An explanation of why Clip Studio Paint’s new business model is absolutely necessary

The context of this article is a recent tweet from Clip Studio Paint’s developers, stating that they will now be moving to a subscription model instead of their previous one-time purchase model:

Some artists have been taking them apart in the quote tweets, to put it mildly, and I am writing this article to explain why their anger at this change is not justified.

The only thing I can really criticise on CSP’s end here is that their communication has been rather poor: there’s no acknowledgement of the tough situations some artists are in, and no effort to explain to artists why this change is justified. I don’t think it was necessary to explain that, per se, but it would’ve come across much more sympathetic to acknowledge it at least.

Questions?

For the sake of brevity, and because of all the different tiny details that crop up in this, I have gone over most of the basic points here but have not gone into huge amounts of detail. If you have questions about anything in the article, feel free to ask.

Software is not viable to make in a “buy once, keep forever” model anymore

This has been the case for quite a long time now. Software being on a “buy once keep forever” model worked in the past, when software development costs were lower, and when updates were not expected frequently (and often when prices were very high, e.g. old photoshop versions costed hundreds each).

Today, software costs are high. The only software that regularly works in the old “buy once” model is video games, where you aren’t expected to make many updates to the software — once it’s done, it’s done. Since games have a far wider audience than most other kinds of software, it can be a viable approach sometimes, but even then most games use DLC and microtransactions now to make up for gigantic development costs, especially when releasing e.g. extra content or expansions.

Why it isn’t possible to just charge a higher one-time price

Of course, theoretically, you could just charge the customer once and charge a really high amount. Various older applications did this — largely because internet access and the ease of updating on the fly wasn’t really there. The problem is that most such software — taking Photoshop again as an example — fell victim to the problem that because it was expensive, people would stay on one version for years and years and years.

That means that buying a license to the software would have to be expensive enough to last the company through that many years of new development — the price tag would be so immensely high (think high four or five figures) that you’d either never buy it, or you’d buy one version and keep it forever, compounding the same problem.

This is the same reason why companies are insisting that if you stop your subscription, you can’t use the software anymore. If you could, people would subscribe once every year or two for a month, get the updates, then not sub again for ages; the software could never be maintained this way.

You might think that you would be happy “to pay for X version of a piece of software and stay on it”, but think of it another way: if that was the philosophy, X version would never have existed. The company would’ve stopped at some super early version and you’d be stuck with that forever, because it wouldn’t have been feasible to keep updating it.

It is ironic that some artists are angry about this change

I usually do my best to stand up for artists, minus the horrendous scam of NFTs/crypto. I can’t defend this reaction from some artists, though, no matter how rooted in frustration it may be.

Artists, for years, have been doing their best to get people to understand the value of their work. Commissions are often underpriced and undervalued, commercial companies often pay poor rates, and consumers often misunderstand and underestimate how much time and effort goes into making an illustration or any other kind of artwork. There are plenty of Twitter threads from prominent artists on exactly these topics.

In particular, the price of commissions is often talked about; that some people expect to commission an artwork for free, or for a trivially small sum, or think they should be allowed to get a free redraw of their commission a year later or whatever. None of these are reasonable views, because as artists will point out — it takes a lot of time to make the art, and the artist has to earn a living and be paid fairly for their work.

Is it not, then, greatly ironic for some artists to complain that a software which is constantly developed and maintained can’t simply be bought once and kept forever? Upon what basis is that a logical conclusion? I don’t expect those artists to know the technical side of things, but it would’ve been more reasonable to ask *why* these changes are being made instead of immediately assuming it was for some kind of evil profiteering.

It isn’t as though a software company releases a version of a piece of software, then everybody leaves the office and retires for the rest of their lives. It’s also not as though people would actually be happy to buy one version and stay on it — you won’t find many people still using Photoshop CS1 or earlier versions, or the first versions of CSP. It was only by being able to fund the development of these applications that the versions anyone likes to use today became a reality. The same will be true of future versions in years to come.

Of course, if CSP’s maker starts to make huge profits off of this change, then there will be grounds for complaining that they are overpricing the subscription (cough Adobe cough). That’s quite a separate issue from the mere introduction of a subscription model, though, and is to me relatively unlikely though not impossible. This is because unlike Adobe, CSP does not have a giant market position, and so it cannot get away with overcharging its customers in the same way Adobe can.

Software is too specialised to be as flexible as artists can be in their projects

The title of this section is a bit confusing. What I mean is that in art, you make an illustration, and once it’s done it’s done; you are not expected to provide years of updates, and you can easily start your next artwork from scratch. Even very big digital illustrations don’t often take more than, say, 6–8 weeks.

On the other hand, even relatively small pieces of software often take years of work by several people, who will need to build up a solid foundation of code to start with; this is a very daunting and problematic part of any software project, so building software in a “one and done” manner is not very viable.

What I am saying with this is that unlike an artist, who can easily take many different commissions over time, a software company can’t simply make a piece of software, sell it, then start a brand new piece of software. The initial building time for most software is so high that this simply isn’t viable at all — this is for example one of the reasons why many games use game engines for several releases in a series, because changing it every time is impractical and means you have to build much of what you already did over again.

This means that for many types of software, there is no effective choice but to make software where you plan to continually update and improve it over time — and those updates and improvements cost a huge amount of money.

What about other art apps that don’t have subscription fees?

To put it simply: prepare for them to start.

Paint Tool SAI and Procreate come to mind as examples of art software that don’t have subscription fees, though each one is likely to go down a different path.

If I remember correctly, Paint Tool SAI is developed by one person, who was close to not making Paint Tool SAI v2 due to high levels of piracy of the original version. For one person to set up a subscription service globally isn’t easy (not so much technically, but in terms of payments and legal stuff) — so it may just be the case that there won’t be a SAI v3, but we’ll have to see.

Procreate will definitely move to a subscription model, unless they make it abandonware and stop developing it, which seems unlikely given its huge success. As such, I am certain it will move to a subscription model, but it’s hard to say exactly when that will be (as it depends how much money they are willing to bleed in exchange for a higher number of people dependent on it when they finally switch).

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