Information Today
Volume 19, Issue 10 November 2002
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Focus on Publishing
A Publishing Strategy in Troubled Times
Adobe Systems' Network Publishing bandwagon just keeps on rolling
by Robin Peek

These are difficult times for developing Internet publishing strategies. Major technology-publishing venues like CNET and Ziff Davis Media are rumored to be on their way to filing for bankruptcy. Key3Media, a producer of leading technology conferences such as COMDEX, NetWorld+Interop, and Seybold Seminars, announced in September a large scaling-back of its shows, citing a "sustained economic downturn being experienced in the information technology, networking, and trade show industries." Of specific importance to the Internet publishing world is the canceling of Seybold New York 2003. There will now be only one Seybold conference, held annually on the West Coast (where Key3Media is going to base its operations). This development got me wondering about Adobe. Seybold and Adobe became intertwined over the years, particularly at Seybold Seminars Boston 2000, when Adobe unveiled its Network Publishing strategy as basically the ticket to the publishing promised land. ("Publish anything, anywhere, on any device.") 

Network Publishing was and is a compelling strategy, even if people had to use their imaginations to grasp it. Authoring once and then seamlessly publishing to many platforms would be ideal, but could we get there from here? Could Adobe, a company known for its financial ups and downs, possibly lead us there? Would it be able to marshal its product line for the task? Would it be able to expand its market outside of its traditional user base and into other sectors? 

To do this, Adobe, which isn't known for its user-friendly software interfaces (can you say Photoshop?), would have to offer products that are liquid, transparent, and compelling enough to woo customers who are already devoted to such interfaces as Macromedia's Dreamweaver or Microsoft Word. And there were some unique issues, such as trying to sell Acrobat to those who think they already own it if they have the Acrobat Reader. Oh, and let's not forget that Microsoft had rolled out its Microsoft Reader, which some believed would roll over Acrobat PDF. 

So this was a brave strategy in a technology world that was quickly losing its luster. While the ideal world still has not yet arrived, Adobe and its Network Publishing keep moving along, although not without a few missteps. 

Adobe did however succeed in moving Acrobat to a more central stage in the overall corporate plan. Acrobat has grown in importance in the company's revenue stream, representing $300 million in sales last year, or 25 percent of Adobe's total revenues. And in August The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that among software sales at college bookstores, Adobe Acrobat 5.0 ranked third, behind Microsoft's Office XP and Windows XP. Acrobat had been rated second in July. Adobe's other major product, Photoshop, was ranked fifth in July and seventh in August. So for the moment it seems like Adobe's light still burns bright in comparison to the darkness covering much of the technology industry. 
 

20 and Counting

Adobe, founded 20 years ago, is one of the oldest software companies in the world. It's primarily known for its incredibly powerful software that's used by professional artists and publishers. Its devoted and loyal following (many of whom are also loyal Macintosh supporters) has allowed Adobe to survive despite a few bumps and bruises along the way. 

But making the transition to a more mainstream marketplace poses its own special challenges. Adobe's incredibly powerful software is also incredibly dense and difficult to learn. The company made its name on Photoshop, an image-editing program that captured the professional market years ago. Photoshop has reigned supreme ever since, despite its steep learning curve and price (more than $500 for version 7.0). The program's name is also now used as a verb, as in "I'll just photoshop my ex-boyfriend out and put Brad Pitt in." But now Adobe must balance keeping its party faithful happywhile still honing the product line and its company strategy for less sophisticated users. It has taken some time to get the formula right. 

For example, Photoshop LE, Adobe's first consumer version of Photoshop, was commercially released in 1999. Adobe kept pretty much the same interface and just dropped features. Then the company came out with Photoshop Elements 1.0, which CNET called "Photoshop Very Light." Next came Photoshop Elements 2.0, which was released this summer. CNET thought this product was still "too complex for most hobbyists" but did say that it came closer to the mainstream mark. One must question how well Adobe will do with bringing other products to a more mainstream market if it's facing such challenges with its flagship product. 

Will Adobe do better with FrameMaker and InDesign, both of which are prominently placed in the Network Publishing strategy? FrameMaker 7.0 was released this May. Karl Matthews, who led Adobe's FrameMaker team, said in an interview with The Mercury News that the company wants to be part of the enterprise's "knowledge worker." Matthews' vision is for "human resources workers to create policy documents in FrameMaker, for engineers to use it to write up specifications, and for bureaucrats to use it to organize tax law." Hmmm. This could take some convincing. 
 

Resistance 

Getting people to change their software behavior is becoming more difficult these days. Corporations that face tough financial times are known to batten down the hatches and suspend software changes because of the additional support and training needs. Companies that were once tolerant of a 6 or 7 year return on investment for technology acquisitions are looking for much shorter horizons. 

More importantly, Adobe has not yet been able to switch consumers' alliances from key competitor products to its own line. QuarkXPress users are not migrating en masse to Adobe InDesign and seem as fiercely devoted to Quark as Adobe's faithful are to its products. GoLive, Adobe's Web-authoring software, has not won over Macromedia's Dreamweaver customers. Nor are Microsoft's FrontPage users leaving their familiar Windows interface in droves either. And these users are probably more in line with the mainstream markets Adobe hopes to reach. But in order to move into its next round of Network Publishing, Adobe will need to expand the corporate embrace of other parts of its product line. These are some of the most likely channels. 

Adobe is still churning out other products that are needed to make the Network Publishing vision a reality. In September, the company re-branded the "Adobe Studio" section of its Web site to make it more appealing to designers and to correspond to the Network Publishing strategy. Adobe has been actively releasing Readers for key devices that are also part of the vision. These Readers support Palm and Pocket PC handhelds, as well as Symbian OS, a new software application that allows users to view PDF files on data-enabled mobile phones. Adobe also released Adobe Graphics Server 2.0, the company's newest version of its graphics and imaging server software (formerly known as Adobe AlterCast), which is aimed at reducing backroom operations for creating and updating images by automating image-production tasks. 

Selling Acrobat to college students is not going to make Network Publishing happen by itself. Acrobat is perhaps the easiest part of the equation that Adobe has to contend with if "networked publishing" is going to be a reality. Although it's better off than many technology companies, Adobe has had to revise its revenue forecasts in part because of reduced sales of its more mature software products that serve the publishing industry. But given that Adobe could turn out to be one of the last technology companies left standing (and with visions in short supply), where it goes might still be an indicator of where Internet publishing will also go. 
 
 

Robin Peek is associate professor at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Simmons College. Her e-mail address is robin.peek@simmons.edu.

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