Too Many Unanswered Questions Make It Hard For Us To Recommend New Avid Pro Tools Licensing

11-07-2014 07:02 PM

Now the dust has had chance to settle on the upgrade/support plans that Avid announced recently we thought it would be useful to try and take a more considered look at the advantages and disadvantages of them.
It’s A Gamble

The first problem with these plans whichever way you present them they are a gamble. Pro Tools users are being asked to spend $199 or $599 per annum but we have no idea what we are going to get in the way of new features other than the collaboration feature set. This uncertainty has caused a lot of concern as we have seen in the comments to the various stories here covering this ongoing saga as well as threads on the DUC and Avid’s own Facebook page.
However there have been some hints of flexible licensing, in the Licensing FAQ updated on November 3rd 2014 Avid state…
Q: If my Pro Tools | Software upgrade/support plan expires and I want to upgrade Pro Tools later on, what are my options?
A: In 2015 you will have two options to get on a support plan: (1.) Take advantage of flexible licensing options (details on additional licensing options will be available in the coming months), or (2.) Purchase a new perpetual software license with 12-month support plan.
This confirms what we have also been told from several sources inside Avid, that there will be options to license more flexibly and so if might be possible to add surround to Pro Tools vanilla, or VCAs, either temporally or permanently, but this is still all complete speculation, Avid are choosing not to reveal any detail on this.
Avid have now confirmed that the Cloud Collaboration features, that were presented at NAB and IBC as ‘technical previews” will be released into a Pro Tools version before the end of 2015. But again we are lacking detail. For example, will there be additional costs to use the collaboration features? We don’t know, Avid haven’t announced this yet.
Are The Collaboration Features Fit For Purpose?

For Mike, the collaboration features are not top of his list.
In the post production workflows, collaboration rarely features. For evidence of this take a look at the series I edited recently on post production workflows written by people doing it, and there is NO part of any of the workflows that would benefit from the cloud coloration features as Avid have presented them so far. The various post production team members are sent Pro Tools sessions with the original audio recorded on location as a guide and each team member contributes their part. the dialog editor edits the dialog, and identifies any dialog that needs to go for ADR and takes care of that with and ADR specialist. The sound effects editor lays up all the sound effects against the location sound and pictures, the foley artist does the same with the foley, the music editor prepares the music tracks and then they all send their sessions back to the Re-recording mixer who brings them all together in one session and produces the final mix.
However we have had an interesting response to this from John Davis commenting in response to Mike’s comments on podcast 140 regarding this issue..
I think you are all missing the potential benefits of Avid Everywhere for post users. It’s not always the case, as Mike stated, that Dialogue, Fx and Music editors all work in their own sessions and then meet at the mix. I might work with a team of music editors where we all have to synchronise our drives up to three or four times a day. It would be great if during the day we could simply send session updates through a network. Similarly at a mix, one could make a revision to a cue then send the changes to the mixer’s Pro Tools without bringing the entire mix to a halt. I often am receiving cues at the last minute from a music engineer in London or L.A., and it would be great in the morning to open up a Music Stem Print Pro Tools session and see what is updated instead of using WeTransfer or an FTP site to manually bring in the files. A lot of people in post are conservative and would not be interested in a tricky third-party solution to collaboration, but if it is built into Pro Tools I think it will gain faster acceptance.
Music recording and production is a different place for collaboration. Take James for example, he works with clients remotely laying down tracks and sending them to clients using various file sharing platforms. He could do that within Pro Tools if all his clients work on Pro Tools but they don’t. In addition there are already two platform agnostic collaboration platforms out there in Gobbler and Musistic, both hard at work improving their products. Both work with a wide range of DAWs, so I have to ask if there is space in the market for a platform specific collaboration product especially when we don’t know what the pricing structure will be for it.
Mike does think that the archiving feature set will be very useful.
To be able to save a session with and without plug-ins rendered quickly and easily will be a great additional feature. For example I have number of album projects on my backup drives with vocal tracks that were pitch corrected using Soundtoys’ Pitch Doctor. Now Pitch Doctor isn’t available to me as an AAX plug-in, I have now lost all that detailed work because I didn’t think to render processed versions of them and It would have been pretty difficult to do back then too because I couldn’t use an AudioSuite version of the plug-in as I had automation parameters all over the place. I didn’t have off line bounce feature either so I would have to played each track of each album in real time to create rendered versions of those tracks.. Now with Pro Tools 11, offline bounce, and the archiving features that have been demonstrated as part of the new collaboration feature I could have future proofed these projects quickly and easily ending up with a set of files that would not tie me into one platform and one set of plug-ins that might not be around tomorrow.
Furthermore the idea of Avid Everywhere’s collaboration features being groundbreaking is untrue. Take a look at PreSonus Studio One, it features project sharing via their clever track freeze feature, a project system that has a fully backwards compatible mastering workflow for songs in an album, the ExChange for sharing content created with other musicans, as well as their fast growing Nimbit Platform for selling your content online. PreSonus already have an ecosystem up and running that delivers everything that Avid promise for musicians now.
Support Or Upgrade Plan?

Surely one of the mistakes Avid made was to initially market this as primarily a support plan. If they are adamant that they want to go down the subscription model then call it an inclusive upgrade package with a bit of support from us if you need it, rather than a support plan that has some upgrades included in it. It is interesting to see that maybe Avid have realised this as they have started to describe it as an upgrade/support plan.
Avid’s Support Isn’t All Bad?

