Are you a perpetual license user, affected by the end of Lightroom 6? Read this to understand Adobe’s move and what your alternatives are.

Finally, we have clarity around what is going to happen with Lightroom. For a long time, users were speculating about Lightroom 7 and how Adobe would make it available to their users. On October 18, 2017 Adobe announced Lightroom CC and Lightroom Classic CC, and at the same time the end of Lightroom 6. Both new Lightroom versions will be available only via a subscription.

This article analyzes why Adobe made this decision, and what the future looks like for existing Lightroom 6 users with a perpetual license.  I hope R.E.M. (actually one of my favorite bands) and Michael Stipe will forgive me for abusing one of their most famous song titles.

Perpetual Lightroom is no more

One of the key messages of the announcement was what is going to happen with Lightroom 6 (emphasis is mine):

Lightroom 6 is the last standalone version of Lightroom that can be purchased outside of a Creative Cloud membership. There will not be a Lightroom 7 perpetual offering. Lightroom 6 will remain for sale for an undetermined amount of time, but will no longer be updated with camera support or bug fixes after the end of 2017.

I don’t think this message needs further explanation. However, one day after the original announcement, Thom Hogarty (director of product management for all things photography at Adobe) posted some answers to questions about the new Lightroom versions. Among others, he answered the question about why they killed Lightroom 6:

Why did you abandon the Lightroom standalone version?
TH: Customers are overwhelmingly choosing the Creative Cloud Photography plan as the preferred way to get access to Lightroom. We’re aligning our investment with the direction our customers have signaled over the last several years.

Interesting wording, in my opinion. I would really like to see the numbers behind “overwhelmingly” and “over the last several years”. Until I see the numbers, I am not fully convinced.

What Adobe is thinking

Let us try to figure out why Adobe decided to abandon the standalone version of Lightroom. First, let’s see how Adobe is doing after they started forcing encouraging their customers to use the subscription model. For that, let’s take a look at their Q3 FY2017 earnings press release, released on October 19, 2017. Here are some of the highlights from the press release:

Adobe Reports Record Revenue

Adobe achieved record quarterly revenue of $1.84 billion in its third quarter of fiscal year 2017, which represents 26 percent year-over-year revenue growth.

Operating income grew 48 percent and net income grew 55 percent year-over year […].

Impressive numbers, for sure. If you read the whole press release, you can see that most of the net income increase is based on growing subscription numbers.

I found something really interesting when reading the full press release. Their expenses for Sales and Marketing are higher than the combined expenses for Research & Development (R&D) and General & Administrative (G&A). Don’t you think this reveals a lot about Adobe’s market orientation?

Reading some financial analyst comments, they actually like Adobe’s recent move a lot. Basically they say that once Adobe finished moving all their customers into the cloud, it will allow them to increase the subscription prices, and justify it with additional benefits like intelligent cloud-only AI features. And if you look at what happened to Adobe’s stock price after the earnings announcement, the shareholders seem to agree:

Adobe saw a more than 16% increase in their stock price after their Q3 earnings announcement.
Adobe stock price as of October 20, 2017. Image © BigCharts.com

Within two days, the price of Adobe shares increased by more than 16%, from $150 to $175. In terms of market capitalization, this represents an increase of more than 12 billion dollars.

What does this mean for the future?

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Adobe making profit, and I have to admit that Adobe looks very attractive from a shareholder point of view. All I am trying to figure out is where Adobe is heading, and what it will likely mean to us as their existing Lightroom customers.

The 12 billion dollars mentioned above represent expectations of future earnings. This creates a lot of pressure on Adobe, and I am sure they will do their best to keep up with the expectations. In my opinion, this means that they will continue making it harder for people to switch to different products, by doing the following:

  1. Locking users into their cloud. If you have all your pictures in the Adobe cloud, the cost of moving them out and replicate the results off-line will become too high.
  2. Locking users into subscriptions. Once you subscribe, it becomes harder for you to switch. Your software will essentially stop working when the subscription is canceled.

