Adobe CC and CS price comparison

Continuing the discussion from Andy Astbury's RawTherapee videos.:

This got me thinking and led me to a nice little foray in the Wayback Machine. I guess there are a lot of people with the same sentiment: $9,99/mo is definitely affordable for a lot of people, so it seems a great buy, right? That $699 for Adobe Photoshop CS6 you needed to cough up was quite a hurdle for many amateur artists. And don’t forget you had to buy the upgrades, whereas in CC they are included.

But is Adobe really cheaper now? To investigate, I looked at the historic prices of Adobe Photoshop CS from archived versions of Adobe’s own website. I managed to find all prices back until version 4.0 in 1996. In June 2013 the CC subscription model started, which has always cost $9,99/mo as far as I can tell.
Let’s look at an early adopter, someone who bought the full version of Photoshop 4.0 back in 1996, and always bought the updates whenever a new version came out, and switched to the CC plan immediately and continually up until now. How much did this person spend? And how was the cumulative cost distributed over the years?
I calculated the cumulative cost at yearly intervals (not all years had upgrades to buy) and plotted it in Excel:


In total, this person spent a little less than $4000 since 1997, which averages to about €150 per year. As you see from the graph, the yearly cost has been quite linear over the whole period and did not change much when the CC model was introduced.

I’ll let everyone draw their own conclusions from this, because there are of course other factors at play when you compare CS and CC (for example, I realize you now get two pieces of software for the price of one). On a whole, though, things didn’t seem to have become much cheaper (or more expensive).

If you’re interested, the data is here: Adobe Photoshop Cost.xlsx


And that’s why I spend every month 10,- $ to open source developers.
At the moment I’m supporting:

The ZeMarmot team (@Jehan) for developing GIMP:
Martin Owens (Inkscape)
Tavmjong Bah (SVG standardization, Incscape)

There are more and you should send some money to them.


For people who use it all the time it’s not a bad price. I just hate the idea of subscriptions, it’s about the only thing that’s not gone up in price of late so it’s probably not far off. I had it a bit with the intention of learning PS but didn’t really need it for the things I do or use it often enough. With finding out LR is not all that it wasn’t worth it for me.
That said you’ve got to be careful with the non subscription paid software with new versions being hyped up for new features that turn out to be nothing special.

don’t forget though that you get a heck of a lot of fonts in with that subscription (well when they’re not being discontinued :wink: ) and some of the free stock images — but maybe that’s more of an advantage to graphic designers (me) than pure photographers (i’m a hobbyist). Also with the subscriptions you get regular updates and don’t have to pay anything for increasingly bloated and slower software :). to be honest I use always darktable for my own photos and photoshop for design side. (non-raw)

As a professional, these are just expenses that will be reimbursed on your customers…

The monthly subscription to a service like Netflix, Spotify is no problem for me, it’s purely consumption.

What made me switch to FOSS is that I don’t like the idea being locked in by a vendor.
That my work, my files can be locked in by a vendor when no longer paying.


The problem I have with it is there is no Middle ground. If you use it all the time you get value for money. But if you use it a few days here or there, or weeks on weeks off, it’s poor value. The subscription service would be much better if you paid monthly and could opt out on any given month, but that’s not how it is. You have to pay the full years worth, just in monthly installments.


I addressed this earlier:

  • It has become more expensive in some places outside of America
  • Lock-in dread of losing one’s work and having to constantly export multiple resources

The second point is the worst. The constant worrying and exporting. What if I forget to export or end up not doing it comprehensively? I already had two scares in the workplace, where the licence didn’t renew or sync properly. That results in downtime and confusion. Not worth it, community! But corporate has to do its thing: no FLOSS allowed…


might be time to look at open source - there are apps to provide pretty much most of the same functionality as adobe apps, otherwise if you can’t live without it then you just have to pay. Also serif has a suite that has licensing (not subscription) model that is relatively cheap especially, if you get them on deals. I wonder how much of this subscription model was driven by the piracy problems and how much is just grabbing as much money as they can.

The subscription model has similarities to walled gardens (e.g. Apple). The level of control is great when things are going well. You get the latest updates pushed to you daily. The garden is perfectly maintained and tranquil, until it isn’t; then it becomes a jail cell or cult you can’t easily escape.

Piracy goes two ways. Very often it is actually good for the company because their userbase and clout increases. Many pirates go legit because they see the value of the apps later on. And true pirates will continue to do what they do regardless of the disincentives.

I agree with fonts. You have a good set that is included in the subscription. Templates and stock images, however, are very limited, as well as encumbered by licencing. If I search a keyword under free, I only get 1/2-1 page of results.


Yes, definitely. It’s a no-brainer for many professionals because it’s just a business expense that can be written off, and not a particularly large business expense. But for hobbyists, especially those that are not doing it every day, it just adds up and up. There’s a reason why corporates love the subscription model and it’s not to save consumers money!

I was once a subscriber to the Adobe Photography package. I loved it at first but soon found that it was poor value for a hobbyist like myself. Its proponents will always say what good value it is because you get the industry-leading Photoshop included, but I used Photoshop maybe 3 times over the few years I was a subscriber. So I was essentially paying $15CAD a month for Lightroom, which is only worth it if you make money from your photography in my opinion. There are equally capable and better programs for free or for less money.

I admit, I originally tried out FOSS for the money savings, but I now stay with it for the philosophy and all the other reasons why it’s a nicer model to support than proprietary software.


I’m not using adobe currently. For pure photography, open source seems able to do the vast majority of what you could ever wish to do there. For digital art, when my new machine arrives I will need to explore how to re-create effects using PS filters and layers with open source. Probably not possible in exactly the same way… in which case I will probably get back into that only if I wish to sell.

“Adobe CC and CS price comparison”: What is the price for freedom?

Your graph doesn’t account for someone like me. I started buying Photoshop at #2 and stopped buying Photoshop at CS2 and haven’t regretted it since.

I’m sure there are higher level professionals out there that need the ever new upgrades, but I fail to understand it. Even by around Photoshop 4 to 6 (take your pick) the amount of professional grade tools that Photoshop had to offer was astounding. Sometimes I will even open up Photoshop 6 instead of CS2, if only because it has what I need for that go round and is terribly fast. (And because CS2 doesn’t work as well on Win10 as Pshop6 does!)

Over the past year or so I’ve been using Raw Therapee, if only because it can open up the raw files on the Fuji camera I bought. But my goodness what complication it has and what ill-designed menu system and layout. Of course I can grow into it just like I could with the latest Photoshop. But when one little screwdrive does what you need to do, you don’t need a whole deluxe Swiss Army knife for the job.