In our continuing series on the myths of modern recording, we turn to the subject of software subscriptions.
Until recently if you wanted to use software for music and post-production then you would have to head to a store or go online and order it in a box. When the box arrived you would install said software and then use it. Then the world turned a little more and products were made available online, you would buy it, download it and install. This advancement was met with generally widespread approval. Then another change started to appear: No longer did you have to pay up front, you could subscribe to use the software via a monthly or annual payment plan.
Subscriptions for software were not met with general approval, in fact in many cases they have been the subject of thousands of forum and social media comments, many of them negative - for many people software subscriptions are bad.
I Want To Own My Software
The first argument made against software subscription is from those who say that they would prefer to own the software they use. Well here's some bad news - Even before subscriptions appeared you never owned that software. You simply paid for a licence to use it. Yes, you got a box with some kind of installer such as a DVD, or latterly a download with a serial or other protection, but you have NEVER owned the software you use. But, you think to yourself surely I do own it because I can sell it to someone else. Again if you are allowed to sell the software by the company that developed it then you are simply being given permission to transfer the licence you paid for. OK, if you think I'm splitting hairs then what you may mean is that if you need to sell the software then paying for it outright gives you some equity to release cash from if you wish.
The Software Costs More
The second argument for ownership is that by subscribing to software your monthly costs of running a studio are going to increase. Let me counter that argument as a small business owner and talk about cash flow. Cash flow is the lifeblood of every business, it's making sure you have enough cash to pay for all the outgoings. One thing that can really hit cashflow is large purchases and for many years businesses have leased items such as cars, plant and office machines, it helps take the sting out of the large, one-off payment and spread it over a period to ease the cashflow.
I lease the car I use for business for that very reason, it helps me plan the costs I'm going to have each month. It allows me to have things in my business I couldn't afford in one payment. I also do it with software, I signed up for the Adobe Cloud because, for the reasons, I outlined above, for a monthly payment of $9.99 I get to use software that would have cost me hundreds of pounds.
Now you might be thinking that as you don't own a business this has nothing to do with you. However, the same principles apply. I'm guessing some of you reading this have rent to pay for your home, a monthly payment to use something you could not otherwise afford. Imagine you've just paid out for some software, for example, Pro Tools, and it's around $600. Then tomorrow, after paying out that cash, you find you need a new engine for your car or your heating has gone up the fritz - but you no longer have the $600 you had the day before. This is where subscriptions can help both for business and private users.
If you would like to know the relative costs of plug-ins we have a dedicated Audio Plug-in Subscription Calculator.
If you would like to know the relative costs of Pro Tools then check out Buying Pro Tools? Which Is Better, Perpetual License Or Rental Subscription.
If I Stop Paying I Lose Access To My Software
The third point some make is that if they stop paying for the software then it stops working, well in most cases that's true. So just as with anything else in life we need to make sure we have the money to service all of our commitments.
What If There's A Server Error?
The final point I'm going to address is the issue that the software stops working due to a server or other technical issue. Just as I was about to write this article I went to launch my Adobe Cloud suite to find it told me I did not have a valid licence. 2 hours and 3 Adobe morons later (really it was some of the worst support I've ever experienced, I swear at least one of them was a bot) I eventually got back to work. At the time I was furious as I needed to get some urgent work done, I was less than impressed. So bad things happen to all of us. That might happen, but on balance it's only happened once in 2 years, which is about the same likelihood as my computer crashing or my hard drive blowing up - so on a risk/reward ratio, I'll take that risk.
Software Subscriptions Are Bad
I don't agree.
Some software subscription plans are bad, badly costed and badly operated - evaluate each one on its merits and then make a decision. One thing I do want to say here is some plans are designed for businesses not home users and are priced accordingly.
Software plans that don't offer flexibility are also in my opinion, not a good idea, find a vendor who offers you both the option to purchase a licence or subscribe to one, then you decide which way you want to pay. Also find plans that you don't get locked into if you need to have the flexibility of stopping at short notice, or if you think this may happen, try and find a plan that offers a deal with signing up over a period over time.
Choice Has To Be A Good Thing
Like marriages, cars, politicians and everything in life, there are good and bad ones. Writing off the concept of software subscriptions based on a poor one is bad thinking in my opinion.
Vendors that offer subscriptions as one way to pay are offering more choice and in my book, more choice is a good thing.
Are software subscriptions bad? Some are, but some are fantastic value and help more of us to use things we could have only dreamt of owning a few years ago.