Quark Decides It’s Better to Join ‘Em Than Beat Them

October 27, 2008

Today Quark made a significant announcement:

“…Quark announced groundbreaking innovation in automated workflow publishing by extending the capabilities of Quark Publishing System 8 (QPS 8) to include support for both QuarkXPress and Adobe InDesign. QPS users now have the flexibility to use QuarkXPress with QuarkCopyDesk and Adobe InDesign with Adobe InCopy at the component level in a single workflow system. The capability to use both — or either — graphic design and page-layout program with QPS enables customers to streamline their publishing process to save time and reduce administration, training, and hardware costs.

“…We surveyed magazine and newspaper publishers, advertising agencies, and marketing groups and asked them what their most significant needs are for collaborative publishing today, said Linda Chase, General Manager for Quark Publishing System.The majority of respondents indicated they need to support both QuarkXPress and Adobe InDesign in their environments and would welcome a workflow system that does not dictate which page-layout and design application they use.

“Now, with QPS XTensions for Adobe InDesign, a customer’s choice for QPS gives them the flexibility to use both QuarkXPress and InDesign in one workflow system.”

As everyone who has been following the QuarkXPress versus Adobe InDesign battle knows, Quark spent probably too long on the high ground, assuming or deluding itself into a continued belief that it could actually win the battle. Over the last two releases of QuarkXPress the company has been seeking to essentially emulate the approach in Adobe’s Creative Suite, making it possible for many of its customers to incorporate Adobe technologies directly into Quark technologies, including Photoshop, Illustrator and Flash. And now the flagship product itself!

There is much speculation over how much market share Quark has lost during this protracted battle. Most analysts I speak to believe it is substantial, but haven’t got any numbers. A Google search provides no useful current data. I wrote today to press representatives at each company to see what their public position was on the subject.

Adobe’s response was terse: “Unfortunately, Adobe does not provide market share numbers.”

Quark’s was verbose, but not more informative: “Quark is committed to delivering continued innovation in desktop publishing software, and QuarkXPress 8 clearly shows this. It has been incredibly well received in numerous reviews and by customers, and we believe that healthy competition will continue to drive even more innovation to help designers push their creativity further.

“What’s more, not only have we listened and responded to customers who want to use both leading page-layout applications, Quark is helping customers output and deliver creative content to other channels through Quark Dynamic Publishing Solution, raising the bar for publishing solutions.”

I believe that Quark is following the correct approach by seeking to join ’em. Let’s see what Adobe does next.

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The Kindle Changed Oprah’s Life

October 26, 2008

According to an entry on Oprah Winfrey’s blog, called “Oprah’s Favorite New Gadget,” “This summer, Oprah received a gift that she says changed her life. ‘It’s absolutely my new favorite favorite thing in the world,’ she says.” 20081024_tows_kindle1_350x263.jpgIt’s nearly November and she hasn’t found another favorite favorite thing in the world? I guess she already has the Oral-B Pulsonic Sonic Toothbrush.pulsonic_ip.jpg

The blog gushingly continues, “Although the Amazon Kindle costs $359, Oprah looks at it as an environmentally friendly investment. ‘I know it’s expensive in these times [Ed: not for Oprah; hers was free], but it’s not frivolous because it will pay for itself,” she says. ‘The books are much cheaper, and you’re saving paper.’ [Ed: although by purchasing a device with a far nastier non-biodegradable high carbon footprint than paper] New York Times Bestsellers and New Releases are $9.99 or less, unless otherwise marked.

“As a special offer for Oprah Show viewers, Amazon.com is giving $50 off the price of Kindle. Enter the promotional code OPRAHWINFREY during the checkout process at Amazon.com to receive the discount. This offer is valid through November 1, 2008. [Ed: A generous 8 days.]

It’s a four-page blog entry, and I’m starting to feel vomitous quoting from it, but I’ll stave off the bildge for another moment with this quote: “Oprah says she will talk about her Kindle with anyone who’s willing to listen. ‘Anyone who knows me knows I’m really not a gadget person at all, but I have fallen in love with this little baby [emphasis mine],’ she says. ‘If you’re like me and a little computer challenged, do not be afraid of the Kindle–do not be afraid [emphasis mine]–because you don’t even have to have a computer for it to work. That’s the brilliant thing about it.'” Yes, quite brilliant. Unless you already have a computer.

