Photoshop CC pirated already? You're missing the point

Photoshop CC pirated already? You're missing the point

Summary: Adobe's decision to move to the cloud isn't about curbing all piracy. Just some.

TOPICS: Security, Cloud, Software
Remember this, from 1993? My, how times have changed.

I can't say I was surprised to read the giddy headline "Adobe Photoshop CC Has Already Been Pirated In Just One Day" this morning. If we've learned nothing about humanity through the lens of technology, it's this: "If there's a will, there's a way."

When Adobe first decided to move its entire Creative Suite software suite to the cloud, the haters were the first to complain. Our sister site CNET conducted a survey about the sentiment around this move, and participants were defiant: 76 percent said they'd resist the move to the cloud. (This explains a lot about Microsoft's cockroach-like Windows XP operating system, by the way.)

Lifehacker's Adam Dachis was rather bitter about the decision: "We hope to see them at least treat their customers with a little more respect and remove the year-long requirement without an adding cost," he wrote. Less journalistic folk were simply apopleptic.

"TERRIBLE IDEA!" one design director said.

"SUPREMELY terrible," tech pundits UpgradeOrDie added. (No, the irony isn't lost on me, either.) 

"Most Adobe updates add bloat. Now, I *must* pay? Fuck that," web designer Jeff White said in a huff.

Fun, right? You could say this decision went over about as well as when U.S. wireless carriers implemented tiered payment plans. (With that, customers screamed about the loss of unlimited service, even though a majority of them did not use it. It is a nation founded on freedom, I'll give you that.)

The main criticism of Adobe's move to cloud-based software distribution (but not software-as-a-service, to be clear!) is that the company wants to crack down on piracy.

Photofocus' Scott Bourne touched on exactly this in one of the first coherent op-eds published in the wake of the news: "The haters are mad because they realize they can no longer pirate copies of Photoshop," he wrote with striking clarity, adding: "This is the REAL reason for 90 percent of the noise." (Officially, Adobe denies this.)

The truth is that Adobe's move to cloud-based distribution does effectively crack down on some piracy, but not from a technological perspective, rather, an economic one. (The proverbial carrot, instead of the proverbial stick.) With today's desktop-based Suite, you need to spend $700 to use the full version of Photoshop. In Creative Cloud, you can start using it for $20 per month, or $240 per year. The bar for entry is much lower.

In other words, Adobe isn't going to stop the hardcore hacker from pirating its software, even if the company distributes the product from its own servers. But it may provide enough economic incentive for regular people to just pay up.

(As a brief aside: Have you ever stopped to think how strange it is that "Photoshop" has crept into linguistic usage as a word to describe the manipulation of images? In one sense, sure: Adobe dominates the market. In another sense, this is crazy, because the vast majority of regular people who use this term have never used this quite expensive piece of professional software. That's multiples of the price Microsoft levies for its Office suite, and about the average price consumers pay for an entire laptop computer. So you start to wonder: just how many people have come into contact with a pirated version of Photoshop, exactly?)

We can look to Apple and iTunes in this regard: one part of the reason that company made so much inroads in the purchase of media is that it made it seamless; a second part is that it made it cheaper. Instead of $15 for a likely indulgent Kanye West album, I can buy a few songs for $1 each. Instead of a $30 DVD for season one of the U.S. television series Mad Men, I can buy the one or two episodes I missed for $3 each. This vibrant ecosystem has mostly curbed the casual piracy practiced by normal people in the heady days of Napster and its ilk, at the turn of the millennium.

Does a product cost more à la carte? Sure. But this is comparing apples to oranges; there is value in the smaller unit's convenience and accessibility. Sure, some people prefer warehouse-style purchases that emphasize quantity. But for another set, it's the lack of it that is most valuable. Some people will happily pay more for less product. Not everyone wants a gallon of mustard.

(Ever tell a cashier "Keep the change?" because you didn't want to deal with it? At that moment, you are making a decision to pay more for less product. In this case, currency itself.)

By lowering the entry price of its software suite and the unit of value that corresponds to it, Adobe has made its flagship software more accessible to more people in an age when digital media manipulation is more democratic than ever. It's a smart move that expands its potential customer base. It also may be enough to push piracy back to the fringe.

