07 March 2006

[design] Quark: State of the XPress, Spring 2006

In our playing with QuarkXPress's 7 public beta, we've had an eye on marketing moves.

Even the lowliest consumer senses that about half (sometimes more) of what any big company does is marketing and managing perceptions. Quark, Inc. is no exception.

Quark is coming up with some good deals to get the punters to upgrade to QuarkXPress 6.5, though, with the end goal to setting up thier user base to move up to QuarkXPress 7 when the time comes.

One of the great open secrets in the digital design tools world is that, surprisingly to the tyro, InDesign isn't Quark's biggest competitor; QuarkXPress Version 4 is. That may sound strange until one remembers that when QuarkXPress 4 was the current release, it also was the king of the electronic layout (we don't like the term DTP) hill. The only real competition was the quondam king, PageMaker, late then of Aldus Corporation but then Adobe's foothold in the electronic layout world, and PM was at its creaky end. Though the first Adobe InDesign was nigh, it would turn out to be a wan debut compared to the current glory that is the current CS2. As far as Quark was concerned, it p0wned the market with no challenge in sight.

Then, of course, was the rise of InDesign and the plateauing of Quark. But, as they say, you can't argue with an installed user base, and this was true for QuarkXPress 4. Workflows industry-wide were based on this. A great majority of Quark's enterprise users are rumored to still run workflows based on 4.11.

Intervening versions gave Quarkers no reason to move up from software that was working for them. Version 5 missed the boat on Mac OS X compatiblility, which gave Quark a huge black eye, and has a reputation as having more bugs than a bait store; Version 6 was Mac OS X native, but that was pretty much all it brought to the table, while at the time InDesign sales were soaring based on features that XPress didn't–and apparently couldn't–provide; integration with Photoshop and Illustrator, transparency, and even finer typography.

QuarkXPress 7 is going to be a necessary update. In our opinion, the update will not blunt the Adobe assault on Quark's market share; it may slow it a bit, but it will be level pegging with InDesign CS2 at best, not leapfrogging. And this with the release of CS3 less than eighteen months out.

Quark's imperative at this point is to seem to convince QuarkXPress 4 users that there has been no better time to get ready to go to 7. They certainly have a nice upgrade offer up; according to this page, for those who already own an earlier version of XPress, a $199 upgrade is available which the promise of a $79 upgrade to QXP7, which is bargain basement pricing for Quark (it will be recalled that before the current marketing war, a seat of QXP regular ran about $1,000, with a seat of QXP Passport clocking in at about $1500). Don't have XPress at all? You can still get advantageous pricing of a new copy of XPress for $749 (currently it's retailing about $699) with the same $79 upgrade path to 7.

This should go a long way toward eliminating QuarkXPress 6/7's major competitor-Version 4.

Not just this, but if you take this deal, you get the highly popular ShadowCaster XT (transparence plus a whole lot of neat effects) XTension, a former ALAP product, for nothing.

Which, as it would seem, would be the same deal that current 6.5 owners (of which I am one) is getting. Nothing, that is; there is not a word on what people who stood with Quark and upgraded to 6.5 all this time are getting. At this point, we all get to sit on our hands.

Guess the QuarkXPress marketing attack still needs a bit of fine tuning.

Maybe Quark shouldn't give away the store to 6.5 users, but I think we deserve some respect for keeping the app on our hard drives all this time in current form.

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