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Quark is a company that helped revolutionize Desktop publishing. But they should be a verb for how to fuck-up your business. They went from 95% market share in desktop publishing (thought the 1980's and 1990), to 25 percent within a few years after Adobe InDesign was released. And InDesign was released with fewer features, not to mention conversion costs. Why would 3 out of 4 customers pay money and time to convert? The answer is simple: they outsources their development to India, had some of the worst support in the industry, had the most annoying copy-protection (DRM / Digital Rights Management) that made it expensive/annoying to use/maintain/upgrade their programs -- and they basically pissed their customers off, that they would have paid more to get less, just to get out from under their thumb.

Anatomy of a failure

There were multiple stages or disillusionment, and Adobe targeted and timed well. But some highlights include:

  • Early 1990's - Quark ran pretty well in the early 1990's, Adobe had acquired PageMaker early -- and they had different metaphors. PageMaker used techniques and tools that old newspapermen did -- you laid out a column width, and just kept trimming the length and moving the rest of the copy it to the top of next column (or wherever it flowed in the document). Quark (and it's competitors like ReadySetGo: the first desktop publishing App), used a computer centric metaphor, where you laid out on the page columns first, and then just poured the text into the format. While the PageMaker stripping metaphor was better for old-schoolers, the more document/template centric one was better for new users and power users. So Adobe bought their PageMaker product (from Aldus)... and let it decay from 50% marketshare down to non-existent, while Quark was out innovating them, and PageMaker was starving for need of a reboot.
  • Mid 1990's - Quark decided they could save money by firing all their expensive U.S. and Canadian developers that knew the industry and code, and outsource to India to save money using technical staff that didn't know the Desktop Publishing industry, or the Mac. Updates slowed, innovation evaporated, and the quality of the updates went into the toilet. In the meantime, Adobe (Aldus) was working hard on a complete rewrite of PageMaker, in fact, it was so different, it was a different Application altogether: called InDeign. It hit the market in 1999, and while 1.0 was a little shakey, a newer code base (and it was entirely new) let them innovate much faster, and this had the same metaphor as Quark -- and they had a keyboard shortcut emulation mode, so that people familiar with QuarkXpress, could use many of the shortcuts and power tricks on InDesign with far less retraining and disruption.
  • 2002 - Quark 5 is released, over a year after Apple's OS X was released -- but Quark didn't support it, and user complaints were loud. CEO Fred Ebrahimi told customers, “The Macintosh platform is shrinking", and that anyone dissatisfied with Quark's Mac commitment should "switch to something else." So there was a pent up demand to do so, as soon as a viable alternative came along, the market was primed and waiting.
  • 2002 - Adobe by this time was up to InDesign 3 -- and version 3 is about the time that you get the kinks really worked out. It was also the first Mac OS X native App (while Quark's CEO was daring their customers to switch), and Adobe had just figured out how to bundle software with CS (Creative Suite). So basically, for less than buying QuarkXpress, you could get InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, and Acrobat all for the same price. And many newspapers and magazines were already using Acrobat, Illustrator and Photoshop -- so InDesign was basically free. Plus, by this time, InDesign was surpassing Xpress in features like hanging type, transparency, typography, drop caps, better previewing, cross-platform scripting, and so on, the writing was on the wall: InDesign was being invested in more, marketed more, sold for less, and Adobe customer support was great compared to Quark. (Something Adobe later rectified).

By the time Quark got around to reacting, it was too late -- they'd lost momentum, they'd lost their developers, their support systems were the worst in the industry, their management was known as assholes. It was one of the fastest declines ever seen in Tech.

There's an old joke in tech support, "If I ignore those annoying customers, do you think they'll go away?" Quark turned that joke into a reality, and suffered the consequences. I'd ask, "What did we learn".... but based on how some other companies have done their best to repeat the pattern, it's a trick question: Quark might have learned the hard way, but many others didn't seem to get the message.


Written 2018.06.09