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Wednesday
Nov162011

Wave bye bye to Photoshop

I've been arguing for years that Photoshop is insanely overpriced and as the cost of software has steadily dropped the problem has become more and more pronounced. The app model that the world is clearly moving to has us paying far less for software as cheap simple apps like Pixelmator, Acorn, Fx Photo Studio, Flare, Analog and many others sell for pocket money prices. Even Adobe's own Lightroom makes spending £600+ on Photoshop hard to justify.

Despite this Photoshop has been seen as the defacto photo editing standard for years and for good reason - nothing else can do what Photoshop does. But I teach a lot of photoshop and photography courses and the dirty little secret is that a great many people using Photoshop do so illegally. Why? Because it's way too expensive. Among those that do have legal copies it's very normal for people to be one or two versions out of date.

Cue the recent announcement from Adobe's David Wadhwani that to qualify for Photoshop upgrade pricing you'll need to be on the previous version. So you'll need to own CS5 to qualify for an upgrade price to CS6. As far as I'm concerned that's putting a gun to Photoshop's head and pulling the trigger.

Until now you've been able to upgrade Photoshop from any of the 3 previous versions. Many of the people I teach who own Photoshop rely on this and upgrade every second or third version - particularly because each product version tends to add comparatively little that's compelling to the feature set.

Adobe's answer is that you can subscribe to Adobe Creative Cloud which gives you access to all their creative suite apps plus some other products and services that you didn't know you needed, all for the low low price of $49.99 per month. Yes month. And here in the UK that'll probably £55 per month if Adobe's previous over seas pricing is anything to go by. Well it's the wrong side of the line for me. It's just too much and I won't pay it. I don't like software subscription services at the best of times but this is extortionate. And I'm pretty sure most of the people I teach would just laugh at the price.

Adobe seems to be moving in completely the wrong direction here. They should be giving those huge number of pirate users out there a way to go legal and stay legal. Everyone else seems to have figured out that if you make your software cheaper then you make more money. But Adobe is so caught up in corporate sales that consumers are being priced out of the market.

Time for some video reviews of affordable Photoshop alternatives.

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Reader Comments (19)

I know, it's ridiculous. Especially when you consider that something like Paintshop Pro (PSP) can do many, if not most, things that PS can for less than a tenth of the price. In some ways, PSP is more user friendly than PS.

Then there is the GIMP. Maybe a little unrefined in some ways and occasionally a little buggy, but still very powerful. And best of all, it's free.

November 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Mills

That's appalling news. What makes Adobe think that these measures will get them a bigger sliver of the market or maintain their popularity? As far as I'm concerned, this is avenue and a calling for other design software producers to get a slice of the cake! Personally there are so many other apps down there that could do a good job. To be fair to Adobe, Photoshop has left it's legacy and has made it integral in context of all-in-one.

November 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMehul

$50 a month? Yikes! Didn't even know they offered a subscription service.

November 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNathan

It doesn't get much more affordable than free - as raw convertors go, I use RawTherapee instead of ACR (more configurable and far better results); for organization, I could happily switch to digiKam. Both are available on Linux, Mac and Windows, free and open-source.

November 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTim

Well said all of you. I will look again at GiMP and PSP. I used PSP years ago actually. Thanks Tim for your suggestions for raw converters too. Mehul, I agree. I think there's never been a better time for a good Photoshop alternative to be launched. Nathan - the subscription options are quite new.

November 16, 2011 | Registered CommenterJohn Arnold

I have always felt that photoshop is overpriced.

However, you're argument that you don't like subscription software and that their monthly price is too much sounds weak if not unsupportable. If you follow software or computing trends, you would see that cloud computing certainly is the future - it allows for many enhancements of the software, especially when working in internet environments. In fact, $50 a month x 12 = $600, which is still cheaper than the entire creative suite. I think it makes sense that adobe is more concerned with corporate money than consumers. I also wonder how much money you make off projects you use Photoshop for? Anyways, adobe cloud is still in beta, so this is all speculative...

