A Quarky new approach?

Sarah O'Keefe / Opinion2 Comments

Recently, Quark has announced their new dynamic publishing concept and/or solution.

Where to start?

Although traditional publishing allows each author to hand-craft the appearance of each page, the limitation is that it ties information to the way it is presented. This means that if you want to publish the same information in print, Web, and electronic formats, then you have to create an entirely separate version of your information for each media type.

Fascinating, but it sounds oddly familiar. Where could I have heard this before? Wait! This sounds like an argument for…single sourcing!

[S]ingle sourcing means writing information once
and using it many times. It does not mean writing it and
then copying and pasting it into another source, or modifying
the information for different needs such that you have
multiple sources.

That would be from The Impact of Single Sourcing and Technology by Ann Rockley, published in Technical Communication in 2001.

The term “single sourcing” also appears in Designing Windows 95 Help: A Guide to Creating Online Documents, which was published in 1996 (!). You can see excerpts via Google Books. I’m sure there’s more, but 1996 is plenty early.

Anyway, back to Quark:

Dynamic publishing is a different way to create and share information. Dynamic publishing lets you create information as reusable components of information that you can easily combine for different uses – different types of documents and different audiences.

Dynamic publishing also automates the page formatting process, so you can automatically produce print, Web, and electronic content from a single source of information.

Sorry, guys, but what you’re describing is “single sourcing” and it’s been around for a while. And I don’t think redefining “dynamic publishing” is going to work, either, because that term already means something. Dynamic publishing can refer to the following:

  • Publishing on the fly: The information presented is based on the end user’s requests and/or profile. Information is assembled when the user requests it (and not ahead of time).
  • Customized publishing (or variable data publishing): The process of publishing content where the information varies but the overall organization stays the same. Financial statements are a good example of this type of publishing — each customer needs their specific transactions on the page.

Wikipedia has a definition of dynamic page publishing. RR Donnelley has dynamic publishing products. Here’s a discussion of low-end dynamic publishing inside Six Apart (blogging platform). The RenderX engine has dynamic publishing (“For high volume, mass composition of personalized correspondence…”). For one-to-one marketing, we have PageFlex from Bitstream and Fusion Pro from Printable. Here’s Arbortext and their discussion of dynamic publishing.

Arbortext. Hmmmm. There’s something about Arbortext….

And here is where the situation gets truly weird. Take a look at the Quark executive biographies page. Of the ten people listed, five are ex-Arbortext, including the CEO, CIO, marketing VP, and two of three sales VPs.

So, Quark is the recipient of some sort of a multiple-organ management transplant from Arbortext. Given the rumors that the Arbortext-PTC merger hasn’t been exactly a lovefest, the departure of senior management and others isn’t surprising. It’s their reappearance at a single company that’s striking. And furthermore, it appears that they are trying to create Arbortext, MarComm Edition.

Will this work? The landscape is pretty bleak.

Here is an excerpt from Eric Kuhnen’s analysis (published on TheContentWrangler.com, and you should read the entire thing):

Quark, in proposing to integrate a CMS into its Dynamic Publishing Solution, has just added a well known set of problems to their offering. There are literally dozens of CMS-enabled solutions on the market already; Quark’s entry is nothing new (well, it is to Quark but not to its customers). It’s not that adding the CMS itself is the wrong idea, but that incorporating a traditional CMS will yield fewer benefits to the customers in the markets it serves, and will not do much to displace the leading ECM vendors in the markets it would like to serve. So, Quark will follow the road it has always taken.

(Emphasis mine)

A variation on this theme is found in an interview with Raymond Schiavone conducted by Pariah S. Burke, editor of QuarkVsInDesign.com (again, read it all, especially the analysis of the interview on the third and fourth pages). This excerpt is from Burke’s analysis:

I think QuarkXPress will continue to have utility on its own, but its primary role will be to function as a desktop client for an as-yet unrevealed enterprise-grade suite of systems.

XPress 8 will be the first stage, I predict. [… Schiavone’s] realistic goal for the XPress 8 generation of products will be to make the market take notice of Quark again, to open a dialog with large workflow managers who will help refine Schiavone’s vision for XPress 9.

By the time XPress 9 and its matching systems do release (probably less than 12 months following the release of version 8), QuarkXPress will be little more than a client application. All the real power will reside on the server-side systems. More importantly, by abandoning the so-called “feature war” with InDesign, Quark will create a lopsided conundrum for potential users—you can have near total automation of your publishing and production, with output to print, PDF, PDF/X, HTML, XML, and everything else you can think of, but without certain creativity, composition, and proofing features the competition will have had for generations.