The conclusion: “‘You can tell a lot about a person by what’s on their [Kindle] homepage,’ Oprah says.” Included on her homepage are “Crack the Fat-Loss Code: Outsmart Your Metabolism and

Conquer the Diet Plateau” by Wendy Chant. There are certain things that don’t change.

An article by Antone Gonsalves in Information Week notes: “Winfrey’s endorsement of the Kindle could lead to more than just a sales boost. It could go a long way toward moving the Kindle to the mainstream from a niche market.” How depressing. Another chapter in the future of publishing has just been written. Loggers will be picketing her show, and getting into fistfights with workers from the semiconductor industry and the employees of E Ink.

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Wikipedia and the Meaning of Truth

October 24, 2008

In the November/December issue of the marvelous MIT Technology Review is a very fine article by the respected author and professor of computer science, Simson Garfinkel on the ever-controversial subject of what can we expect and trust from Wikipedia.

The topic has been a challenge for some time, mainly pitting the Encyclopedia Britannica, that most respected source, authored by experts in their respective fields, against Wikipedia, the most anarchic of resources, but which with some 7 million contributors manages as Mr. Garfinkel points out to be “remarkably accurate.”

What makes this article a special pleasure is that Garfinkel acknowledges Wikipedia’s success, but delves below the surface and notes that “with little notice from the outside world, the community-written encyclopedia Wikipedia has redefined the commonly accepted use of the word ‘truth’.” The topic is an important one.

The article is fascinating for many other reasons, but here’s a tidbit:

“Wikipedia considers the ‘most reliable sources’ to be ‘peer-reviewed journals and books published in university presses,’ followed by ‘university-level textbooks,’ then magazines, journals, ‘books published by respected publishing houses,’ and finally ‘mainstream newspapers’ (but not the opinion pages of newspapers).”

Do you think these are the best sources to verify information? They certainly conform to standard publishing beliefs, but do they conform to this new medium?

The article is worth careful reading.

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There is No New Media

I was greatly inspired today to encounter this quotation from YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley at the MIPCOM Conference in Cannes, France on October 15th:

“There is no old media. There is no new media. There is one media with one common purpose; to inform, move and inspire the world through information, art and entertainment.”

MIPCOM is billed as “The World’s Audio/Visual Conference” so of course it was an appropriate venue for Mr. Hurley to speak.

His speech is transcribed on this blog, and it’s well worth reading for Hurley’s insights into online video and the ongoing challenge of digital rights management associated with this controversial topic.

As reassuring as the comment above is his remark “From the printing press to the blog, from the record player to the iPod, and from the stage to the home theater, the way content has been produced, distributed and consumed in the world is constantly evolving.”

Are we on the same page?

Hurley’s exposition of the YouTube business model and its ideas around digital rights management in this most contentious field make it well worth reading the entire transcript.

Thoughts?

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Economics and the Future of Publishing

October 9, 2008

I read the news today, oh boy! A little less gloomy than earlier in the week, but another barrage of depressing madness. I found an article from a couple of days ago in The New York Times by Vikas Bajaj titled “Forget Logic; Fear Appears to Have Edge.” It begins: “The technical term for it is ‘negative feedback loop.’ The rest of us just call it a panic.” Yep, panic. As I write this the Dow, S&P and NASDAQ indices are all down between 35% and 38% from their 52-week highs.

In today’s Wall Street Journal there are several interesting items.

The first is titled “Housing Pain Gauge: Nearly 1 in 6 Owners ‘Under Water’,” meaning that nearly one in six U.S. homeowners owe more on a mortgage than the home is worth. Not good news. Authors James Hagerty and Ruth Simon generously state for us the obvious: “No longer having equity in their homes makes people feel less rich and thus less inclined to shop at the mall.”

Another one which really caught my eye is an article by Susan Carey and Paulo Prada called “Economy Takes Toll on Premium Airline Passengers.” Apparently British Airways first- and business-class traffic fell nearly 9% in September from a year earlier. This is far more serious than it may appear on the surface as, for example, Northwest Airlines admits that its elite frequent-flier members account for only 5% of its total passengers yet a full 25% of its revenue (we always suspected that’s why we get treated like bovines in cattle-class).

Which brings us to trying to get a handle on what the impact will be of the current economic crisis on the various publishing industries.

There needs first of all to be a division between advertising-supported media (primarily newspapers, magazines, radio and television) and non-advertising-supported media (primarily books, musical and visual recordings, and films exhibited in theaters).

