How print is adapting to a digital world

Posted on December 5, 2012 10:46 am by | Augmented Reality | Death Watch | Publishing | QR Codes | Technology

Print AdaptsI have long maintained that new media do not kill old media, but rather than old media adapt. Movies didn’t kill plays, television didn’t kill movies and the Web hasn’t killed television (for example), but each has adapted to account for the changes wrought by the newest medium.

The rise of digital content has led many to consign print to history’s dustbin. The steady growth of ebook adoption, the news media’s shift to the Web and a number of other signs seems to suggest that we’re on an inexorable march to the day when print is a quaint relic.

But there are also signs that print is undergoing the same kind of adaptation that has kept other media relevant as newer media overtook much of its purpose. Moo, the printer that altered expectations of the standard size of business cards with its shorter Moo Cards, is preparing to offer printed business cards with Near-Field Communication (NFC) chips embedded. As Kevin Tofel explained in a GigaOm article, “Just tap the card to any phone that has an NFC radio. The card will pass data to the phone and even tell the phone what to do with it.” It can open your LinkedIn or any other profile, play a video, display driving directions, or take any other action available online.

Then there’s the QR code, which has found its way into hundreds of print publications. If you’re reading an article, the QR code is a handy link to additional resources. While a shortened URL would also suffice, you’d need to either be sitting at your computer to enter it or go through the tedious process of opening the browser on your phone and then tapping out the URL. With the QR code, just open the scanner, scan the code, and the content appears.  There are plenty of examples of smart applications of QR codes in print, such as Lee LeFever’s use of them in his new book, “The Art of Explanation,” where the codes link to explainer videos that illustrate a point Lee is making on that printed page.

Scan for ExtrasNow magazines are also starting to incorporate Augmented Reality (AR) as part of the effort to enhance print with a digital experience. USC’s Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences produces a print magazine, USC Dornsife, which introduced AR in its Fall/Winter 2013 issue, which was distributed in mid-November. Pages with supplemental online content feature a “Scan for Extras” icon. Using the freely available iOS or Android app, readers simply hold their phones to the page. In very short order, the smartphone responds with the related content.

In the example below, I used the virtual version of the magazine available on the publication’s website:

Dornsife has partnered with Metaio, the German AR company behind the Junaio AR browser. Using the Metaio Creator, the magazine’s editors upload a digital version of the print page and assign a Web action to it. When scanned, the server recognizes the page and performs the action.

I experimented with the service for one of my clients, which has a large population of manufacturing employees. The idea was simple: We’d post a page on factory bulletin boards featuring a picture of the plant manager and a title, something like, “The Plant 22 Report.” Employees would scan the image and watch a two-minute video update featuring their plant’s manager, with a new video produced weekly. We abandoned the idea only when we found that there was a limited number of smartphone models with which the software works. (We’re keeping the idea in our back pockets, though, since the technology is likely to expand to more phones while over time employees will acquire more current models.)

Print has plenty of characteristics that remain desirable even as the utility of digital content improves. For example, I always carry a magazine with me on flights. When passengers are told to turn off anything with an on-off switch, I see many reach for the SkyMall magazine in their seat-back pockets just so they can have something to read for taxi and takeoff. We could talk about several other benefits of print, from the increased loyalty of print readers to the longevity of print versus the ephemeral nature of web pages.

The point, though, is that print is adapting to the digital world, find ways to be relevant and to incorporate digital functionality. There may be less of it in the long run (some newspapers are looking to publish less than daily while Newsweek has gone online-only, for instance), but as long as the producers of print media continue to explore new digital, interactive tools for their products, and new ways to be relevant in the digital world, print will continue to have a role to play.

Let me know if you’re integrating digital capabilities into your print efforts.



  • 1.I don't see why anyone would call this "augmented reality" - like the yellow first-down line on TV broadcasts of football games. That's something we get to experience only through the broadcast (and I miss it when I attend a game in person!)

    What you described for Dornsife doesn't seem to me any different from a QR code, which is much more compatible with current smart phones' usual software.

    What am I missing?

    Steve Levine | December 2012 | Austin, TX

  • 2.You raise an interesting point, Steve. Augmented reality is defined as the addition of digital information to something real. In this case, it's whatever the link pulls up based on its recognition of the "real" magazine page. QR codes and AR markers, on the other hand, fit more neatly into the idea of "augmented virtuality,"

    In their book "Infinite Possibility," B. Joseph Pine and Kim Korn outline the idea of a multiverse based on dimensions of time, space and matter. You mix and match these to identify different kinds of experiences (for instance, no-time, no-space, matter or time, space - no-matter). They argue that the markers you see in magazines and can print out, then hold up to your webcam, is mistakenly labeled an AR tool when it's actually Augmented Virtuality, since what's being augmented isn't actually part of the real world. Junaio's efforts fall into kind of a grey area, since the printed magazine IS part of the real world and the resulting digitized content augments what's on the magazine page. But it would be easy to make the case that it's Augmented Virtuality, too.

    I highly recommend "Infinite Possibility," by the way. It helps you get a handle on all these various approaches to creating experiences via technology.

    Shel Holtz | December 2012

  • 3.With the huge increase in the amount of digital content and the shift in people’s information gathering habits, the need to print many things has vanished. This has to be a good thing as it ensures that the resources that are used to print something aren’t being wasted on newsprint or advertising catalogues as much as they once were. Print on demand services mean that even books and magazines are being printed to order now. Printing isn’t becoming extinct; it is evolving to remain viable and relevant into the future.

    ozio media | December 2012

  • 4.The thing that is being missed is the fact that a QR code goes to a pre-defined link and can never be changed unless the link it is assigned to is forwarded. I own a company that Augments print as well as Reality for tourism that allows info to pop up/overlay onto surroundings. You can go to this page which video #2 and #3 give examples of it in action.

    Wil McReynolds | March 2013 | Canada

  • 5.This blog gives me the inspiration I’ve been looking for! Nice piece of work. I’m glad I came by this blog on the web and thanks for sharing this bit.

    Laxmi | November 2013

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