Can Digital Technologies Save Print Magazines?

BlogHer Original Post

Has Robert Downey, Jr. yelled "Booyah! at you and thanked you for inviting him over yet? If not, you are probably among those who haven't tried out Esquire Magazine's new augmented reality issue. Augmented reality - a technique for adding layers of digital information to real-world objects -- is just one of the advanced digital technologies magazine publishers are embracing in a bid to get readers and advertisers excited about print again.

This is actually Esquire's second attempt at merging digital and print. Last year's 75th anniversary issue featured an "electronic paper" cover that led Wired magazine's Chris Snyder to say derisively that, "what is presented as the future of digital/print convergence is little more than ink mashed with some underutilized circuitry."

By contrast, the buzz around Esquire's use of AR has been more positive. First, here's video introduction:

Drake University magazine journalism major Kimisha Chambers was intrigued:

Some people may not see the point in Esquire’s augmented reality issue. There is not much interaction, but in today’s world and with the direction the media is taking in this digital age. Esquire’s innovation sets it apart from the competition. 

Eleftheria Payne has a story in Adweek about the two-year effort led by Esquire editor David Granger to find innovative ways of bringing digital and print together. As Payne notes, other magazines, such as Popular Science, have also begun experimenting with AR. She notes:

"The AR trend in magazines is part of a continuing effort by the publishing industry to reignite interest in a medium that has seen readers move away from the printed page to online media. "It's not about print vs. digital. Consumers just want the most immersive, cool experience they can get," stresses Kevin O'Malley, vp, publisher of Esquire. "It's about print melding with digital and what happens when you do that. AR is one example of what that is."

My own take on the new Esquire is that it's a hoot to play with, but its not clear what kind of legs it will have in its current form. For one thing, you have to hold the magazine up in front of a webcam to launch the application's files. And once you've run through the available content, there's not much left to do. That's part of what Jeremiah Owyang doen't like about it either:

"The challenge is, users have to download the desktop app. It should be native to existing tools --like a browser."

Journalism professor Mindy McAdams has been thinking about ways in which the news industry can use AR:

"The app that makes sense to me is one that’s keyed to a particular, defined geographic area, and one entity must control the app for that area. Maybe it’s one app for all locales, and the entity leases it from the vendor. I think a monopoly in each location would be necessary — not only for the profit end, but for the convenience of the users. They won’t bother checking three apps for a review of one restaurant.

"The content of the app would not be only reviews — it can include photos, experiences, coupons, and (yes) ads. But to make it super-appealing, it can’t be ads only. That would never provide enough value to the audience."

AR and E-paper aren't the only technology that print publishers are deploying. Last sumer, Entertainment Weekly unveiled a video-in-print ad for CBS' new fall line-up. The embedded video runs on a screen that's just 2.7 millimeters thick, and has a battery that lasts 40 minutes according to its manufacturer, Americhip:

These experiments are only part of what the major magazine publishers have in store. Just yesterday, the news broke that Time Inc., Hearst and Conde Nast, among others, are planning a joint venture to explore new digital initiatives for their their magazine properties.

Do these experiments in digital and print hybrids capture your interest?

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