How QuarkXPress became a mere afterthought in publishing

Aurich Lawson

As the big dog of desktop publishing in the ’80s and ’90s, QuarkXPress was synonymous with professional publishing. In fact, it was publishing. But its hurried and steady decline is one of the greatest business failures in modern tech.

Quark’s demise is truly the stuff of legend. In fact, the story reads like the fall of any empire: failed battles, growing discontent among the overtaxed masses, hungry and energized foes, hubris, greed, and… uh, CMYK PDFs. What did QuarkXPress do—or fail to do—that saw its complete dominance of desktop publishing wither in less than a decade? In short, it didn’t listen.

The rise

I went to a high school for the arts—yes, it was just like Fame, so stop asking—and only got seriously into computers, Photoshop, and design in the early nineties. Back then, when asked “what program do you learn for jobs in page layout and design,” there was only one answer: QuarkXPress. Sure, you might have heard the name Pagemaker by Aldus—later purchased by Adobe—but even with my little awareness of the publishing world outside our school walls, it was obvious that no one used it. When I eventually got summer jobs in DTP service bureaus and magazines, the dominance of QuarkXPress 3 was total. The widely reported statistics were that XPress enjoyed 95 percent dominance of the publishing market at that time. But when I left Vice in ’99, the privately held Quark Inc.’s best days were behind them. That was the year that Adobe’s InDesign 1.0 hit the market.

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