Software cheaper in physical form than in soft copy?

Tower, this is bravo, echo, echo...

I enjoy photography. I’m not very good at it but I have lots of fun trying new things with my camera all the time (see above my shot of a bee flying between flowers, for example).

I use Adobe’s excellent Lightroom 3 Beta to manage my photos and to upload them to Flickr where I share them under a Creative Commons license.

Today when I went to purchase a copy of Lightroom I discovered that the cost to buy it for download was ?301.29 whereas to obtain the physical copy (including shipping) was only ?288.84!*

I asked on Twitter how was it possible that the physical copy was cheaper than the downloadable version and Adobe’s Robin Charney replied saying

it’s to do with the VAT rate in Ireland which is where our online store is based

I don’t get that – how is the VAT rate higher for goods which are downloaded, as opposed to physical ones (which have to be burned to disk, boxed and shipped)?

If this is the result of some strange Irish tax law discriminating against non-physical goods, then I doubt Adobe are the only e-tailer suffering from it. Has anyone else noticed purchasing goods online is cheaper for the physical then the soft copies?

*Note these prices were for the Spanish Adobe store. I checked the Irish and UK sites and the physical copies are cheaper there too. Frank Koehntopp informed me via Twitter that this also holds true for Germany, whereas Ann Petteroe said that

In Norway download is cheaper (Flex/LightRoom9 because the download version is without VAT apparently

I’d love to hear more stories like this so we can track down the reasons why and try to make sure that in all cases the downloadable copy is cheaper than the physical one.


  1. Gordon Haff says

    It’s quite common that you can get a retail software package from a distributor like Amazon than you can get it via download straight from the manufacturer. Typically the mfg download is at list price while retailers discount. (This was the case with a copy of iWork I just bought from Amazon in the US.) I don’t know all the background but my understanding is that it boils down to the software vendor not wanting to compete on price with their channel and effectively force their channel to discount whether they wanted to or not. (I haven’t run into this in the US when I’m comparing physical and download on the manufacturer’s site though.)

  2. says

    Maybe the answer is in what Robin told you. If you buy online, the point of sale is Ireland, where a 21% VAT applies. If you order the boxed version, the VAT of the country where they send it to applies (in germany’s case, that’s 19%), so it would have to be 2% more expensive online.

    As strange as the tax reason is (seems we haven’t groked online yet, same for regional limitations w. online video or germany’s latest weird idea about not allowing certain online content to be broadcast before 8pm (???)), the real culprit here is Adobe who saves 90% of the distribution cost (p&p, box, CD, manual, copying and packaging) yet asks the same net price. Why don’t they just give a 10% discount on the download version and STILL make a steal in comparison?

    • says

      Exactly Frank – it makes absolute sense to charge less for a downloadable copy, as opposed to a physical one. The costs are less.

      Adobe should take this further though and charge a lot less for the downloadable version and turn themselves into the good guys – incenting green behaviour from their customers.

    • says

      I didn’t buy it. I can’t buy it as long as they continue to overcharge for the softcopy.

      Will have to go back to see how Aperture pricing works.