Google gives away the Nik collection for free. Certainly a fine deal for photographers, but there are consequences you should be aware of.
I guess every photographer using Lightroom or Photoshop did at some point look at the Nik collection, a suite of plugins to cover specific requirements. Initially priced at 499 USD, a single plugin like Silver Efex Pro was more expensive than Lightroom at that time. In March 2013, I reported that after taking over Nik, Google was selling the complete suite for 149 USD and you were able to get it for even less. And a few days ago, Google announced that they are giving away the complete suite for free. You can download your copy on the Nik homepage.
So – why I am posting this under “Commentaries” and not under “News”?
The future of the Nik collection
At first sight, this seems to be good news for us photographers, right? A very capable suite of plugins available for free, there is not a lot to complain about, right?
But then, you might have followed Googles approach of acquiring companies and products for purely strategic reasons. Nik was one of them. The real reason they acquired Nik was Snapseed. Snapseed is a solution to process and enhance your pictures on a mobile phone. And while Snapseed was developed further and further, the Nik collection did not see any major development. Just bug fixes and the addition of Analog Efex (which was probably already in the pipeline when Google acquired Nik).
Google knows that the future of photography are smartphones, and they will continue to focus on that area. So, at some point in the future, the Nik collection will stop working because of an incompatibility with Lightroom, Photoshop or your new operating system. And this will be the end of the story, because Google will no longer provide any support.
The Impact of this move
Reading more about this on the Internet, I came across Thom Hogans’s article Nik Collection Now Free. He did not only analyze the value of each of the modules in the Nik collection, he also spends some thoughts on how this move by Google will affect the other players in the plugin market. And I agree with his assessment – people will go out, download and use the Nik collection.
But in the meantime, other companies like OnOne and Topaz will struggle to fund their development of new features, because users now have a free alternative to a paid product, and it is hard to compete against “free”. As a result, you may see a slow-down in the development of alternatives. Or some of the alternatives may simply disappear from the market.
For me, while I will continue to use the Nik collection, it feels like I am betting on a dead horse. I will actively watch out for alternatives, because when the time comes and my Nik collection stops working, I want to be prepared for it.
Update April 2017
In the meantime, Google has updated their Nik Collection Help page with the following statement:
The Nik Collection is free and compatible with Mac OS X 10.7 through 10.10; Windows Vista, 7, 8; and Adobe Photoshop through CC 2015. We have no plans to update the Collection or add new features over time.
I believe this speaks for itself. Please note that OS X 10.12 and Windows 10 are not mentioned either here or on the Nik Collection Compatibility page. So in fact, by excluding the most recent Mac OS X and Windows versions, they have already stopped providing support today.
Update October 2017
In a surprising move, DxO announced that they have acquired the Nik Collection from Google and that they plan to develop it further, targeting a mid-2018 release. Honestly, I would pay good money for an update of this still awesome software!
Update June 2018
DxO has released the first update to the Nik Collection since the software was acquired from Google. The full version is now available for $49.99 (introduction price, as of July 2018 it will be $69). You can find the download page here and the list of changes here. Probably the biggest change is the support for the latest versions of Windows, OS X, Lightroom and Photoshop.