bring it back in InDesign. In Affinity Publisher, you just switch the interface of the software to reveal Affinity Photo features, and you edit without any need for opening, importing etc. It is rare to see such revolutionary features in a software. I think it is much more useful than all the AI Sensei nonsense Adobe is pushing into their software.

About video, I happily leaved Premiere (which I always hated) and moved to Davinci Resolve (free unless you need more features, and in that case you also pay a small price once and use the app forever). On iOS I work with Lumafusion, InShot, iMovie and a couple more apps.

Final Cut Pro X on Mac.

Adobe will keep having monopoly because big media companies invested capital in their system, but for photographers and freelancers things can be different. There are plenty of alternatives that aren’t just “good enough” anymore — they are even better.

Affinity Photo on iPad.

I’m not writing this post for convincing anyone of changing software, nor I am saying Affinity suite has all the features of Adobe suite. I just wanted to share my point of view on an issue I think is very important. We put our passion and work into creating, we can’t lose access to our files if we stop being subscribers to a service. I believe there are alternatives to this, and I decided to give them a serious try and say a resounding NO to software as a service, subscriptions, in-apps recurring purchases and similar toxic stuff.


    1. Yeah I did a while ago but I found it to be a bit sluggish and it crashed quite often on both my Macs. It could be it missed some features I am used to in my workflow, like advanced stitching of multiple photos, but I am not sure. I actually tried most of Lightroom alternatives, both commercial and open ones, but nothing worked for me and I regret wasting so much money on all these Luminar, On1, DXO etc. I have shivers whenever some paid YouTube promotes stuff like Luminar!

      Right now I am using Lightroom Classic for Real Estate, Lightroom CC for misc stuff (mostly on iPad/iPhone), Capture One for portrait, editorial and special projects (I bought Capture One perpetual license, not the subscription!).

  1. Though I am not yet ready to leave Adobe, I’m working my way towards an escape route from their model. Just a couple of weeks ago, I found an official Adobe app called “Adobe Lightroom Downloader”, that does what it says – downloads all of your images to a windows or mac computer. I have about 62,000 files (mostly 1 raw file plus 1 jpg file for the vast majority of images), totaling about 1/2 of a TB. It took a day and a half to download them onto a HD. It failed at one point during the night, but it pretty much picked back up where it left off when I started it over to the same drive. I still have to figure out some sort of periodic incremental backup method.
    The hard part about leaving Adobe is what to replace it with, as I certainly enjoy the multi-device PC/iphone/ipad access. Accessing/editing/sending any photo with any device anywhere you have a connection is a pretty nice setup.
    Here’s the location of the adobe downloader page and installation file:

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience Dave. I still use Lightroom for some of my works, but it is the Classic version, so the files are already saved to my computer. I do have some photos on Lightroom CC too but nothing important, I would probably download them with the app in case.

      Right now I abandoned all Adobe software except for Photoshop (Affinity Photo still misses a couple of features I need) and Lightroom (I still find it faster for some architectural jobs). If things keep going this way I hope I can be Adobe-free next year.

      Thanks for your comment, have a nice day!

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