Could Augmented Reality Be the Answer To Newspaper Woes

Newspaper readership and the ability to translate younger readers into future buyers is a real tricky one for Irish media.  The online habits of younger readers are well documented and last weeks announcement that the online had overtaken TV and other media forms as the most prevalent advertising medium in UK brought sharper attention to the topic. 

Add on to this the heavy investment into the printing presses which compounds the problem for media owners.  The Irish Times spent approx 50 million euro on its printing press while the impressive Independent plant was possibly similar.

Most articles on this topic focus on ploughing investment into the online product.  Most media owners are doing this to some degree but not everyone is online and the investments in the printed press needs to be realised.  Print is not dead and the popularity of freesheet and glossy magazines show they still have a good following even among the more digital native.  The tactile physical and instantly portable nature of print means its still has great following and plenty to offer if it embraces real innovation.

Last weekend I was part of a panel at a creativity conference called ‘Creativity Rising’ in Fitzpatrick Hotel organised by MultiTalent.  The 20 participants came from Spain, Austria and Ireland.  Over the weekend people presented a ‘Work in Progress’ of some initiative they were undertaking in the realm of creativity.  The group then peer reviewed each one and delivered feedback and suggestions.

During one of the breakout session I had a good chat with Humberto Matas from DNX in Madrid.  We spoke abouts some of the challenges facing the print media industry in Spain and Ireland.

Two interesting things emerged from the conversation on how the print industry can translate younger readers into older buyers and not canibalise the entire print industry.  The two areas were

  1. Augmented Reality

Augmented reality is a hot topic at the moment with interesting experiments in Amsterdam with mobile technology.  Check here for an earlier piece I did on AR.  In simple terms augmented reality pulls together multiple layers of data to help present different version of the real world and allow new ways of interacting with it.  One possible use for the print industry is that along side an article there is a symbol/bar code that could be scanned by mobile phone, web camera or event an interactive kiosk.  Once scanned this would pull up a 3D interactive version of the story that younger viewers could manipulate or use to find more information or buy services.  Rather than having all of this originate from online and stay online,  this type iniative would anchor it to the physical newspaper with multiple modes for online interaction. 


2. Embedded Video Screens

 Very similar to the moving photos in Harry Potters Daily Prophet US publishers are experimenting with inserting tiny video screen in to magazines and newspapers.  Entertainment Weekly will be distributing 2.7mm thick video screens that are integrated into the magazine.  These rechargable screens can play up to 40 minutes of video.  As video is the choice of younger demographics it has a good chance of attracting younger readers but also offers advertisers much more choice in advertising.  Hopefully it does not become advertising platform alone but rather another editorial outlet.  As the technology evolves and gets thinner it could in theory replace all the colour photos.  Hopefully the recycling industry would catch up so it was unlikely to produce  a waste nightmare but I imagine that short life easily recycled screens and batteries would emerge.

This shows the how the entire media industry is converging.  Print publications becoming web portals becoming social media outlets becoming twitter channels becoming virtual radio and tv stations (with podcasting and YouTube).  In theory the Irish Times would compete with RTE and YouTube only stations.

The next few years will see alot of media changes and its obvious that online will be the key driver.  However there is still life in the print edition but only innovation will save the day.

– new post scripted information –

Just noticed this great video from TED India.  Lots of interesting stuff but fast forward to 8 minutes to see how Six Sence technology can interact with newspapers.

4 Comments. Leave new

Very interesting piece, but a lot depends on whether the necessary culture of changes exists/can be created among the main newspapers. As a product, newspapers haven’t changed that much in a century, but the kind of changes that are required now will have to be implemented within the next few years. One way or another, the newspaper sector, in Ireland and elsewhere, is almost certainly going to look very different in a few years’ time.

Thanks Charles. Most media outlets are struggling to make their online outlets pay and have in some instances have canidalised the paper product.

Never mind the media industry the whole communications industry will look complete different.

Big strategic decision for the main media players ahead.

Richard Chapman
November 5, 2009 8:16 pm

A thought-provoking piece, Eoin. I think the ‘augmented reality’ one is a winner. Who hasn’t wished they could click on a Web address that appears in print? (And who else will admit that in moments of absent-mindedness they have tried to!) With 3G cameraphones that have decent browsers now common, this should be almost trivial to implement. There are a number of suitable ‘2D barcode’ technologies already available. QR code is established in this role in Japan, and I believe Microsoft champions a technology called High Capacity Color Barcode. An even more intriguing – and less intrusive – idea is the ‘dataglyph’, by which a URL or other data can be encoded into an image. Any photograph could also be a link.

I’m certain the embedded screen will never be more than a gimmick though. (Will the magazine also come with embedded headphones? People don’t much like silent video.) I suspect the combination of magazine and video will be the subset of their disadvantages. Trying to make a magazine be more like an electronic device will just emphasise the many ways in which it isn’t. Print publishing has to play to its strengths.

Printed material can be dropped or neglected without incurring much expense, it has extraordinarily high-resolution images, it benefits from infinite battery life. It will be decades before networked devices can compete on those points. Print will never be as big as it used to be, but that has always been true – print was the first mass medium. Since then it has faced inevitable doom at the hands of the telegraph, cinema, telephone, radio, television… Yet somehow it’s survived and somehow it remained profitable. I’m not going to fret too much about its future.

Thanks Richard. Technology and habits of younger user will probbaly be the catalysts that decide all of this. Interesting time ahead.

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