Turning over a new leaf at Quark

Quark is a company in transition. Chief executive and president Ray Schiavone discusses the claim that it is revolutionising publishing — again

Criticised heavily in recent times for selling what some believe to be an overpriced and outdated product with a lack of customer support, Quark is at pains to affirm that it has finally got its house in order.

ZDNet.co.uk spoke to Quark chief executive and president Ray Schiavone to examine the company's claim that it is revolutionising publishing — again — with its "new" architectural approach to dynamic publishing across multiple media formats.

Q: You took up your position in November 2006; what was your initial reaction when you looked at the company's core product?
A: What I saw was a technology that had the potential to be extended to work across a wider set of environments. I wanted us to be able to offer tools that could automate tasks within a clearly defined architecture that could span the entire publishing process, from creation to management of content to publishing and, finally, to delivery.

What kind of feedback did you get from your customers when you spoke to them about the state of your product set?
I spent the first couple of weeks in the job talking personally to our enterprise customers to perform a kind of high-level "requirements analysis" process. What I heard was that publishing professionals wanted a product that was more consistent with the other tools that they were used to using, from standard Office-type applications to traditional Adobe tools to the web.

Our customers wanted us to retain many of the original features of QuarkXPress that had drawn them to the product in the first place. But they also wanted a whole new set of features that they had been asking to see for a long time; we're quite open about our shortcomings here and so have opted to call these our "finally features".

To make these things happen and produce a new product, we had to get down to a quite granular level and actually examine workflow scenarios in large and small publishing and page-design houses.

So why did Quark drop off the radar to such a degree over, say, the last four years?
It may well have been down to some pent-up anxiety over the level of customer service we were delivering, particularly in Europe, but we are fixing this. We may also have been perceived as expensive. I mean, people probably looked at Adobe's products and probably felt that they had to buy PageMaker and Illustrator, so they pretty much got InDesign free anyway. For these reasons and others, when I joined the company, I wanted to see us perform a significant level of re-engineering.

The shift to upgrade your products' code base and release QuarkXPress 7.0 to market must have been huge compared to previous versions. How did you ensure that you got it right when failure could have finally written you off?
Bringing QuarkXPress 7.0 to release was indeed a massive code change and it required extensive testing, both in-house and in the field. There are over 160 new features between 6.0 and 7.0, which include elements such as the workflow support that I mentioned earlier and enhanced XML support for content sharing. There was also a huge amount of work done to bring in drop-shadowing, transparencies and composition zones.

What was important was that we held some features back until they had progressed fully through their own development cycles. This meant that versions 7.1, 7.2 and 7.3 were able to feature some now more fully evolved features and some which came about as a result of user feedback in the wake of the 7.0 release.

Does your dynamic publishing architecture (DPA) strategy hold water or have your customers merely perceived this as a marketing tool?
The DPA approach we have detailed is based on the reality of modern publishing environments, where content is initially produced in a variety of formats from Word, to HTML, to XML, to InDesign or QuarkXPress. That content then enters the "manage" phase, where storage to a content-management system occurs and options for search then exist. Selected content then moves to a transformation engine inside a QuarkXPress server so that it can finally be output to print, to websites, mobile devices or another form of desktop delivery, such as an RSS feed.

Our clients tell us that this is the type of toolset they want to support the way they work now. They want to be able to get content to the web first and then repurpose it without the chore and delay of a cut-and-paste process. Essentially, publishing is done [in] the same way that it [has always been]; it is still "computerised", so to speak, but now we need it to be automated too.

So who is using QuarkXPress and how?
Our UK customers include Time Out and Metro International, both of whom have a need to break content down into reusable components and then push it out into a variety of different channels. Based on preset rules that govern their own publishing environments, the speed of publishing workflow can be considerably increased here. What's happening in the market, as a result of this type of publishing, is that circulation volumes are getting lower but a larger total number of "tailored" titles are coming to market.

Your competitor, Adobe, has extended its product set to include rich internet applications and emerging areas of web development, such as online word processing. Do you see Quark's catch-up strategy trying to follow this lead?
We will not be pursuing those kinds of developments. We are focused on dynamic publishing and will remain focused on our core competencies in page production and helping to develop content for multiple channels. Quark is still a private company and we have never made the decision to go public or try to be bought out. If you stop and think about it, we have worked with the Photoshop and Illustrator teams longer than Adobe's InDesign team has, so we think we know what we're doing by now.