When Adobe really starts running out of enhancements it will be much harder for them to justify a price increase, or charge a price at all. Just look at what has happened with MS Office and Google Docs...There will continue to be better alternatives, but if you want the best, most powerful software, it's naive to think you could/should get it without paying a premium.

November 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNm

There is a program around for Windows and MacOSX for YEARS now which is hardly noticed.. which is an absolute shame.

Its name is "Photoline".. it's around since ancient times (Atari ST for those of you who still remember..), it comes in 32 and 64 bit, is VERY reasonable priced and has tons of features..

Layers, laber masks (even MULTIPLE per layer), vector graphics, 16/32Bit color handling, Lab-Handling (!), all the tools you normally crave for, etc. etc. ...

Yes, it doesn't look pretty, it looks more like a program of old window 2000 times... the website itself looks very, very dated.

But believe me, it IS powerful.. hell, it even loads quite a bunch of PSD-files (of course it's not fully compatible), even some Photoshop-Plugins work.

November 16, 2011 | Unregistered Commentertoooldtobetrue

Art school grad here. My hypothesis has always been on some level Adobe condones piracy of Creative Suite. All those memes, photo threads, crappy flyers for the school bake sale, etc. are all Photoshop jobs. Get em hooked young, keep it a defacto standard. Then kids go to school and want to get even better at it, and who would consider an alternative when at 18 you already have many years vested in that app?

Those folks eventually enter the workplace...rape corporate customers for volume licensing.

I always thought that selling single copies to individuals or freelancers was never a priority. I have no data to back this up of course but I would imagine the corporate market dwarfs individual sales.

November 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSean

I think this article is completely off the mark here. Adobe knows who it's real customers are, the many, MANY legitimate business owners who pay (and will continue to pay) for the top-shelf software and business solutions that Adobe continues to churn out again and again. They could care less that their products are pirated by probably the majority of it's users, when they have built an empire selling to those customers who want the best there is to offer. No simple "app" is going to compare to what Photoshop can do for the people like me who run a busy studio; much less those companies that have far greater needs for the best quality and turn-around. And I'm sorry but even the best freeware programs have very little to offer when you compare them to the myriad of products that Adobe has but together with it's Creative Suite line. There's always going to be a cheaper or simpler solution for the majority of users, via pirating, freeware, less expensive alternatives...but Adobe isn't worried about those any more than a top-shelf vodka company is worried about a swill-selling bootlegger. They'll always have a market, and a very lucrative one at that.

November 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRuss

Russ - you're right that Photoshop is the right tool for the job of a professional studio. But you're seeing this from the point of view of that kind of customer - that's a business customer and as I said in my article Adobe courts customers like you to the detriment of consumer non-business customers. Like it or not there are *many* consumers who want to use Photoshop but can't afford it. I teach those people every day.

Sean - I'd agree with you except for the insanely draconian DRM they ship with Photoshop. The whole online activation thing and the boot sector anti-piracy tells me that they're really pissed about piracy.

Oliver - thanks for the tip about Photoline. I'll check it out.

Nm - I agree that Software as a service is a growing and desirable trend. I just think that in this case they've got the pricing wrong. Most consumer users don't want or need the complete creative suite. They just want Photoshop. They'll never use InDesign or Premiere or After Effects or Illustrator and certainly not any of the online services. I'm completely behind software subscription if the price is right. In this case it's very far from right. I would consider £10/month.

