Wednesday, 12 October 2016

No go Zoner

This was originally intended to be a review. Unfortunately it has now turned into a bit of a rant

Sorry about that

For the last few years I have been using Zoner photo studio as my primary  photograph editing tools.

It provides 90% of what I need on one package including a RAW development package (based on Adobe RAW), some good editing tools and best of all for me, access to the NIK Efex collection.

There were weaknesses, but nothing that I could not live without or could not replace with other tools. The biggest weakness was probably it lack of decent layer support, so I was quite excited to see a new version announced, Zoner X, which included layer support.

Zoner have been very good over the years in providing upgrade discounts, and I went to the main page where it suggested I could get the upgrade for $50 (a discount of 50%). Fair enough I thought, for the increased functionality $50 seemed reasonable. I was just about to commit when I noticed something else.

This was not $50 one off payment. This was $50 a year. Zoner had decided to move to a subscription model like Photoshop CC. Also the $50 was only for two years. After that the subscription would increase to the full $96 a year.

Now don't get me wrong I understand the attractions of the subscription model.

The idea is that you pay a monthly fee, and get upgrades for life. The development company get a guaranteed steady income which in theory allows them to plan there releases better.

However subscription for software makes most sense when the software is rapidly evolving or requires expert support. For example Tax software, which requires changes every year, is a great example of where subscription is a good model. An even better example is anti-virus software which is rapidly being modified to meet risks.

With other software the advantages are less clear cut

The best analogy I can come up with is TV rental. When colour TV's came out in the 70's they were mostly rented. The TV's were expensive, the technology were rapidly evolving and improving and their reliability was patchy requiring expert repair and support.

My TV at home at present is about 5 years old. It has shown no sign of breaking down, and has all the feature I want. New features such as 3D TV(remember that) are either feature I have no interest in or things like access via the internet can be extended via 3rd party plug-ins.

Photo editing software is a bit like that. It is harder to make the case that there will be added any significant features onto basically a mature product.

Of course there is always the chance that it will happen. In that case you have to look at the cost differences between purchase and subscription.

The last photoshop you could buy would set you back about £500. (I won't go into whether it was actually worth that much). Add lightroom and you are talking £600. Now at present subscription rates it will take you about 5 years before the subscription cost overtakes what would of been the purchase costs.

So you have to judge that within that period would you have updated your software? If the answer is yes, then you are at least breaking even with the purchase price. Put like that Photoshop is not a terrible deal.

Zoner on the other hand are basically charging the full cost price every year. There is little if any discount and the chances of getting a "must have" feature within that period is greatly reduced.

In truth it seems like the owners of Zoner have looked at Adobe's business model and decided we want some of that. However Adobe are a special case, being by far the  product leader. It is also a high end professional tool. Businesses are generally happy to pay subscriptions. Zoner is not in that league, plus their pricing takes them very close to what it would cost to subscribe to Photoshop CC.

The fact is, when you subscribe to software you are in fact entering a Faustian pact with the software manufacturer

Yes, initially you will get a discount on what you would normally pay out front, but that is eroded as time goes on. If the software producer fails to improve there product rapidly, you may find yourself paying a lot more for features you do not need or basically having the same software you had before but for a much greater cost.

Like all Faustian pacts, it is also important to read the small print.

One clause many forget is that once you stop paying, like a repo man coming for your TV, the software stops working. It does not matter if you have spent thousands on the product, it is not yours and can be electronically yanked back  at any point.

This for me is the kicker about subscription software and it is why I will not be updating my version of Zoner and will looking around to see what non-subscription alternatives there are.

It will be interesting to see how this works out for Zoner. Personally I don't see how they will encourage present users to move to the  subscription model or even get new users at this price point. They would of been better of offering both a subscription and a purchase model. with a price advantage for the former.

The irony is, without this subscription model I would be now handing over the equivalent yearly subscription cost to Zoner. In a years time I would probably be persuaded to do so again., but at least it would of been my choice when I upgraded.

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