I’ve often wondered what would be happening today to advertising-supported media if the economy weren’t in such a mess. How different would be the decline in ad dollars for newspapers, magazines, television and the like if we were in a booming economy? But sadly we appear to be heading into one of the worst economic messes since the 1930s, and as the articles referenced above make clear, the spill-over effect is strongly pronounced, in both obvious and unexpected ways.

Suffice it to say that if things were looking bad for newspapers over the summer, they’re looking ghastly today.

The traditional view of books, film, live entertainment and so on has been that they are relatively recession-proof, first of all because their unit cost has not traditionally been very high, and secondly based on the notion that even in a recession people need some form of recreation and amusement.

There’s a lot of research to be done to form a definitive case on this topic, but here are some datapoints. A 2003 article in Publishing Trends, quoting Bowker statistics, has good news and bad news about book pricing. Adjusted for inflation, hardcover fiction prices have sunk by 2% over the past 25 years, while nonfiction hardcovers dropped by 27%. On the other hand mass-market paperback prices have shot up by nearly 40% and juvenile titles soared by some 60%.

The article goes on to quote a 2002 Salon.com piece by Christopher Dreher. “…what’s taken a huge bite out of America’s book budget is the rise of the trade paperback, those larger paperbacks of better quality that can now be found occupying prime real estate on tables at the front of bookstores. Since the 1980s, publishers have increasingly kept their backlist in trade paperback, and used this format to publish the paperback versions of books that don’t have a mass-market appeal or million-copy sales potential, such as more-literary or specialized titles,” Dreher writes. This format usually retails for 3 or 4 times what the equivalent mass-market paperback might, and can drive away cost-conscious buyers.

A January, 2008 entry on FuturePerfectPublishing.com quotes data from an August 2006 study by the Bureau of Economic Analysis and concludes that during the 2001 recession “growth in books sales actually remained positive and then rebounded quickly to their historic growth rate.”

The study is actually an NEA study which quotes data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. When you examine the whole chart a slightly different perspective emerges.

Recession_data.jpg

Yes, book sales did continue to grow and bounce back quickly. But “Recreation consumption spending” as a whole far outperformed books, as did “Nondurable toys & sport supplies” and “Video & audio goods.” Watch out flower shops: “Flowers, seeds, & potted plants” took the biggest hit in 2001!

However the book publishing industry did even better during the recession of 1991, as data from the noted industry statistician William S. Lofquist authoritatively demonstrates.

The book publishing industry is today a substantially different beast than it was in 1991 or even in 2001. New books can be found at a discount by everyone as a result of Amazon, Barnes & Noble and others. Used books are far more easily sourced than ever before, and the lowest prices discovered, through both Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and from more specialized online sellers like alibris.com. Audiobook sales had been exploding (although they’re down by nearly 27% this year — perhaps falling victim to podcasts).Even e-book sales seem finally to be gaining some traction (at prices generally lower than comparable paper versions).

As I was writing this entry today the Association of American Publishers (AAP) issued a press release stating that “Book sales tracked by the Association of American Publishers (AAP) …were down by 1.4 percent for the year.” Two comments. 1.4 percent is not much when you think about the calamity that we call the U.S. economy, and as I demonstrate in my article on book publishing, the AAP data misses a tremendous amount of publishing sales volume that takes place outside of the larger publishing houses.

Meanwhile, over on Bill Conerly’s Businomics Blog, an August 7th entry discusses a Wall Street Journal article and makes the observation:

“Hollywood has said that it’s recession proof, because in hard times people will seek escape from their worries by going to the movies. The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) reports a new study that found just the opposite — when times are tough, people skip the movie-popcorn-soda expense. Perhaps they watch a movie on broadcast television, or rent a DVD for a couple of bucks. So far this year, box office sales are down 3.27% from last year.”

The original article in the Wall Street Journal is a good read, with more data and insight. Author Lauren Schuker interviews Hal Vogel, a longtime media analyst (whose “Entertainment Industry Economics: A Guide for Financial Analysis” I reference frequently). Vogel points out that “‘the availability of …alternative forms of entertainment means that today’s economic slowdown could have more of a negative impact on the film business than previous times of economic turbulence.

“‘You can’t compare how this slowdown might affect the movie industry to previous recessions,'” says Mr. Vogel. “‘The industry still has a degree of recession resistance, but this time around there is all this new technology and all these new distractions for moviegoers — you didn’t have Web episodes and cable television and computer games coming out of your ears in the past.'”

I think that this point, as much as any other, will be a key factor why most forms of publishing are going to suffer worse through this recession than they have through any other.

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