November 17, 2011 | Registered CommenterJohn Arnold

Big true. I was working in a very big Greek private company - Corporation. She also used a pirate copy of PhotoShop. I had no other choice. I was on a salary of 800 Euros back in 2005, and of course, i could no way buy my self a legal copy. BUT the funny thing is that the company i worked for, DIDNT EITHER PURCHASED A LEGAL COPY OF ADOBE PHOTOSHOP !!!!!! Even if the company earned OVER 3 million Euros PER DAY !!!! That is the part of Piracy that Adobe Should go after. This Company HAD NEVER BOUGHT LICENCE for Adobe PhotoShop 5-6-7, Macromedia Dreamweaver 4-5, Corel Draw 9-10-11 but the only licences she ever bought was Microsoft Windows licences for every PC and SOME (not all) licences for Microsoft Office 2003.
The Company is very well known, international Corporation. INTRALOT International of Socrates Kokkalis. The head of Greek corruption.
Adobe should prosecute them and make them pay not one licence but 1 billion Euros. He has earned many billion Euros from his companies.
Because for a corporation than earns 3 million Euros NETTO income PER DAY, one licence is like 0,5 Euros for me.
And of course if my salary was 800 Euros, i would surely have bought a licence if i had to pay 1 or 5 or 10 Euros. But i cant pay the prices of Adobe PhotoShop. I mean take the money you need to continue producing such amazing tools from Corporations only. We the simple employees of 800 and 1000 Euros CANNOT AFFORD TO BUY LICENCES, we are forced to go pirate or loose our jobs. Think about it Adobe.

November 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAAA

In New Zealand upgrading via USA Adobe store sends us to Adobe Australia where u have to pay NZ$300 plus.
Adobe USA sell it for equivalent of NZ$220. But we can't download from the USA.
I have moved on to Lightroom and PSCS3 is more than adequate for designing web graphics.
Clever dicks at Adobe have shot themselves in the foot, they need to get real.

November 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlan Hough

I really love Gimp, not only because I also like Linux and do most of my photography workflow on Linux. I have self-taught me even a few of Gimp's scripting capabilities, which is a bit complex but great when you start to notice that you often do very similar things on a lot of images. (And combine that with Linux/Unix shell scripting!) But also knowing Gimp's main limitation, which is that it is still limited to 8bit colour depth, even after so many years of development, only some of the internal processing is done in 16/32bit. As a consequence, I am aware of needing to do the image developing with curves, constrast, saturation, etc. in RawTherapee / Darktable really well, and do in Gimp only operations that do not hurt the 8bit colourspace too much, like e.g. cloning and minor shading.
I once wanted to do 16bit image editing and bought me the 99€ Photoshop Essentials for that purpose. It was indeed able to load 16bit images. But whenever I wanted to use an actual editing tool on them, it forced me to convert the picture to 8bit. Complete fail! I have been offered illegal copies of Photoshop CS by a few people but have always refused, and will always refuse again.
Once you manage to get into Gimp a little bit, it is not even difficult to follow instructions for a certain picture style that have been created (as text or as video) for Photoshop: Most PS functionality exists in Gimp, too, and the only difference is that it would be found under a different name (layer mode names are a good example for that). There is only very few of the PS image operations that are truly missing in Gimp, and some of them can be added in by some existing plugin or script.

It would be my dream if Adobe makes the use of PS so unattractive to the average user (and I would not mind to those pirates, too, please improve the copy protection!!) that Gimp would attract a lot of new users, and since Gimp is an open source project, if only some of them have the capability and interest to join into developing the Gimp base and features, there could be a rush to make Gimp the best image tool ever. :-)
Or maybe to start / go with other interesting projects. Just to get away from the apparent expectation that just because you deal with photos you would have to be a Photoshop user. Because there is truly no need for that, and several other alternatives have already been mentioned in other comments.

November 17, 2011 | Unregistered Commenter1aB

It Is time to take another look at the GIMP. It is being improved constantly and there is nothing I have not been able to do with it yet.

A different interface does not have to be the end of the world, besides think of the savings you would rather invest in camera equipment!

November 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKenP

I agree and I will take another look at GiMP but to be honest I'm disappointed to learn that it's not 16-bit. I thought at least they' d have that right.

