A New Alternative to Software Subscriptions

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Adobe's decision several years ago to move to an all-subscription licensing model sparked loud protests from users, an online petition drive and even a website devoted to Life After Photoshop. Adobe, of course, stuck to its guns, and by last count had signed up 7 million paid subscribers for its various Creative Cloud plans. Since then, Adobe's competitors have touted their "no subscription" pricing as selling points. Now UK-based developer Xara Group Ltd. is trying to offer the best of both worlds.

Xara Grab

The company's most recent graphics programs — Designer Pro X365, Web Designer 365 and Photo & Graphic Designer 365 — are sold under traditional perpetual software licenses. But they include an update service that will deliver new features over the course of the year — hence the "365" label. At the end of the year, you have the option to upgrade to a new version, but if you choose not to, you can keep the software, including the added features.

These are Windows-only programs. Web Designer 365, which sells for $49.99 (or $99.99 for a "premium" version), is a "WYSIWYG" web-design tool similar to Adobe Muse. Photo & Graphic Designer 365, selling for $89.99, combines photo-editing and vector-illustration functions. Designer Pro 365, priced at $299.99, includes all the features in the other programs plus enhanced page-layout capabilities and other extras. I'll be taking a closer look at Designer Pro, but free trial versions of all three are available if you want to see them for yourself.

Life After Photoshop

UK-based photographer Rod Lawton launched this website in 2013 after Adobe moved to its subscription-only model. It's a good source of news, reviews and how-to's about Photoshop alternatives, including Lightroom. It's a side project for Lawton, who oversees reviews of digital photography products for Future Publishing's Digital Camera, Photo Plus, N-Photo, Professional Photography and other magazines.

I asked him (via email) about the controversy over the Creative Cloud and received a rather surprising response:


"There was a strong initial backlash against Adobe's subscription model, but the fact is that the new Photography Plan pricing [US$9.99/month] is extremely competitive. I wasn't keen on the idea at the start, but now I'd be the first to recommend it — though there are still other software applications and vendors that do a better job in certain areas.

"Some rival software publishers have touted their no-subscription pricing as a selling point, and some consumers will probably be swayed by this, but we pay monthly for our cellphone contracts, our premium music subscriptions and a host of other household utility contracts, so it's not as if the world has been infected with a new evil.

"With no-subscription software, you still have to pay to upgrade to the latest version every year or so — a cost that many users overlook — whereas Adobe's subscription model means you never have to pay for an upgrade again. What's more, you get smaller incremental improvements as soon as they happen without having to wait until there are enough to justify a traditional version upgrade."

I've been a Creative Cloud subscriber since 2012, back when it was an optional payment model. But as I wrote in a story for HOW, I thought the opponents made some good points. One fear was that Adobe could arbitrarily raise the subscription price, which hasn't happened. And over time, Adobe has built out the Creative Cloud with many features that transcend the core desktop tools, including Creative Cloud libraries, a family of mobile apps, Typekit fonts, and, most recently, Adobe Stock.

Monotype by Subscription

Monotype is a storied name in the typography world, and after a series of ownership changes and acquisitions, the company has become the dominant player among font vendors. Remember Bitstream, Linotype, and International Typeface Corp.? All are now part of Monotype, giving the company a library of more than 20,000 typefaces.


Now many of those fonts are available through the Monotype Library Subscription. Introduced in January, the service provides access to 2200 font families at a cost of $14.95 per month or $119.99 per year, an incredible bargain when you consider the cost of licensing individual typefaces. You install the fonts through Monotype's SkyFonts app and they're available on your Mac or PC as long as the subscription is current. The deal does not include webfonts.

You can sign up through Fonts.com or MyFonts.com. The latter is a popular e-commerce site that Monotype acquired in 2012 as part of its Bitstream acquisition. MyFonts.com also offer fonts from independent font vendors, but the subscription only includes fonts from Monotype, Bitstream, Linotype, ITC and Ascender.