Whoops, There Goes…

Quark XpressThe publication of news is in a high state of flux. Even many in the media itself are calling it a decline. But with the iPad now available and duly changing the game as everyone predicted/hoped/feared (depending on their standpoint), the only thing that looks certain about the future of newspapers and magazines is more uncertainty. High hopes were held for early releases of news apps on the iPad, and the results were anything but conclusive.

It was good news for some, with News Ltd’s iPad app for The Australian on top of the iTunes news apps list soon after it was released. Some news was less welcome, such as the sales of the first iPad edition of UK GQ magazine — at only 365 digital issues.

But the decline of newsprint trumpeted by everyone from reporters to media barons has another potential victim — the software companies like Quark and Adobe who’ve spent the past 30 years investing billions in desktop publishing, graphic design and publications management applications.

Adobe has steadily bought new versions of its flagship content production system (Creative Suite) to market regularly for the last ten years. The latest offering — CS5 — was released in May and has the usual tools for page layout, graphic manipulation and web development. But in a world of presenting news on a printed page, is the market disappearing before the industry’s eyes?

Both Quark and Adobe have moved away from a straight publication design model to management of the whole content workflow, where a piece of information can be seamlessly exported between newspapers, websites, mobiles and apps. As long ago as 2009 Quark was pitching its whole-of-life publishing solution to the business rather than the creative design market, saying they were getting a lot of attention from the enterprise end of the business spectrum.

Now Adobe is saying similar things. That pure static print media is going to disappear, says Adobe Pacific product marketing manager Michael Stoddart. Five years ago we knew we had to diversify, and we diversified into enterprise tools, online and mobile.

He adds that the market has come to him as much as the other way around. A lot of our customers in the small to medium range market want to reduce costs by doing things themselves. We also have a lot of large customers producing content in house. The question they’re asking is ‘how do we appeal to our customers?’ It used to be just a marketing problem, but now we’re seeing it across the whole enterprise, right up to the board. They’re asking why their competitors are getting so many more customers if they’re doing the same thing. The answer is often because it’s easier to do business with them — they have a better website, they have a cute little iPhone app. And that’s what we do, we make your content better.

Once the industry flagship, Quark Inc is a shadow of its former self, with Adobe snatching the industry from under its nose during the 2000s. But the company is still very much in the game, and Quark regional business director Alex Nemeth agreed there were more challenges to come in th iPad era.

I’d probably say the desktop design market is evolving rather than declining, he thinks. Publishing’s all about content, and content is a combination of copy, pictures and design. The device hardware we receive content on is having the biggest impact in content consumption right now, so there’s an array of methods and formats for consumers to decide how and when they’ll consume. But the key questions are how publishers can cost effectively publish their content to more devices, channels and formats and how they can monetise that.

Even though he says there’s no doubting the rapid growth of digital content, Nemeth thinks a demand for quality will keep things afloat. More people are publishing information to the web every day in the form of blogs and social media – most of them were never historical users of desktop design software and in many case the content they are publishing is not great quality. Magazine volumes have been consistent over the past ten years, and that means consumers still enjoy print format product.

And as newspapers and other ‘big’ media organisations repurpose their content for ever more platforms and devices, Nemeth adds that ‘it’s not cost effective or sustainable for publishers to be running different production teams for different content output’.

Adobe’s Michael Stoddart also doesn’t believe things will change so radically. Regardless of the medium it’s always going to be about putting content in front of consumers. People still want a clear line between bloggers and journalists. How people will pay for it is obviously what newspapers are working out, but in terms of publishing they can switch pretty quickly from print to digital if the costs are low enough. They don’t have to reproduce the entire workflow.

So the content providers who are calling the iPad and other ereaders the best thing since Gutenberg might be onto something. If the news business can thrash out the payment model, the publishing software industry may be okay for a while yet. The only business sector in real trouble might be your local paper route.