The news yesterday was that private desktop publishing company Quark Systems is trying to improve its standing with its customers, adding five new UK dates and locations to its ‘Let’s Talk’ road show.
Quark has suffered from a reputation of having disenfranchised many of its customers in recent years, but since hiring a new CEO at the start of 2004 the company has made a concerted effort to rectify the situation.
Still, a number of high profile organisations switching lock, stock and barrel over to rival Adobe InDesign software would suggest that Quark is starting to lose its grip on the desktop publishing market. While Quark late last year insisted that BBC Magazines’ switch from Quark XPress to Adobe InDesign was not a trend, there are those who remain unconvinced. As a private entity Quark does not break out financial results, but going on anecdotal evidence the cracks are appearing.
Its road show strategy is clearly designed to stop an exodus of XPress customers to InDesign, but the question is whether it is too little too late. BBC Magazines said one of the reasons it switched was that Quark had not kept in lock step with the latest release of Apple’s operating system at the time the decision was made. But perhaps another of its reasons – that Adobe is able to offer better integration with its own market leading Photoshop, Illustrator and Acrobat image and graphics applications – will be the reason to move for many customers.
Quark may have a new CEO who realises he needs to get the company close to its customers once more. But Quark appears to have fallen into a common trap for privately held companies: to think that it is possible to grow a business without actually keeping customers happy. Whether the new chief can re-establish customer enthusiasm for the company is debatable. But it seems clear that if he cannot, Quark could in short measure find itself with little more than a stagnant maintenance stream from a declining customer base. If it were public, I wouldn’t be buying its shares.