November 18, 2011 | Registered CommenterJohn Arnold

John,

I don't know about the persons you're teaching to, but I noticed 2 things about the persons around me complaining about Photoshop being too expensive:

1) They are usually super extra bad at Photoshop. They don't even really want to learn. They just feel like "more pro" or something simply by using it, or by being able to tell they are using it. In such case, I really don't see the point: it's a bit like complaining about the fact Ferrari's are really overpriced, while barely having a driving license. It's a professional tool, and as such, you need to be able to justify the expense. It's not supposed to be for everyone. If Lightroom offers everything you need at a much cheaper price, then of course, there is not need to buy Photoshop. If you need more editing power, then try and compare all the software you want and make your choice: I personally didn't find anything that would suit me better than Photoshop.

2) At the same time, they spent insane amount of money on camera and lenses. They don't see the least problem to pay 1-2K$ on a single lens, they feel like it's worth it, and that it makes their photos better. Well, I know for one that I'm using quite extensively Photoshop (on every single of my images), and I simply see it as one of my lenses. From that point of view, Photoshop is quite cheap: I use it a lot, I can do stuff with it that would not be possible with anything else (or with much greater difficulty), and it's not even as expensive as my average lens. I think many persons just don't accept the fact software, that is not made out of hard matter as opposed to photo gear, can have a cost. It's just a file that you can download, why bother paying for that, right? Then someone steals one of their photos and use them for an ad or something, and their point of view on that subject becomes quite different...

November 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChristophe Kiciak

Hey Christophe. You know I have huge respect for your opinion - your photoshop work is superb. But I'm afraid I can't agree with you about the value of Photoshop being equivalent to that of a lens. A good lens can last for decades and once you own it there's nothing more to pay. But Photoshop isn't likely to be useful to a professional photographer for more than 5 years at the most without having to upgrade and spend more money. Adobe only add support for new cameras to Adobe Camera RAW in the latest versions and any photographer upgrading to a new camera body will likely need to upgrade to the latest Photoshop in order to process the files. In addition a lens holds its value very well and can be sold to raise money for new equipment. Photoshop versions lose value quickly because there are new versions coming out and the online activation system makes it risky to buy a used copy of Photoshop. Adobe don't want customers selling on their used copies of Photoshop.

A lot of your argument is centred on Photoshop being the best and I agree that it is but that doesn't mean it has to be punishingly expensive. I'm not asking for it to come down to £50 - though that would be nice. I'm complaining about the price going up - because we'll be forced to buy updates more often. In fact, given that it *is* so expensive I expect a high level of customer service from Adobe. And this new upgrade policy is absolutely appalling customer service. Adobe's response is to offer an online subscription service that forces me to buy a bunch of other products that I don't want or need at a cost that is also way above what I can afford.

I really think Adobe are shooting themselves in the foot here. They're hurting their own business and they're hurting mine in the process.

November 29, 2011 | Registered CommenterJohn Arnold

There is one reason why people will always pirate Adobe software... price...

£605 is almost a months wages, if not more for some people, and so completely unaffordable... after paying all the bills, taxes etc, you lucky if yo have £50 a month to spend on luxuries. Which if you have a partner (and kids) doesn't last 5 minutes.

If Adobe really want to get companies buying their software (they are the only ones who can afford it) they should give it away for free to home users/students, etc. and foster a feeling of loyalty to themselves. At the moment all those students who pirate it end up resenting Adobe so when they start working they think nothing of ripping them off.

And no Elements is not a suitable home product. By giving it away to home/student users they will increase their sales not lose them... Look at 3D Studio Max, they have done this and I've recommended their software to loads of people to buy...

February 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTickleOnTheTum

GIMP has been my go-to photo editing software since I started editing digital photos. I have never felt the need to move to Photoshop. I am sure even if I were a professional photographer, there would be sufficient plugins to do most of the stuff. I believe Photoshop became the "de facto" because of their aggressive marketing to professionals. GIMP being free and open-source relies of word of mouth promotion, so to say. In a world dominated by Photoshop, the fact that GIMP can stand its own proves its mettle more than anything else!

May 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKenP

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