Topics: Security, Cloud, Software

Andrew Nusca

About Andrew Nusca

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

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  • That DOOM comment is silly

    That was one of the more pirated pieces of software in its day too.
    Michael Kelly
    • Yes, that's true.

      But we don't have that problem anymore, do we? (I'll re-word the caption.)
    • Adobe software is overpriced by about 10X

      When you look at the competition's software which does the same thing.
      • There's no competition that does the same thing for some of it

        The GIMP is no Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator kicks CorelDraw butt (never mind the limp Inkscape), and only Scribus is a sophisticated FOSS alternative to anything in CS (though InDesign is still much better.)

        Adobe can charge what it charges precisely for this user. Professionals just don't use anything else (other than Quark, but it costs in the ballpark.)
  • Still a miss

    Yes, I understand that Adobe wants to make a 'carrot' attempt at getting the "less financially endowed" to pony up. However, that doesn't mean that they're going to have the results they're looking for.

    See, pirated copies of Photoshop CC still have value even if they cost money to purchase. The value is the fact that you know that it will consistently work. $20/month for Photoshop means that Photoshop will stop working if you don't pay the bill. This is understandable from Adobe's perspective, but more dangerous ground for the user. The last thing you want when trying to finish up a project is a DRM failure, whether it's intentional (i.e. overdue bill) or not (e.g. authentication failure).

    If Adobe is really gunning for the demographic for whom pirated copies are desirable AND have some semblance of money to throw Adobe's way, then the best thing that they could do is sell older editions at super-deep discounts with zero support beyond the user forums. How many people willing to pay $20/month for Photoshop wouldn't be tempted by a perpetually licensed copy of CS4 for $49? I'm certain that plenty of them are okay with using the "Free" copy of CS2. Sure, it might not be blessed by Adobe to use if you don't have a CS2 purchase slip to show for it, but are you seriously telling me that Adobe couldn't have sent out an e-mail blast to everyone who registered a copy of CS2 and sent out links more discretely instead of letting the whole world download it (and continuing to do so long after the tech press made it known that the download was free)?

    No, the story is this: Adobe wants a guaranteed revenue stream, despite the fact that most of their software had reached maturity and performed 90% of the tasks that 90% of users need 90% of the time when they released CS2 (maybe CS3 for some of the video applications). If Adobe is going to keep making money, they can't adequately do so when most customers are happy with their existing versions. There are only so many features that they can add in order to create incentive.

    The ultimate failure in your logic, Andrew, is this: If it was truly a "carrot and stick" method, then there is NO reason why Adobe couldn't generate installers every April off of whatever happens to exist on Creative Cloud and make annual plastic disc releases that still adhere to the perpetual licensing model. It wouldn't require a metric ton of coding, and Adobe could sell those photoshop upgrades at $299/pop, which conveniently is $50 more than subscribing to it for a year. Adobe has a method of appeasing people like myself who flat out refuse to subscribe to software (a nontrivial number based on the cited survey), Adobe doesn't have to do a metric ton of R&D since the software is already developed, and Adobe keeps the 'carrot' incentive to subscribe to the software since it's ultimately cheaper than buying annual upgrades. Everyone wins.

    The fact that Adobe hasn't done this indicates to me that there's more to it than simply wanting to give users a better bang for their buck, no matter how much the community managers and marketing department try to convince us otherwise.

  • 1982 deja vu all over again

    What is it with all these (ZDNET) bloggers who think global corporations should be treated as nice guys and the general public as pirates?

    The reason behind subscriptions (ADOBE and MSFT) and the public cloud is one and the same: the incumbent corporations want to keep all our money to themselves, just like the music industry before. The problem for INTEL (especially with the arrival of ARM), ADOBE and MSFT ... is that the industry has matured to a level which greatly exceeds a typical customer's requirements. Processors are idle for 99% of their capability and software functionality has reached a sophistication far above routine requirements. Indeed ordinary folk would much prefer a nice package like an iPhone or an iPad to a traditional PC.

