In the past I have discussed the very real possibility that we will see significant declines in the amount of software (as well as movies, music, and other electronic media) that is “pirated”, a term used to describe media that is downloaded illegally on the Internet.  While I admitted that this was a very bold statement to make, I attributed my theory to a handful of changes in how we as consumers have been buying and downloading software and media through mechanisms such as Valve’s “Steam” distribution network and Apple’s Mac OS X App Store.  This is because, you see, these methods allow for end-users to download software in a much more convenient fashion; often times with a reduced price because bandwidth is, after all, cheaper than packing mechanisms.

But even with these improvements, there is still one big issue that I believe is preventing software piracy from declining as much as we’d like it to see.  You guessed it.  Price.  Now, I’m not saying that software developers should flat-out drop their prices, because I honestly do respect the amount of work that has to be put into developing, testing, and distributing a quality piece of software.  But with prices for many “popular” software titles going well into the hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars, I can easily see where a consumer would be a bit discouraged to shell out big bucks for a piece of software.

One company that has become notorious for their high software pricing has been Adobe.  Don’t get me wrong; the software that they produce is great, and for someone who uses their software as professionally or frequently it is well worth the notably steep pricing.  However, for day-to-day consumers who only use Adobe applications for infrequent personal use there is definitely an element of shell-shock when looking at Adobe’s pricing.

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Yesterday Adobe introduced a new pricing element that will allow users to “rent” Adobe’s high-end software at monthly price-points.  In theory, this new implementation will allow more users to legally use Adobe’s software without the need to pay hundreds (or thousands) of dollars upfront.

Starting on the low-end of Adobe’s product line, a user could choose to “rent” a copy of Photoshop for $49 per month, or $35 per month if they agreed to a one-year contract.  Likewise, prospective users of Adobe’s pricier “Master Collection”, which includes Photoshop, Flash, Dreamweaver, Acrobat, and a couple of other titles would be able to subscribe on a monthly basis at $195 (or $129 on a one-year contract).  Users who opted to go this route could save up to $1,000 per year compared to buying Adobe’s products and updates traditionally.

When I first heard about this introduction on the part of Adobe, I was really impressed.  Think about it; it sounds great for consumers who want to (legally) use Adobe products without having to shell out the initial investment of purchasing.

But really, the more I think about it the worse it sounds for consumers like you and me.  The reality is that “casual” users (the ones who don’t have the capital or justification to purchase a pricey Adobe product) don’t need the latest and greatest features.  Thus, if a casual user were to purchase a standard Adobe license for a product or suite that they would use, they would easily be able to survive without having to upgrade down the road, as all Adobe products already cover the fundamental features for home users.  The only improvements that newer Adobe versions offer really only apply to professionals who honestly use the latest and greatest in their work.

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So when it boils down to it, this new licensing scheme would do nothing more than lock users into a monthly service agreement where they would be forced to continuously pay for a product that they could have invested in a traditional one-off license for from the get-go.  Sure, the new rental option is a bit more cost-effective in the short-term, but when you really look at it I believe it’s a horrible long-term option for consumers.

Regardless, I think this software “rental” solution is a very interesting concept, and even though it doesn’t make a great deal of sense for Adobe’s product line right now, I’m eager to see the same scheme used with other vendors and consumer applications down the road.

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