The existence of InDesign Server notwithstanding, I think the overall analysis makes sense. Basically, transitioning Quark into a server-based publishing system requires moving away from freelancers and small business customers. They can’t afford and don’t need server-based publishing. Instead, Quark needs to make inroads into large companies with large marketing departments. And there, they run up against the twin buzzsaws of InDesign and existing competition in the content management space. This might work if Quark’s offering was deeply compelling, unique, and game-changing. In its current version, it appears to be none of the above.

The most difficult part of any change in technology is end user adoption. I’ve discussed change management on this blog and elsewhere. Bringing XML and automation into a marketing or publishing workflow is going to present some unique challenges.

In publishing (not technical publications), the deliverable is in fact the product. As a book publisher, you care greatly about the appearance of your final product, the book. In technical publishing, the appearance of the documentation is often negotiable, and making the inevitable compromises on formatting to get better automation is an acceptable tradeoff. This may not be true for most magazine and book publishers. (It’s worth noting that the most technical of trade book publishers, O’Reilly Media, was also the first, as far as I know, to move to XML-based publishing.) Quark grudging acknowledges the challenge in the description of their solution:

Dynamic publishing started in the realm of technical documentation, where large manufacturers and some types of publishers have implemented dynamic publishing to produce user guides, service manuals, parts catalogs, legal documentation, and similar types of information.

Some publishers have built their own dynamic publishing systems for publications that have more elaborate layout requirements than technical documentation, but these systems have been cobbled together from multiple technologies. In many cases, they have achieved some of their business goals but at the expense of far higher process costs.

“Cobbled together”?

“Pot? This is Kettle. How you doin’?”

Here is a description of what’s in Quark’s DPS (from the Quark DPS FAQ)

Quark Dynamic Publishing Solution (DPS) is publishing software. It consists of multiple software components, some from Quark and some from third parties, including:

  • Optional desktop products for creating content: QuarkXPress, QuarkCopyDesk®, Xpress™ Author for Microsoft® Word, Adobe® InCopy® and InDesign®
  • Standard server-based publishing software: QuarkXPress Server and Quark Transformation Engine, for publishing to print and electronic media
  • Standard server-based product for automating workflow: Quark Publishing System
  • Optional browser-based product for content creation, final document edits and reviewing
  • Integration with server-based products for content management partners such as Alfresco®

(emphasis mine)

visual of Quark Dynamic Publishing System from Quark

(Image from Quark’s web site: http://dynamicpublishing.quark.com/dps/how_it_works.html)

OK. Moving on.

Here is a really accurate bit of information. In response to the question, “How will dynamic publishing affect me and my employees?”, we have this:

The primary impact is on the authoring process. Dynamic publishing shifts the authoring focus from hand-crafting pages to creating information that is independent of any specific media type, which means that authors stop worrying about how the information looks and instead focus on writing it. Authors also shift from creating monolithic documents to writing small, reusable components of information.

There is a world of pain hidden in those three sentences. In my experience, the more creative technical writers have a more difficult time with XML than the more engineering-oriented writers. Let’s graph from most technical to least technical:

engineers >> technical writers >> marketing writers

Uh-oh. Getting marketing people to follow structured authoring concepts is going to be really difficult.

A couple of final notes:

  • The Quark-written content attempts to position this solution as the logical response to non-single source workflows. This is silly. I’d like to see a discussion of what makes Quark’s approach to single sourcing better, faster, and/or cheaper than others.
  • There’s a discussion of return on investment, which includes this gem: “the return on investment can take from six to eighteen months.” Indeed. It can also take forever. Not every organization will be able to show ROI for this solution, and claiming otherwise is ridiculous.

All in all, I’m none too impressed with Quark DPS version 1. Now, if the “dynamic publishing” bit in the name is a preview of coming attractions rather than an accurate label for what they have now, then perhaps there’s hope. But I’m glad I’m not the one trying to pull this off because from out here, it looks like an extreme long shot.

About the Author

Sarah O'Keefe


Content strategy consultant and founder of Scriptorium Publishing. Bilingual English-German, voracious reader, water sports, knitting, and college basketball (go Blue Devils!). Aversions to raw tomatoes, eggplant, and checked baggage.

2 Comments on “A Quarky new approach?”

  1. I was quite excited when I heard about this product, largely because it was around the time of that IBM “dynamic publishing” example (I have a link somewhere) which was a web-based ‘build a custom manual’ style publishing engine.
    I read through the Quark blurb and like you couldn’t really see the difference between what they had and a single source solution from anyone else.
    So I guess I too am hoping the name is a hint at future developments.
    However I too share your view that that is a long shot!

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