Some of you will recall when PC World first opened in the UK. I remember the first time I walked into one of their warehouses of wall-to-wall PCs and associated hardware and software. It felt like a PC lovers heaven. I would stand for hours browsing software titles considering which one to buy. I remember when I went to buy Abobe Pagemaker, the box was the size of a Bible and enticed me with promises of a DTP powerhouse.
Then I would take it home, break the clear seal on the box and open it up to find a nice set of chunky user manuals, these would be read by me from cover-to-cover in bed, on the toilet, in fact wherever I was when I had time to devour the knowledge. Then of course there was the white envelope with some basic terms and conditions that said something like 'as soon as you open this you've agreed to a lot of stuff that you can't go back on' I think even then when it was a few lines few of us read them.
Inside the envelope was a set of floppies or later on CDs, then DVDs. I would carefully take them out, and if they were optical media hold the disks by the edge as not to disturb any of the data - heaven forbid I screwed the install up by damaging one of them. Some installs would take hours, if not half a day.
The box, the manuals, the disks, those were the good old days of buying software. The days when we gave over our cash and we had something we owned, a box we could keep on our shelf, as if a trophy we had collected. I suppose the only reason I kept them was part nostalgia and part security, in case I sold the software on again one day... I rarely did.
As time moved on and the internet gave us faster and faster speeds we started to leave behind the box and the stuff in it to buy our software in download form. It was faster to get, normally easier to install and there were no boxes to keep and no manuals to read on the toilet any longer. Was I the only person who still printed out the PDF to read?
Fast forward to now and the world has turned again. Now we've gone from buying boxes, then buying downloads to a new world order of buying software like we buy cable TV or Time Magazine. Now we have the option to rent it monthly or buy it outright, but for some it seems that this latest advancement in software usage is a bridge too far.
Software subscriptions are not for everyone, let me explain.
Software Rental/Subscriptions - Who Do They Suit Best?
If you are making music for a hobby then using software on subscription may not be the best idea as it's a monthly outgoing that you are unlikely to recover. For you the outright cost may be a better option, buy the licence once and then never have to worry about finding the money again for this version. However for some finding the money in the first place may be hard and you may be tempted to think $700 now or $30 a month? It sounds attractive, but don't confuse renting software with buying it on credit. A subscription arrangement means that you get to use it as long as you pay, like cable TV or a mobile phone. So before you enter into any kind of monthly payment plan you need to ask two questions; how long am I paying for and what happens when I stop paying? Also you need to find out if there are any added benefits from a subscription plan, like support or upgrades and what those benefits are really worth. Ask anyone who has ever worked in an electronics store and they will tell you that support plans is the way to make money fast. In many cases they are never used and so don't represent good value for money. You also need to ask how often updates will come, what they will be and if you really need them.
If you run a business then a subscription may be a good option. I made that choice when Adobe Cloud came along. As part of my business I need Adobe Photoshop, I had the option to buy it or rent it, I felt for cashflow purposes and because Adobe offer free (AND REGULAR) updates, that the low monthly payment was perfect for my business. I've had a great experience using it, I know some haven't, but it worked for me. I don't treat it as something I need to own, but as something I need to use as a tool, so having a box, or a licence I might need to sell one day is not something I need to consider - in fact buying and selling stuff for a business can be a real pain when it comes to accounting for it, so I prefer this way of doing it. I wrote about this in 2013 when asking about the concept of renting Pro Tools. One thing you should do is take advice from your accountant as to the merits for your business both in terms of cashflow and tax.
There are more and more subscription based software applications being offered; be that Pro Tools 12, East West Orchestras or plug-ins. Each one needs to be judged on its own merits to see if it offers good value either for a consumer or a business owner.
One silver lining with the recent and somewhat sparse Pro Tools 12 launch is that if you need a copy of Pro Tools to open a project then for around £20 you can rent the latest version to get a job done. That could be handy for those needing to open a Pro Tools session who don't use it, you could open the session and then either export the AAF/OMF or the audio stems. That's a small but valuable silver lining on the Pro Tools 12 initial release. I will however reiterate what I've said several times before - if you can get a fully working time limited demo of any software you need then do that first.
Even the very idea of using a software application by subscription has made some people very hot under the collar, perhaps it's because they hate the idea of putting out money every month and not having anything to show for it, in the same way that some people think renting a property is not as good as owning it.
Subscription Based Software Applications - Are They All Bad? I'm not sure they are, we have to take each one on merit and ask ourselves if they fit our needs, then decide.
One thing I think is essential is that anyone offering subscription based software applications needs to offer the option to buy a licence too and then let the people decide which one suits them best.