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Subscription software, does it benefit me?

Subscription software, does it benefit me?
Mike looks at whether paying for software by subscription benefits the consumer.

 Recently a number of software companies have introduced subscription options to pay for their software. Some of them are even starting to move completely away from a "pay once" model for their major software releases in favour of subscription-only. Internet forums are full of discussions for and against these changes, so I thought I would have a quick look to see what's in it for the consumer.

Why are the software companies moving to subscription?


It is primarily, I think, the latest move in anti-piracy strategy and as such it works very well because the software won't work unless you are logged on to a genuine, in-credit account.

Commercially it makes perfect sense for the software providers. It lessens the uncertainty of seasonal trends in sales and in times of economic downturn, when the frequency of upgrade sales dip, it helps to maintain a consistent cash flow. 

So much for the companies. What's the benefit for me?


For years we have purchased boxed products or downloadable software. We have installed it onto the device of our choice, typically just one device. The box is then put in the loft or the download placed on a storage device. We then use the software for a couple of years before realising that it doesn't work as well as it did or that our friend's newer version does something ours can't. So we replace it with the latest version and the cycle starts again, leaving us with an attic or storage drive full of obsolete software.

When comparing a subscription to the above scenario it's easy to see the benefits of change. Firstly, with a one-off purchase we keep the software for a couple of years but it's out of date in a few months, except for the odd bug fix and patch. So the money we have spent is covering an old product. With a subscription the software is constantly updated with new features as soon as they are developed. 

Typically a subscription service allows you to put the software on more than one device (between two and five is typical). They often also provide mobile software and sync for tablets and smart phones in addition to the licences for desktops and laptops.

Subscription services also tend to bundle extras such as cloud storage, web space, dedicated tutorials, premium support and additional features etc. that are not available to the boxed or downloadable products.

Okay, so it looks like I get more. But I bet it costs more...


That depends on what you're looking for, in some cases yes and others no. You need to also consider how much the extra bits you use would cost on top of the boxed product to make it a fair comparison. Let's take a look at a couple of examples from Microsoft and Adobe. I have given the costs per year assuming that a boxed product would on average be replaced every two years to keep it current.

Office caption


One-off purchase (Office Home and Business 2013)


Includes: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook

Licences: One PC (non-transferrable)

Online storage: 7GB OneDrive

Extras: Web apps

Cost per year: £99.50 (example, pricing may vary elsewhere)

Subscription (Office 365 for Home)


Includes: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher, Access

Licences: Five PCs or Macs, and five mobile devices

Online storage: 27GB for the first user and 20GB each for four additional users

Extras: Web apps, 60 Skype World minutes per month

Cost per year: £95.88 (£7.99 per month)

A quick look at this shows that it is not only cheaper (just!) to buy Office 365 on subscription, but you get considerably more for your money. You can happily cover the whole family at home and on the move with more than enough storage for your documents.

Adobe products

Adobe offers three main subscription packages for individuals: either the complete Creative Cloud suite, individual applications or a photography package. I'll look at the photography package as an example.

The photographic package contains full versions of Photoshop CC and Lightroom. Photoshop CC can't be bought as a boxed product so I have used Photoshop Elements in the comparison.

Boxed Product


Includes: Lightroom 5, Photoshop Elements 12 (in this case bought seperately)

Licences: One PC

Extras: None

Cost per year: £73



Includes: Lighroom 5, Photoshop CC

Licences: Two computers (PC or Mac)

Extras: Full version of Photoshop, sync to Lightroom mobile on iPad or iPhone, 2GB cloud storage, Behance portfolio website, easy access to tutorials, add-ons etc.

Cost per year: £105.36

In this instance it looks cheaper to buy the boxed products (when the boxed products were first released this difference was a lot smaller). However, if you consider that you have 2 licences with the subscription and only 1 with the boxed product you have to at least double the boxed costs to £146 per year in order to compare, making the subscription a lot cheaper. Of course if you don't need two licences it's not cheaper, but how many of us only ever use one computer these days? Not to mention the mobile ability!

So, are you saying it's worth it?


Yes I am. The move to subscription is a major change in how we purchase our software and it can take some getting used to. However, I hope this article shows the benefits, and that it isn't just a benefit to the software companies.

As the Cloud develops and grows the benefits are only going to get better. Adobe has already produced iPad apps that, in conjunction with your subscription, pull the processing and storage to their servers. This allows you to do more complex tasks on a tablet without the need for a high power device and using less of your battery.

Subscriptions give us a lot more for our money, the latest developments as soon as they are released, the ability to spread our costs and by so doing the chance to use software that a few years ago may have been too expensive to consider.


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