Last year, revenue was up 30% for the Ledger Dispatch, and key revenue categories that had left or minimised spending — most notably real estate and automotive verticals — had returned. There was only one major difference in the newspaper’s offering from the previous year: an augmented reality (AR) special section published in the newspaper. 

What is AR and how does it work for newspapers? After downloading a free mobile app, a reader can hover the smartphone over a printed image or text to launch an interactive experience. Print can be linked to video, audio, Web sites, e-mail, social media, even geocodes — or a variety of these links together. One of the most widely known examples of this technology is Pokémon Go (which made of billion dollars).

Many companies offer AR platforms that newspaper companies can use: Layar, Blippar, Aurasma, HP Reveal, and Strata. For Ledger Dispatch, I chose Strata, as I wanted a white label AR platform and app. The platform is simple to use: an image file is loaded onto a server or into the cloud. Then a video, audio, or other file can be attached to create the AR experience. The image file becomes the code (we call it a trigger) for the AR experience.

Ledger Dispatch readers can hold a smartphone over AR triggers throughout the print newspaper to launch multi-media content experiences.
Ledger Dispatch readers can hold a smartphone over AR triggers throughout the print newspaper to launch multi-media content experiences.

There is no need for special ink, no coding, no special design requirements, no QR code. This AR technology works in colour and black and white. Training someone to use the platform takes just minutes, and there is no need for additional staffing to support it. As we like to say, it is so easy even a publisher can do it.

Newspapers typically have focused on the entertainment of a single AR experience, as opposed to integrating AR experiences throughout the newspaper. We now incorporate AR throughout our editorial content and advertising.

In editorial, we tie video, audio interviews, even 3D effects to our print stories. For example, on July 3, a fireworks display set to music shot out of the masthead. Sports stories play the highlights. We don’t just write about the touchdown or the buzzer beater — we show it to the reader. Same in news coverage. Ever had a source claim they were quoted incorrectly or taken in the wrong context in print? Link the audio interview to the print story and readers can hear it for themselves.

AR features can be a fast way to generate new revenue. The more exclusive the content and the more AR experiences you have, the more downloads of your app and the more successful you will be.

AR can allow the reader to scan an advertisement, then a feature story comes up — or vice versa. 

Our favourite advertising uses of AR include:

  • Realtors offer virtual tours of homes, buttons to link to the realtor’s Web site or LinkedIn, or to click and add their name to your phone contacts.
  • Automotive dealers use AR to provide tours of new models and tours of used car lots, to teach vehicle maintenance, or to have the user set appointments for repair.
  • Movie and TV listings can be augmented so a reader can play the movie trailer, purchase a ticket, view the rating, Rotten Tomato score, and online reviews — all directly from the newspaper.
  • Business cards published in the newspaper can now become the world’s smallest screen to play a video and link to phone, e-mail, and Web site.

Political ads, tourism videos, dinner reservations, purchase tickets, make donations directly from print — the opportunity list goes on and on.