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September 2005

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Is This the End of Quark?

by Glen Emerson Morris
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Judging from their Websites, Adobe and Quark are locked in a mortal battle over the digital typesetting market, and both companies claim they're winning the battle. In reality, it's hard to tell which company is winning. Quark is privately held so not much revenue information about their company is available.

How Quark went from the undisputed leader in digital typesetting to a beleaguered adversary is an interesting lesson in how having a virtual monopoly, and basing a marketing strategy on it, can wreck that monopoly in the long run.

There is no denying Quark got off to a spectacular start. They did an excellent job of finding out what typesetters really needed in a typesetting program, and they did a fine job of programming it. In fact it's doubtful that any software company ever did a better job of market research than Quark. Their product was so good it simply didn't have any competition. Unfortunately, Quark shaped their marketing position around this fact, and the rest is history.

My first experience with Quark's unique marketing approach was when I offered to review QuarkXPress for Colorado Media, Agencies and Client News. Tom Mulvey, the magazine's Publisher, even offered to do a feature story on QuarkXPress in addition to my review. In response, Quark sent us an empty box and a 30-day demo. Since it was my policy never to review product demos, that effectively shelved the review, and the feature story.

A few weeks later we heard of another example of the Quark approach to marketing. The publisher of The 12 Step Times had purchased a copy of QuarkXPress and had run into draconian copy protection problems. The install disk for QuarkXPress was programmed to allow three installs only. The 12 Step Times publisher had problems with her new hard drive. Three crashes in one afternoon, and she had to wait for days for Quark to send her a new install disk. The time delay meant she missed her scheduled run with her printer, and as a result she had to pay for a rush job several days later. The additional charges ate up her profit margin for that issue.

These problems were minor compared to what I was to experience later.

In 1997 I worked at Adobe as Product Manager for their first PostScript 3 printer driver release. I gave away dozens of free copies of Adobe products to other companies for compatibility testing, and I received dozens of software applications from other companies in return. That was standard industry practice. However, when I contacted Quark and asked for copies of QuarkXPress for the two dozen plus test engineers to use in compatibility testing, I was informed that Quark had already provided Adobe with three copies, and they considered that enough. In reality, three copies of QuarkXPress would not begin to cover compatibility testing at Adobe considering all the Adobe products that were routinely used with QuarkXPress.

The problem was especially acute with the Chinese, Japanese and Korean (CJK) versions of QuarkXPress. Quark demanded over $1500 for each for these versions of QuarkXPress, and each came in both 68K and PowerPC versions. This meant a total of 6 different versions were needed, and this amounted to over $9,000. As I pointed out to a Quark representative, Adobe marketed CJK fonts in Asia, as well as CJK versions of PageMaker. In effect, Quark was expecting Adobe to pay $9,000 to make sure that QuarkXPress could compete with PageMaker in Asia. Still no deal.

Evidently, I wasn't the only person having problems with Quark. At about that time, Adobe noticed that there were a lot of unhappy QuarkXPress users that wished there was a viable alternative to QuarkXPress. PageMaker, though a good DTP program, lacked the features of QuarkXPress, so Adobe launched development of InDesign.

Initially InDesign lacked the full set of features that QuarkXPress was justly famous for, but over the years that changed. Adobe constantly improved InDesign and in the last few years it's achieved a parity with QuarkXPress. The feature sets of the two may not be identical now, but they are pretty evenly matched, and this fact has not gone unnoticed by Quark.

Quark at last began to behave like it had competition. A new president was named, new features were added and customer service became more friendly. However, for many QuarkXPress users it was too little, too late. Quark began to pay for years of exploiting and alienating its customers. Adobe may have been Quark's biggest competitor, but Quark was its own worst enemy.

While both Quark and Adobe products may be somewhat equal now, their situations are not. Adobe makes several professional DTP products. Quark's only product is QuarkXPress and products closely related to it. Adobe is just fighting for market share, Quark is fighting for its life.

One has to ask how Adobe would react if Quark went under. Would Adobe try to exploit their newly gained monopoly as Quark did? If history is any measure, the answer is no. Adobe has had a virtual monopoly with Photoshop for many years, but its pricing has been reasonable. So has Adobe's pricing for several other industry standard programs.

If Adobe were to go under and its products ceased to be produced, including Photoshop, Illustrator, Acrobat, PostScript and over 1500 fonts, it would be a devastating blow to digital publishing. If Quark were to go under, its users would just switch to InDesign and carry on as always. Sure, there would be a painful transition period, but after that, there would be the benefit of producing printed media with a suite of applications that integrated seamlessly. It's not hard to see who the industry needs most.

It may be to early to predict whether Quark of Adobe will win their marketing war, but one thing is certain. Digital typesetting has finally become a competitive market, and for the first time consumers are winning. Let's hope it stays that way.

Glen Emerson Morris has worked as a technology consultant for Network Associates, Yahoo!, Ariba, WebMD, Inktomi, Adobe, Apple and Radius, and is the developer of the Advertising & Marketing Review Data CD.

Copyright 1994 - 2010 by Glen Emerson Morris All Rights Reserved

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