    The question for the incumbents then is "How do we keep people paying for things they don't need?"
    Their solution is to imprison your computing facilities in a subscription model and a cloud service. The marketing entrapment goes something like this:
    - you get ALL the features of the ENTIRE SUITE!
    - the price is only a little higher than now but you can pay it in easy instalments
    - you are always up to date with new features
    - your data is secure in the cloud
    - plus BONUSES: specials only available to subscribers!

    It sounds great until you confront reality:
    - if you haven't even scratched the surface of your favourite tool in the suite, when are you going to find the time to master the lot (master ... ADOBE suite - get it?)
    - the price is way too high: if I have Office 2007 or CS4 they will do 95% of what I need. Yeah great, a few new features will improve things but I only want to pay for that 5% or maybe 25% BUT NOT 100% (Nusca makes a good point with the flexibility of purchasing a single track on iTunes ... but fails to notice that ADOBE and MSFT are trying to get you to purchase their entire discography forever!!) The removal of choice is very worrying.
    - new features available immediately: well the reason I can't get them is that the vendor is holding them back, not that I can't install them (and that's more new stuff I can't use probably anyways)!
    - my data is already secure in the cloud
    - BONUSES: more crap I don't need.

    I think we are at the same point as the music industry was with the digitisation of music onto CD's in 1982. Instead of passing on huge cost savings due to technological advances that industry continues to try and maintain its revenue streams without regard to the composers rewards.
    The IT incumbents will attempt exactly the same strategy: replacing PC's with expensive, comparatively feeble devices coupled to expensive, subscription-based, cloud services.
    • I disagree. You forget something

      "the incumbent corporations want to keep all our money to themselves"

      As opposed to you, that wants to keep all your money to yourself? So what's the difference between you and them?

      Here's the thing - people are on tighter budgects, and companies are finding out that it's easier to get someone to pay 20 bucks a month for something as opposed to $399 straight out, now that the supporting ifrastructor is in place. You couldn't do subscriptions to this level 10 years ago, but you can today.

      So to claim it's all about "How do we keep people paying for things they don't need" is BS IMHO. It's about getting people to buy what they need as opposed not buying your product at all, now that you have the ability to offer that.
      William Farrel
      • I didin't forget anything ...

        ... you didn't read what I wrote, which was:
        "I only want to pay for that 5% or maybe 25% BUT NOT 100%"

        " ...companies are finding out that it's easier to get someone to pay 20 bucks a month for something as opposed to $399 straight out, now that the supporting ifrastructor is in place."
        1. I have no objection to ADOBE offering a new payment method PROVIDING IT IS OPTIONAL. If sheep who can't finance their company properly want to pay more in the long run then that's their funeral.
        2. The infrastructure has been there for a long time: CC products, download, install and run just like pre-CC applications.

        "It's about getting people to buy what they need..."
        No it isn't - it is about locking people in to an ecosystem for things they don't need.
        For example I liked LIGHTROOM 4 at £85 here in the UK for my photography. It's basically ACR with library add-ons wrapped up in an appropriate (for photographers) UI. The upgrade price is £59 to LIGHTROOM 5. No way have ADOBE added that much value! And no way can they keep adding that value year after year.
        Subscriptions are this expense and lack of choice on steroids.

        Note it's not the subscription I hate: it's the PRICE and INFLEXIBILITY.
        No way would I have bought PHOTOSHOP at £600 for my crap pictures ... but LIGHTROOM and being able to buy it once off at £85... I'm there.
  • False Equivalency

    Your comparison to iTunes is a false equivalency to what Adobe is doing. You don't have to keep paying that $1 to listen to the song you bought, and if you delete your iTunes, you can keep listening to that song. When you stop paying Adobe, you lose the ability to use Photoshop (and if your images are saved as PSD files, the ability to access your intellectual property).

    This move by Adobe has little or no ties to piracy. It's about getting a steady stream of income that they can count on month after month. It's telling the customers that for only $20 a month, you can get access to instant upgrades, many of which will be bug fixes that the customer should never have to pay for. It's taking away the ability of the customers to decide for themselves whether the next iteration of the software with worthy of their hard-earned dollars.

    You are right, the story of the almost instant piracy of CC is missing the point, but then again, so did you.