Why does the creative software industry keep excluding young professionals?

Software companies are moving more and more towards a subscription based model, which is making life difficult for freelancers and young professionals.

For a few years now, Adobe Creative Cloud software (Photoshop, InDesign and others) has been subscription based. No longer do you get to actually own the software, but rather you pay a monthly fee or annual fee to keep using the software. And while cloud based Microsoft Office 365 has been around since 2011, in 2017 it overtook traditional licensing sales.

But what does that actually mean, especially for freelancers and new businesses starting out? Well, let’s look at some of the pricing options. The most popular bundle, which include all applications but not Adobe stock, comes in at £50 a month, or £603 a year. For software that you essentially rent. While the old software bundle was hardly cheap, (around £2500) at least you owned that software, and weren’t subjected to loss of features in updates, like the loss of the Digital Folio builder used to create digital magazines in between InDesign 2014 and 2015, for example.

British users get especially screwed over, as the price is the same in pounds as it is in dollars — meaning that Americans essentially pay £150 less a year for the same software (thanks Brexit).

22-year-old freelance graphic designer James Reay knows well the struggles of paying Adobe software.

“Subscription based services are a mixed bag in my opinion. I subscribe to Adobe to get the programs to allow me to do my job. This is at a substantially lower immediate cost, as previously it was a £500+ upfront for one of the software but now I get all of them for roughly £30 a month.” He said. But while they might be cheaper in the short run, there are many issues with subscription services.

“The thing that infuriates me about this is the lack of ownership.” James said. “There isn’t a cut off point at which you own the software at the end of the day. Over a lifetime as a member of the graphic design industry you will be paying a great deal more to Adobe than that initial lump sum of the up front system.”

“The thing that infuriates me about this is the lack of ownership.”

So why have so many companies moved over to the subscription model? I spoke to tech wizard and computer builder Nick Barker.

“I’d say that it boils down to a mixture of money, permanence, and accessibility.” Nick said. “Money is obvious; most software is very expensive, permanence is because a lot of software is linked to a specific OS so if you need to change or upgrade for any reason, re-using said software then becomes piracy, most product keys or licences are for a single use, when its gone its gone.”

It’s not even as if the software is necessarily expensive to make, as Nick pointed out. “It’s both a stupid argument and a null point when 99.6% of the internet runs on volunteer maintained systems, Apache runs nearly 90% of all internet server databases, including Amazon.”

But, why is the software so expensive in the first place? Obviously software companies need to make a profit, and while there are a few alternatives to say, the Adobe Creative Cloud, for instance, they lack the versatility that professionals and freelancers require.

Not only that, but many people aren’t fully computer literate, or simply don’t have the time to invest in finding their own software, they go for the most popular and accessible version.

It’s why people buy ready-made computers instead of building one for less than half the price, or simply pay for the first and easily accessible software.” Nick explained.

“GNU open licensing being community or individual maintained means sifting through many similar iterations of the same product, for instance I have 5 programs for viewing and editing PDFs, rather than paying for Adobe.”

“I have the same functionality, just more effort and understanding is required, but given a lot of younger people have that understanding, more and more are going to find alternatives, torrenting is the rise for instance — why pay for a some software you might not like or use when you can get a cracked version for free that is forever yours and can be moved between systems?”

It’s also why piracy is popular, and why some, like CEO of Valve Gaming and creator of gaming platform Steam Gabe Newell, are trying to combat the awkward, pay wall and region locked software.

Gabe Newell, CEO of Valve
“Piracy is almost always a service problem and not a pricing problem.” He said in an interview with The Cambridge Student. “For example, if a pirate offers a product anywhere in the world, 24 x 7, purchasable from the convenience of your personal computer, and the legal provider says the product is region-locked, will come to your country 3 months after the US release, and can only be purchased at a brick and mortar store, then the pirate’s service is more valuable. Most DRM (Digital Rights Management) solutions diminish the value of the product by either directly restricting a customers use or by creating uncertainty.”

But while Newell and others are trying to change the system, people are still willing to pay subscriptions because it’s easier than trying to find alternatives. Not only that, but a quick look at job adverts for those in the creative industry shows that thorough knowledge of both Adobe and Office are not only industry standards, but minimum requirements.

And it’s a system that’s hugely biased towards freelancers and young professionals. James pointed out a few of the flaws.

“I’m not happy with the subscription system, but do I have an option not to pay for it and not be up to date with the industry software?” (The answer if a resounding no, in case you’re wondering.)

“[Adobe] acquired a monopoly, and suddenly everyone is expected to use it, so why move over to something else?” Nick said. “The same goes for other things too, Origin have a monopoly on EA games and Ubisoft have one with Uplay. Microsoft have the home PC market as well.”

But that doesn’t mean the system can’t change. In fact, all it could take is one act. “All it takes is one large company to say we don’t feel like paying a huge amount for something we can get for free and the monopoly vanishes.” Nick said. “Other than that, continue to use, support and push for open source and eventually expensive software loses its viability,”

If you liked this article, you can read more like it in Issue One and Two

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