The rise and fall of QuarkXPress: How a titan lost control of an industry they defined

The rise and fall of QuarkXPress: How a titan lost control of an industry they defined

We've seen it happen over and over again. A company exercises almost monopolistic control over an industry (BlackBerry and smartphones, Atari and video games, Microsoft and...well, everything) and then they lose their footing. More nimble competitors sweep in and eat their lunch. Nowhere is this lesson underscored more than in the desktop publishing market with QuarkXPress. So writes Dave Girard in Ars Technica:

To say that InDesign made a splash would be optimistic. Most of us were too busy using XPress in hardened, well-established production routines under tight deadlines. We didn't immediately notice something that had as good a chance at taking over our honed workflow as did a reversion to Letraset. But things swiftly changed, and by 2004, Quark’s market share reportedly declined to 25 percent. That is what we in the publishing biz refer to as “totally insane.”

In the late 90s, QuarkXPress was the dominant software in desktop publishing. Newspaper publishers, magazine publishers, graphic design firms - everyone used QuarkXPress. And QuarkXPress knew it. And abused their position of privilege by not giving a damn. They were slow with updates, slow to adopt new technology, arrogant and treated their customers like crap.

Adobe gave QuarkXPress users every reason to switch as soon as they could be convinced to do so. And initially Adobe had its work cut out for it - very expensive, very elaborate workflows had been developed using QuarkXPress. Many companies were in no hurry to change processes that worked. But eventually InDesign met their needs and Quark failed to keep their business, and the rest, as they say, is history.

QuarkXPress lives on, and some would say it's better for having been through that. But Quark itself is unlikely to ever regain the market dominance it had before Adobe cleaned its clock.

Classic literature teaches us that when a Roman emperor returned to the city to celebrate a victory on the battlefield, amidst the adulation of the crowds a slave would stand beside him, whispering "Memento mori" - "Remember that you will die."

It's a good lesson for any company in any dominant market position. No matter how safe you think you may be, smaller, more lithe and responsive competitors are always snapping at your heels. Adobe, I'm talking to you.

Peter Cohen

Managing Editor of iMore, Mac and gaming specialist and all-around technologist. Follow him on Twitter @flargh

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There are 12 comments. Add yours.

ame says:

I was REALLY resistant to switch to InDesign, I will admit, because I was so content with Quark through it's iterations. It did what I needed and most if not all of the print shops we used all but required it. Til one day a few started taking files from either option. And now you're almost hard pressed to find one that takes and works with Quark in prepress...It really amazes me just how fast that turned around.

Dev from tipb says:

Remembering how all our designers/editors swore by Quark in its 3.x heyday, it still shocks me how far and how completely it fell. It makes Blackberry's decline seem minor and gradual by comparison.

Moeskido says:

ID CS2 was the clincher for the book design team at the educational-services company I worked for in that previous decade. We'd hated what QuarkXpress had become: version 4.11 had become the rusty anchor that tied us to a buggy workflow without the hope of relief. As the Ars Technica article explains, two succeeding versions of QX failed to provide genuine value for the cost of upgrading an entire growing department.

My superior and I tested the InDesign demo and liked what we were seeing. I attended an Adobe product expo that ably, hilariously demonstrated the painful consequences of comparing the newest InDesign to Quark's neglected product. I remember walking out of there hearing older production guys muttering about how awful the change would be, and how strongly they'd resist it. I'm happy to say I disagreed.

A product we were hoping would live up to its early promise had indeed turned into a desirable design and production tool, and third parties were finally making the one or two specialty plug-ins we would rely upon for things like math textbooks.

We quickly put together a proposal that made the advantages of switching apparent. Staff griped about having to learn a new thing, of course. Our work schedules quickly incorporated document conversion as they were needed.

These days, I dread having to open legacy QX files.

Peter Cohen says:

As an IT professional working for graphic design firms and publishers at the time, I remember how much our layout people and designers liked (or at least were comfortable) with Quark and how much we in IT absolutely loathed it.

Moeskido says:

We'd been comfortable with Quark until it started getting crashy. And we'd heard stories about how Quark treated customers, so we preferred to solve problems ourselves. As the Mac enclave, we essentially had to provide our own tech support. Our company's IT couldn't even be bothered to keep records of our serial numbers.

Temping for ad agencies a few years before had been a relative paradise in that regard.

Carioca32 says:

I would argue that Adobe had the market with PageMaker and lost it to Quark, and now is making a come back with InDesign.

Peter Cohen says:

Aldus > Adobe > Quark > Adobe

Tarin Paul says:

I think about this and afraid to compare with Apple. Now, Apple is still cool but start to respond quite slow for the market. If Apple make any mistake in products line for a few years, this can happen to Apple too. Apple's product line rely heavily on consumer products and consumer change really really fast. I saw risk of Apple's nature of business.

asuperstarr says:

Great article!

Sent from the iMore App

RW-in-DC says:

I would think customers might also quibble about rent-ware; do you really want to rent your software by the month? Many of Adobe's new product licenses appear to be rent-ware. :(

Lt_Solorna says:

I remember when WordPerfect was on the scene and had better editing (you could see the code) features. Now Microsoft Word is popular. I compare this to Betamax Vs. VHS where-as WordPerfect is Betamax. Also look at Excel - they literally made a digital version of the physical spreadsheet, where in reality Apple's Numbers is better because the majority of people do not need a million cells to work with especially digitally.

Lt_Solorna says:

I just want to add that with WordPerfect's 'Reveal Codes' feature I was quite adept at using it like a second language - so to speak.