Close-Up: How technology can herald a new lease of life for print

Fipp's Innovations In Magazines 2010 World Report has some good news for print titles and how they can add value to their content for consumers.

Since Tim Berners-Lee pushed the go button on the internet, people have been proclaiming the death of the print title.

However, despite this, and a global recession, magazines are still selling - both established titles and new launches.

No-one is saying it's easy, though, and publishers are consistently having to review their offer and add value to keep their consumers interested - whether this is through technological advances, unique advertising opportunities or reinvention and retooling of traditional formats.

Over the past year, Innovation Media Consulting, a global consultancy that specialises in news media, has been collating the best advances in editorial content and promotion from around the world and has put its findings into a book, published this week in conjunction with Fipp, called Innovations In Magazines 2010 World Report.

Campaign has taken four extracts to give you a flavour of what's coming soon to a newsstand near you.

Augmented reality

Somewhere in the London suburbs, a young man gets home from a night out. Before he goes to bed, he grabs his favourite magazine and flips to a page with a beautiful actress on it. He turns the page to face his webcam, and she pops up on screen giggling and telling him a dirty joke.

Augmented reality is one of the hottest innovations in the magazine industry, and it's much more interactive and content-driven than print has ever been.

The advertising potential is clear. Imagine interactive advertising campaigns in fashion spreads that show 360-degree views of the clothes as models prance in front of the reader.

Esquire magazine wanted something groundbreaking for its 2009 "Best and Brightest" US issue. It called Benjamin Palmer, the chief executive of The Barbarian Group digital design company, who knew just what Esquire needed.

"We suggested augmented reality as something that would make the reading experience more digital without just giving the straight content," Palmer says. "It's more than just a showcase of the technology. It's something pretty deep. It was an interesting experiment.

"We are trying to create something that isn't just about showing off the technology, but actually adds value to the story."

The company built a custom program to produce the multimedia issue, which combines animation, graphics and video. "There's no Microsoft Word or Photoshop for augmented reality," Palmer says. "We spent a lot of time building custom tools."

The company eventually plans to release the program, called Cinder, to the public.

"It's really easy to do a mediocre version of what AR is. But there's something else that people are trying to do with this hybrid media, which is to make legitimate use of the technology."

Video in print

Like something out of Star Trek, science fiction has become reality in one American magazine.

Entertainment Weekly readers last autumn not only read about the upcoming CBS shows, they also watched videos of those shows ... in the print edition.

As part of an innovative marketing strategy driven by CBS and Pepsi, subscribers in New York and Los Angeles watched previews introduced by the stars of their favourite shows. The magazine succeeded in adding motion and sound to the visual aspect of the magazine experience, and, in doing so, became a "hybrid" magazine. Developed in partnership with Americhip, the magazine contained the first ever "video in print" editorial/advertising spread, which included product placement for Pepsi Max.

Americhip is a technology company that believes in "multi-sensoring a brand", communicating to as many of the reader's senses as possible. This fusion of media was achieved by inserting a thin monitor (2.7 millimetres thick), a speaker and a lithium battery directly into the pages of the magazine.

The Entertainment Weekly/Americhip presentation could play continuously for an hour and the battery could be recharged, or even reprogrammed using a computer USB port. This product took the company two years to develop.

While the technology is impressive, it raises some questions about the practical application of this type of marketing.

"Fun, but futile" was the reaction of Michael Davies, a senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management, writing in the Harvard Business Review. "What's the point? One hopes the stunt is justified by the media buzz because little will justify it otherwise. Morphing the physical form from print to video misses the point of why print-based publications are so challenged. It does nothing to facilitate feedback, which is what advertisers want, or to give consumers the control over content they are coming to expect."

2D Tags

The use of two-dimensional 2D tags in print products - to be used by readers' mobile phones - might be one of the industry's biggest breakthroughs.

The technology, invented in Japan in 2002, allows readers to access online content by snapping photos of 2D barcodes. While tagging was initially a Japanese phenomenon, other countries are now starting to catch on.

Since Microsoft's introduction in January 2009 of "Microsoft Tag", its patented version, a few brave magazines have tried the technology. Get Married magazine added tags to its TV, web and print ad offerings in the US last October.

Tags link to content - maps, discounts, videos, offers, text. Content may be changed at any time and an analytics package measures consumers' mobile experience.

Tagging is part of a new strategy to restore magazines' portability. "You'll see a lot of very exciting portable-type devices coming out. That's the future of our magazine industry," Doug Carlson, the chief executive of Zinio, a consumer-targeted digital and interactive publishing company, says.

With magazines scoring highest on reader engagement, ad follow-through and credibility over other forms of media, it makes sense to introduce 2D tags, he adds.

While early data suggests only an average of 2 per cent of readers use the new tags, advertisers and magazines are optimistic. "Consumers will increasingly catch on as they become more familiar and comfortable with this new smartphone technology," Becca Leish, the head of marketing at Get Married, says. "It's like DVR (digital video recorder) ... it took a while to figure it out, but now it's commonplace."


Imagine not having to take out your mobile phone and fiddle with its buttons and touch screens, but still having digital access to the world surrounding you. Wearable interfaces may soon make such dreams a reality.

Take, for example, SixthSense, designed by Pranav Mistry, a PHD student at the US MIT Media Lab.

SixthSense uses hand gestures to call forth information from the digital world as needed, including video, audio or other additional or updated content that just can't be put in print. Use an index finger to "draw" a circle on your wrist and SixthSense projects an image of the watch face, a virtual timepiece.

Using SixthSense will enable a magazine to show daily events information, theatre listings on the go, in any street. No more looking things up on your computer.

However, those diving into the future must remember the present, at least for a while.

"If you want to start a relationship with new technology, offer on it what you cannot offer in print - complement your product," Samir Hunsi, the director of the Magazine Innovation Centre at the University of Mississippi, cautions.

"Indeed, even in the digital world, the success of magazines will not be digital deliverance via new technological platforms, but providing the content and storytelling for those platforms. It is the wine and not the bottle."