Bridging the gap between print and digital: interactive print


During the past few years, newspaper and magazine publishers have focused much of their attention on how to cope with/profit from the massive transition in consumption of content from print to digital.

And not without good reason.

Tablets and eReaders are now ubiquitous. Sitting on the train as I write this, there are eight people within my line of vision. Three are deep in thought, or possibly just staring out of the window in a trance. The other five are all reading.

Only one of them has a book, three of the others are on iPads, and one on a Kindle. The only one whose content I can see is reading today’s copy of The Times.

But amidst all the hype around tablets, it’s easy to forget that for the vast majority of traditional print publications, print is still the mainstay of their business. That being the case, any respectable publisher ought to be asking not only how they can manage the transition from print to digital, but also, how can they augment their print media with digital technology?

There is no shortage of ways to do this.

Like tablets, QR codes are now pretty much ubiquitous. And I bet if you stopped 50 people on the street, showed them a QR code, and asked them what it was, a majority would know.

A QR code can lead to whatever the publisher chooses to link it to, whether it’s a piece of content, such as an app, or a video report to download to your phone or tablet.

In fact, probably the most frustrating thing about most QR code executions is how they pull the rug out from under their own feet. They do this by frequently taking the consumer to a piece of content that is not optimised for viewing on a mobile phone, such as a full-fat desktop Web site.

Near-field communication (NFC) chips are probably the natural successors to QR codes. Or they will be, once the price point drops to a level where it becomes feasible to include one on the same page in every copy of a publication with a print run of several hundred thousand or even a couple million.

Their advantage over QR technology is that the NFC-equipped device merely needs to be held close to the page to trigger the interaction.

The disadvantage is that NFC is not yet in many handsets, and Apple has so far eschewed the technology, choosing instead to launch its iBeacon tech as part of iOS7. This effectively does the job that equipping iPhones with NFC would have done, although it’s aimed more at retailers and operators of other physical outlets, rather than publishers.

And then there’s marker technology favoured by Augmented Reality (AR) firms. These trigger an interaction when an image on the page is scanned by the relevant AR app.

One AR firm, Blippar, has already done some interesting off-the-page stuff, including an award-winning campaign with Stylist magazine in the UK. The Stylist campaign features an advertising page full of “Blipp to buy” products, and the AR interaction enables the reader to buy goods right off the page.

Another AR firm, Layar, has just launched the Layar Innovation Program, which CEO Quintin Schevernels describes as “an opportunity for print publishers to join us in a long-term partnership to experiment and investigate the possibilities of interactive print.”

Layar notes that some publishers have been “playing around” with interactive print and the company has seen more than 50,000 campaigns executed, with 300,000 interactive print pages published. The Layar Innovation Program aims to accelerate the learning curve and help the publishing industry to “get its Mojo back.”

The company is inviting publishers to come to the table with the magazine titles they think will work best with interactive print, based on target audience, content, and advertisers. It says publishers should be ready to work for six to 12 issues to learn and build the business case for using the technology in their business.

Layar will work with the publisher on each issue to develop and create interactive content and advertising, print calls-to-action, analytics, and reporting to show how interactive print can add lasting value to the business.

It says the programme will require an average investment of around €65,000 (roughly US$89,000), but is giving away a full one-year membership to the Innovation Program for free. The publisher who wins the free membership will be the one that can convince Layar that it’s open to new ideas and ready to join.

Clearly, Layar has much to gain from the initiative, since making static things interactive is how it makes its money. That said, in an increasingly always-on world, anything that can drag the printed page kicking and screaming into the 21st century merits close attention.

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