With Avid pushing the support aspect of these plans, unfortunately as we have seen from the comments, Avid’s existing support has come in for a lot of criticism. The shame of this is that we know some of the people who work in Avid support and we know how far they go to help people in trouble. There are so many untold stories of how Avid support team members have gone way above and beyond the call of duty to help users resolve their problems as well as stories of frustrated users being very rude to the very people who are trying to help them. As Russ says;
I can think of no one else on the planet who loves to help people like Renato at Avid support. He is a true professional and one of the nicest guys you are ever likely to meet, there are other people as well serving at Avid with similar attitude. Sadly there’s such a disconnect between these guys and most people thinking the phrase ‘Avid Support’ being an oxymoron, it leaves one puzzled how Avid got this so wrong. It’s not the people on the coalface but the system that lets so many Pro Tools users down.
On the other hand we are aware that many calls for support are the result of bugs and the answer from the Avid employee has been its a known bug and its in the list of things we need to fix, which unfortunately is not a very satisfactory outcome for the user struggling to be creative and meet client deadlines. Other brands are very agile at fixing bugs very quickly and getting updates out very quickly but they do tend to be the smaller companies, that can respond quickly. Maybe with these new support plans it will be easier to fix and release bug fixes quickly?
Early Adopters Have Been Let Down

The loyal customers who bought into Pro Tools 11 and earlier versions have been penalised by the upgrade/support plan pricing structures. All existing PT11 users will get is the upgrades and support. Users who chose not to upgrade to Pro Tools 11, for whatever reason, will get Pro Tools 11 AND the upgrades with support for the same price, surely that isn’t fair or is it? Mike as a very early adopter says it isn’t all bad…
I have had all the benefits that PT11 has bought for 15 months which anyone you has chosen to wait hasn’t had the benefit of. Those features have enabled me to do jobs that would have taken longer or not been possible within the time available especially offline bounce. That has been a real revenue and reputation boost to me and other early adopters too.
What should Avid have done?

Avid should have done one of two things. They should have either not discounted the upgrade path for legacy users as much, or better still, they could have offered the upgrade/support plans to existing users for say $99 for Pro Tools 11 or $299 for Pro Tools 11HD for the first year. They have responded to criticism in the past on upgrade pricing so lets hope they can be persuaded on this point too.
Is it a subscription or not?

One of the issues that is still causing confusion is if these new plans are a subscription product or not. The simple answer is they are and the aren’t. When you buy one of these plans, they are for 12 months, so from that point of view they are a subscription based product. However at the end of the year you are left with a fully working system running whatever version of Pro Tools that was the current version on the day your subscription expired. Avid are presenting it as a perpetual license. Based on what Avid are saying, your system won’t stop working on the day your subscription expires. it will continue to work but you won’t be eligible for upgrades or for ongoing support.
What happens if I do not renew my support plan?

What is not clear from what Avid have said is how you can get back onto the subscription plan if you allow it to expire. Will there be a penalty? Will that be capped like Waves have with their WUP scheme? Avid need to explain the mechanisms for these eventualities as soon as possible.
The Upgrade/Support Plans Will Suit Some Users?

Mike knows from his time providing 24/7 Pro Tools support for large and small organisations in the broadcast sector that clients like to know what their outgoings are going to be.
The idea of a subscription based service that covers all the upgrades and provides some support as well is a welcome option of these kinds of users. I know that in the past, users working for companies have been unable to upgrade because budgets have been fully allocated and they have had to wait until the next budget period before they could upgrade.
There is no doubt that for some users the idea of a fixed fee per year for all upgrades and some support will be very helpful and will make financial planning much easier, but for others the uncertainty of why they will get in the way of upgrades through the year makes the upgrade/support plans very unattractive.
Should Avid have made these support plans compulsory?

Currently if you don’t sign up to an upgrade/support plan you will not be able to get upgrades and new versions. According to Avid’s information you will no longer be able to upgrade in the traditional way, at a point that suits you, either from a financial point of view or a scheduling perspective. Hopefully with these new upgrade/support plans we will still be able to choose when we upgrade, so we can choose an appropriate point in our schedules to undertake the upgrade to allow enough time to deal with any issues. It has certainly the way Avid have done things so far with update alerts, so all being well that mechanism will continue but we need this clarifying.
Surely it would be better to offer both models simultaneously so we could choose? For some users, for whom a regular contract with a fixed price is more suitable, then they can choose this option and for those who prefer the ad hoc updates, the way it worked until now, can choose that option. With the current offering from Avid everyone will have to sign up to a support plan if you want to be able to upgrade and from our recent poll it would appear 50% of users are unhappy to sign up to a scheme with the uncertainties that currently exist.
Are Avid Between A Rock And A Hard Place?

All of that said, with new developments and making announcements about them, Avid is in a difficult position. Because they are a listed company, if they make detailed announcements about a future product, they have to bring it to market within 3 months of that announcement, which makes it hard for them to be specific about pricing details for the collaboration service for example. But they have to realise that very inability to be clear about future products more than 3 months in advance makes it very difficult for users to sign up to a support plan for 12 months, when we do’t know what we are going to get during that 12 month period.
An Action Plan for Avid

Overall we find it very difficult to recommend to buy into these upgrade/support plans as they currently stand with the information that Avid has released to date. In order to make an informed decision which will affect the next 12 to 15 months using Pro Tools, we need clear answers to these questions….

  • Please explain if will there be additional costs to use the collaboration features? If so, what will they be?
  • Please explain what these undefined flexible licensing arrangements will be with pricing structures?
  • Please explain what will happen if a user allows their upgrade support plan to expire? Will there be a penalty? Will that be capped like Waves have with their WUP scheme?
  • Please consider providing a reward for loyal users that have already bought PT11. How about offering existing PT users the upgrade/support plan for $99 for Pro Tools 11 and $299 for Pro Tools 11HD?
  • The Upgrade/support plans do not suit all users. Please consider making the upgrade/support plans optional rather than compulsory so users can choose which track to use?

Avid, it is over to you….