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, Quarkâ€™s market share reportedly declined to 25 percent. That is what we in the publishing biz refer to as â€œtotally insane.â€
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.