Adobe’s $10-per-Month Photoshop Subscription Warrants a Cautious High Five

The new Photoshop Photography Program offers a 50% single-app discount -- and perks besides -- to Photoshop CC holdouts.

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In May, Adobe upended its business model and upset broad swathes of its install base by shifting, full steam ahead, to a subscription-only model for its creative suite of tools, including Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign. That subscription model had been around since 2011, but it was optional: Until this spring, Adobe still offered a boxed product you could pay for up front and use as long as you liked.

Adobe’s design tools have never been downmarket price-wise, but users accustomed to working with just one of those tools — Photoshop, say, but not, Illustrator; or Audition but not Premiere Pro — were able to work around paying the full suite pricing by purchasing a la carte, even if they paid more on a per-product basis (it’s always been cheaper to pay the suite price if you use everything it offers and keep up with upgrades). My brother, who occasionally does audio engineering work and who was using Audition before Adobe snatched it from Syntrillium (where it was known as Cool Edit Pro) a decade ago, was mortified to learn that in order to have access to the latest version of just that one program, he’d have to pay for all the others in perpetuity.

Audition CS6 standalone, the last boxed version, cost $349 full price (the upgrade pricing ranged from $75 to $149, version depending, and there was no educational pricing — Adobe yanked it from most of its products last year). By comparison, an Audition subscription, pre-Creative Cloud, ran $19.95 a month if you signed up for a year, or $29.95 a month if you went month-to-month. Assuming you signed up for the annual package, you’d pay about $240 a year. But that’s fairly steep for a single piece of software that only went through six version transitions in 10 years.

Thus Creative Cloud, which for a few dollars more if you already owned a version of Creative Suite, let you have access to virtually everything Adobe makes for $29.99 a month, or about $360 a year. If you weren’t already a Creative Suite owner, the monthly fee leapt to $49.99, or $600 a year, and the 40% discount for prior Creative Suite owners disappears after December 3, 2013.

But any way you run those numbers, you wind up paying more on balance than you would have under Adobe’s boxed product pricing plans (assuming you were keeping up with upgrades, anyway, and note I’m talking about upgrade pricing, not full pricing, where in at least some instances Creative Cloud comes off looking a little more attractive). Whether you feel like the value’s offset any by the extras Adobe packs into Creative Cloud — instant upgrades, saving to the cloud, enhanced sharing and so forth — depends on how much you value such things.

Niche products like Audition aside, Adobe’s most popular tool remains Photoshop. When Adobe tried to drag Photoshop users into its subscription model, including me, many balked (including me). I chose to respectfully part ways with the company and shifted to Pixelmator, a prosumer photo-tweaking tool (albeit Mac-only) that sells for $14.99 on the Mac App Store.

Yesterday, during its keynote at Photoshop World in Las Vegas, Adobe attempted to ameliorate some of that photography-specific backlash, unveiling something it’s dubbed a Photoshop Photography Program, aimed at Photoshoppers who don’t need the Creative Cloud smorgasbord, and who weren’t persuaded by the single-app pricing options introduced last month.

With PPP, if you own any version of Photoshop from CS3 forward, you pay just $9.99 a month to access Photoshop CC, Lightroom 5, Behance ProSite membership (an online pro-photo showcase tool) and 20GB of cloud storage. You have to sign up by December 31, 2013 to get that price, but if you do, Adobe says that’s what you’ll pay going forward, with no post-introductory hikes down the road.

Is $120 a year low enough to pry open your wallet? It’s still about $100 too expensive for mine, but then I’m not even a proper amateur photographer (my idea of professional camera work involves buying a high-end point-and-shoot and leaving the settings dial on “auto”). I use Pixelmator to resize, transform, or touch up photos for work or when I’m scanning in CD booklet info for my music collection, and that’s about it. I’ve never used but a fraction of what a professional tool like Photoshop offers.

How much will Adobe’s PPP run after the offer date passes? Adobe isn’t saying, but it seems logical to assume it’ll climb back to Adobe’s standard single-app Creative Cloud $29.99 per month pricing.