Bluntly speaking, the focus of larger companies like Adobe and Google is where the majority of their users is. Today, that is users of smartphones and tablets. Like it or not, as individuals who like to work on their pictures using a personal computer, we are now part of a shrinking minority. The majority takes pictures with their smartphones, apply some filters and shares the results on social media. This is where we are heading – the 30 seconds per picture workflow. Traditional knowledge about photography is no longer relevant.

Google demonstrated it by killing the Nik collection, which was a highly respected piece of software among photographers. Apple demonstrated it when they killed Aperture. In this regard, Adobe was just following Google and Apple. Now you understand why Adobe is after the cloud and will be offering intelligent AI features – their target group will love it! We are just no longer part of the target group.

What are the alternatives?

I am sure that there are people out there who are fine Adobes approach, and will continue using Adobe software. But personally, I prefer not to be locked into something. Therefore I am looking at alternatives to the new subscription based Lightroom offerings. I also don’t like the idea of software regularly talking to activation servers – what happens if for whatever reason they are not available for a longer time? It is not likely, but what if Adobe goes bankrupt and their activation servers are shut down? Or hacked? Or the target of a DoS attack? Your software will stop working and there is nothing you can do about it. You paid for it, but if it works or not is not fully under your control.

Alternatives from Adobe

Technically it is possible to continue with your existing Lightroom 6 license. But its expiration date is already set. At some point in the future you will run into compatibility issues, or your new camera is not supported. Let’s stop moaning and grumbling and move on.

So, what about the new Adobe offerings? Victoria Bampton (aka The Lightroom Queen) has written an excellent post comparing the features of the new Lightroom CC with the new Lightroom Classic CC, so I will not repeat it here.

The new Lightroom CC is probably not what you are looking for. It is purely cloud-based at this time, and missing essential features compared to LR6, like plugin support. Lightroom Classic CC is probably what you should look at, as it is what LR6 users are expecting in terms of functionality. Honestly, I find the naming scheme for the two new Lightroom versions totally confusing, but that might be part of Adobe’s plan?

Be very careful with your next Lightroom 6 update. There are reports of people who wanted to update their perpetual Lightroom 6 version, and ended up with a trial version of Lightroom Classic CC, and their Lightroom 6 was removed.

On a personal note: based on what I wrote above, I am convinced that even Lightroom Classic CC will disappear at some point. It will likely happen when Lightroom CC has finally caught up with all the features offered today by Lightroom Classic CC. It just does not make sense to have two developer teams work on two versions of Lightroom in parallel.

Other alternatives

It is not that alternatives do not exist, there are actually plenty of them. Please be aware that this article will not provide comparisons between Lightroom and alternatives. There are already very good posts out there where people really took a lot of time to compare software. What I wanted to provide you is a list of what I personally consider an alternative to Lightroom. Be aware that based on how you use Lightroom today, you will probably rule out some programs immediately, because they cannot offer what you need.

All of the software packages listed here are available either as a perpetual license or even as Open Source:

I would be happy to add additional programs to the list, but they should offer features beyond the basics of a pixel editor or raw converter. For this reason, I am not listing Affinity Photo or Gimp. Please leave a comment below so others can benefit as well.

What does the end of Lightroom mean?

Personally, I have not made a decision which software I will use in the future. I will definitely look at some of the alternatives. In the past, I have briefly tried Capture One, Photo RAW and the Luminar Beta, and now I will probably have a deeper look at Capture One and Photo RAW. For me, Luminar relies too much on presets, and this does not fit into my workflow at all.

Honestly, I might end up using two or more programs in combination, to fulfill my needs. In the meantime, I will continue to use Lightroom 6 for my existing pictures and for my newer pictures, I will start working with the new program(s).

Anyway, we have a lot of choices and we should be grateful for that. When the big players leave the playground, it opens up opportunities for the niche players. And I am convinced that one or more of those smaller and more flexible companies is already working on providing the perfect solution for us. As always: if there is change, there will be opportunities. You just have to be a bit flexible and detach yourself from the idea that there is nothing out there that can replace Lightroom. There is, I am sure.