Avanquest to Expand Software ‘Star Search’

You might say that Avanquest, a publisher and distributor of software programs for small businesses, wants to expand its own version of “Star Search” for the next big breakout application.

Take the example of the postal worker in a European country whose little DVD-related program, which lets people make back-up copies of their DVDs for personal use, became a hit among software testers in the online shareware realm.

After some improvements to the software, it later passed muster with software judges at Avanquest, which then began publishing and distributing the program across European markets through its network of online and offline retail channels. (Although a runaway hit in European markets, it is not sold in the U.S. because of copyright provisions in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

Months after it went into wider distribution, the postal worker’s bank account had recently crossed the six-digit mark and he’s now in the hunt for a good tax attorney, thanks to royalties for what started out as a little DVD hobby.

That’s essentially the story of Avantquest, which is planning to expand its search for “break-out” software by moving into Asian markets.

Formerly known as BVRP Software Group, Avantquest maintains headquarters in both Paris and Denver. It consists of a network of subsidiaries and partners with distribution agreements in major European markets, such as ABSoft (France), Elibrium (U.S.), Guildsoft and Kommunicate (U.K.), MicroBasic (Germany), Questar (Italy), Manaccom (Australia) and Phoenix Software (South Africa).

Although the company is strong in the European and U.S. markets in helping small and mid-sized software companies’ products into wider distribution, the company has nary a presence in Asian markets.

But a distribution deal with Taiwan’s CyberLink, which makes the popular PowerDVD program, could pave a new path to tomorrow’s software hits and eventually, all-important retail distribution partnerships across markets such as Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea.

With features that include creating snapshot images of favorite scenes, sharing bookmarked scenes with friends, adjustable display formats, changeable skins, and a range of audio features such as DTS Digital Surround and Dolby audio support, CyberLink’s PowerDVD program often enjoys top billing by software rating sites such as C|Net and ComputerBild.

Bob Lang, director of North American operations for Avantquest, said the deal with CyberLink means that the company’s digital video software and e-learning software will be put into wider distribution into such retailing chains as across North American retailers such as CompUSA, Staples, and Wal-Mart.

The deal is seen as a boon to CyberLink’s presence, which until now has been largely limited to online sales and distribution of its e-learning products in Germany. The product originally started out being bundled with DVD drives.

CyberLink officials said the key to the deal with Avantquest’s is its retail presence in the North American market, where its member company, personal productivity software maker and publisher Elibrium, reaches over 10,000 retail outlets, including Wal-Mart and Staples.

Although distributing software online has become popular, Lang noted that software sold online is still a fraction of the amount of shrink-wrapped software that is sold off the shelves each year. According to market research firm NPD, some $5.3 billion worth of software was sold in U.S. stores alone in during 2002.

Figures compiling software sales via straight download are spotty, but Lang estimates that they consist of less than 20 percent of total software sales figures.

That may be changing as e-commerce expands, but for now, positioning in retail chains is the all-important goal amid so many programs fighting for space on a shelf. Positioning has also become even more difficult as the tech industry’s fortunes have slowed in the past few years.

That’s one more reason Avanquest is looking to increase its retail presence in Asian countries, such as Japan and South Korea, often considered tougher markets to crack than U.S. and North American retailing stores.

“We are looking for the next big hit — and looking for what’s already a bit hit in download and taking them into retail,” Lang said.

These days, that search includes any programs that can help users manage, record and play their digital music and media files, he added. “Internet utilities are popular too, especially utilities that help you surf the Web anonymously or detect sites that try to place “spyware” programs on your computer, Lang said.

“What the Web does is give them an easy place to get started. From there, they can look to their next level of growth to go to the retail channel. The Web puts them on their feet. But they’ve got to earn that channel.”

Adapted from Internetnews.com.

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