Deep in the Digital Doo Doo

Well, Adobe's done it again. They're stirred up a hornet's nest with their Lightroom announcements. Even my teaching partner was in a tizzy yesterday morning and leveled a long phone tirade at me about what Adobe had done. 


First off, I'm certainly not an Adobe apologist. I think they have lots of problems, many of them very frustrating to those of us who use their products. Also, the whole thing about overemphasizing Lightroom CC over Lightroom Classic CC on their Web site just adds to the confusion surrounding their products and inflates the emotions that are playing out among the Lightroom/Photoshop user crowd. 

I was never particularly upset by the switch from perpetual-licensed software to the SaS (software as service) model. When I calculated everything out, the actual costs to me were about the same over time. The one problem I did have, though, was the loss of the use of a full product if I ever got off the subscription mouse wheel. That, I think was a wrong decision by Adobe; it's been a big source of the ill-will towards CC from the beginning.

As I've written before, software is not forever (nor is hardware). I've been through so many word processors and spreadsheet programs and versions in my tech history that I can't count them. I actually think that if CC gives Adobe the steady stream of revenue they need to keep their products up-to-date and keep them getting better, then fine. 

But the sheer number of emails, forum threads, editorials, and yes, even phone calls I've been pointed to or have received about Adobe's latest change is a bit startling. They're full of emotion, anger, and vitriol. And often irrational math. One fellow said he would have paid as much as US$300 for the standalone version Lightroom update, which at current prices is over two-and-a-half years worth of Lightroom+Photoshop under the current CC program. 

Adobe promised in 2013 that the stand-alone version of Lightroom would be around indefinitely. Indefinite, as in an unknown amount of time that is not endless. That turned out to be four years. Less than many of us had hoped, for sure. 

Many are already assuming that Lightroom Classic CC is on the same "indefinite model." Well, sure. All software is usable only for an indefinite time. I see people already guessing there won't be a Lightroom 8 (what Adobe would probably call Photoshop Lightroom Classic CC (2019)). I suppose that's possible, but I think it unlikely, and Adobe's postings on the subject seem to verify that. While we don't know exactly how much revenue the current US$9.99 program bundle of Photoshop and Lightroom generates for Adobe, it has to be considerable. And transitioning photographers to a less-than-Classic version of Lightroom would be terrifically difficult to do, I think. Lightroom CC (the new online-only version) is a very small subset of Lightroom Classic; it has a long way to go before it can even replicate the organization abilities of Classic. A long way. 

As I tell everyone when a big change comes down the pike, that's a good time to look at your entire ecosystem and figure out if it's the best for you. The notion that you only buy your computer, software, and camera once is long gone. For those of you who think it isn't, just freeze your spending and lock down on what you've got. Be happy with all the money you save not trying to keep up.

Adobe's timing isn't great for trying to figure out what to do next, though. None of the true competitors are really quite where they need to be in order to take full advantage of the "Lightroom fiasco" (your words, not mine). 

MacPhun is still a ways away from releasing their Lightroom-compatible digital asset management (DAM) companion to Luminar. On1 Photo RAW 2018 is in beta still, and has nascent Lightroom abilities, but no absolute compatibility, meaning you'll be changing horses. Capture1 has DAM they got from Microsoft, but it's a different thought set, so you're again changing horses. The Affinity folks are still not showing their future DAM product, though they have a near Photoshop equivalent on the market. A product you might not have considered, Apple Photos, is starting to come back into bloom with all the extensions available to it, but is Mac only, still has some issues, and is yet another change of horse. 

Still, it's a good time to rethink your workflow and where and how you use your images. For the time being, my workflow isn't changing, but I'm thinking about how it's likely to change in the not-too-distant future. Personally, I have my fingers crossed for MacPhun, as it seems like the most likely one to appear with near full Lightroom compatibility in the near future, and I've liked and used many of MacPhun's products for some time.

But be careful what you wish for. A lot of people are making economic arguments about Adobe (the US$9.99 a month tithe), but as I've noted recently, asking for US$79 or US$99 a year for updates to get features that start to bring your software up to Lightroom level is a minimum of US$6.60 a month, so there's no free lunch here. Software development is difficult, expensive, and the target is constantly moving. You need to expect to pay for that. 

The funny thing is, back in the days of film, we were paying all the time. Every image we shot had an implied cost to it (processing and sometimes printing). Nothing's really changed. If we want darkroom-like capability, we're still paying for it with digital ;~). 

Finally, here's the other thing that everyone in the photography community keeps forgetting: we're in the minority now. Apple, Google, and yes Adobe, all have been making moves regarding "photography" that cater to a new world where most images are captured with smartphones and shared via Internet services. I've reported how the camera companies are completely botching this turn of events, and as a result, camera sales are down. Way down. 

Let's put that in numbers for you to ponder. In the first quarter global smartphone sales were in the neighborhood of 380 million units. In the first quarter global shipments of dedicated cameras were 5.9 million units by the Japanese companies, so add in units from the non-Japanese and we still don't get to 7 million. Not even 2% of the smartphone unit volume. 

Now do you know why Adobe wants to have mobile (and now desktop) users on that new Lightroom CC? If you were the head of Adobe you'd be trying to rally your troops to the new battlefield, too. Scott Kelby posted a clip from the Adobe Max Keynote that pretty much highlights the pitch Adobe is making with Lightroom CC. It's a powerful point, though for us production photographers it would be costly to try to use that approach solely: we just don't have the bandwidth while shooting to take advantage of that. 

So what's all that mean to Lightroom Classic CC for us dedicated camera types? Unknown. Ask Again Later. 

Seriously. If Adobe's moves yesterday really start an exodus away from Lightroom Classic CC, then the length of time Adobe will continue to move that product forward is likely shortened. If things stay stable for Adobe with the Photography Plan at US$9.99 a month, I think it likely that they'll just continue on as usual with Lightroom Classic as they continue to try to position and improve Lightroom CC against Apple and Google. 

This absolutely means that you can vote with your pocketbook. Just be careful what you wish for. Lightroom Classic CC is the most robust, fully-featured, and well-integrated DAM we currently have. You're not rushing towards better products when you exit the building. At least not until one shows up. 

That's why I noted that the timing is bad for the competitors. They're not quite ready to step in and claim your US$6.60+ a month ;~). 

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