Company says its interactive codes can save print

Organizations with a heavy investment in print – newspapers, magazines, books, catalogues and the like – have been bulldozed by the Internet.

For the last 15 years they’ve been alternatively fighting and embracing the digital world with mixed success: Many magazines have seen their pages shrink while newspapers watch readers drift away.

The latest attempt to bridge the gap is technology from an Amsterdam company called Layar B.V., which makes what it calls an augmented reality browser for Android or iOS smart phones that can read a code embedded in print and then jump to a Web page with new or expanded digital content.

Layar could be the savior for some – but not all – print media, says Layer CEO Quintin Schevernels, who was in Toronto last week to visit Layar customers as well as its partners and offices here and in New York City.

Another reason he’s here is that this month Layar hopes to register its 1,000th customer of its online editor.

Layar is a competitor to Near Field Communications codes, QR codes and Amazon’s Flow app (scan a product’s barcode in a store with your mobile device and it will find the price on Amazon and link to related content).

However, Layar pays for itself through a software-as-a service Web-based editor for creating and installing the code on a digital page before publication.

Organizations upload the PDF or JPG pages they want to embed the reader symbol into Layar Creator, an online editor that can read both formats. Through the editor they can place the symbol anywhere on the page. Then the saved page goes to press the way it normally does.

The cost is about $20 a page.

On seeing a code marker on a page, a reader aims an enabled smart phone at the document. The app recognizes the code and links up to a Web page with any content the publisher has set up – a video, a slide show, an information page or a page where the reader can buy an item.

Schevernels said a number of Canadian publishers are trying it including Postmedia Network (which publishes a number of dailies including the National Post), the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, Reader’s Digest and Glacier Media Group (Vancouver-based publisher of daily and trade publications).
Layar’s Canadian partner is Avenue Road, a Toronto digital marketing consulting firm.

Schevernels became CEO last June after being chief operating officer of VNU Media, a privately-owned publisher of a number of titles including the Dutch version of Computerworld was company sold to a large Dutch publisher.

Layer, which has raised some $15 million in financing from Intel Capital and Euopean venture cap firms Prime Ventures and Sunstone Capital, appealed to Schevernels for a number of reasons.

“It’s right in the middle of print and online. I’ve been in publishing for 10, 11 years. I joined the publishing industry because of all the opportunities in online, but online has never really been leveraged to strengthen the power of the print products because it was really like a separate medium… and I think with augmented reality, interactive print      and the smart phone we can make the bridge.

“So if you read a magazine or a newspaper immediately you can get the digital information just by taking out the smart phone. “ou’re really connecting the two.

The result, he said is “the renaissance of print.”

Maybe not, says Thad McIlroy, a former Canadian book publisher turned California-based print and online publishing consultant. “I want to say that Layar is brilliantly original, but it is quite the opposite,” he said in an email. It dates back to a 1999 feline-shaped print bar code reader called CuteCat, and is related to QR Codes.

“The problem is always the consumer,” he wrote. “Most people don’t read print magazines by pointing their cells phones at the pages. That’s because they see print as a fundamentally different experience from interactive.

“As a consultant I argue to my clients: enhance your print editions by doing great things in print, such as using special paper stocks, special inks (of which their are many), special coatings, fold-outs, special binding, regional editions, different covers. The opportunities to customize print are numerous.

“And, separately, treat your digital editions as “Web-native” and enhance them as appropriate (no extraneous bells and whistles just because you can).”

On the other hand Julie Ask, principal ebusiness analyst at Forrester Research, says augmented reality apps can be useful if done right.

For example, she said in an email, Amazon Flow simplifies the discovery and consumption of ratings/reviews/pricing on books. It’s to scan a bar code than to type in the title of a book. 

The open questions, she added, are whether enough consumers understand augmented reality, are the publishers really offering convenience and does the experience work well enough to get consumers engaged.

Some augmented reality apps “come off as gimmicky because they are hard to use or don’t add enough value/utility,” she said. Augmented reality depends on image/marker recognition, as well as the quality of the Internet connection.

Of course, she added, it doesn’t cost a publisher anything if advertisers use an AR system, as opposed to the editorial side.

As for whether print is dead, Schevernels replies, “I don’t think so, defiantly not.”

But, he adds, it depends on the media. Newspapers are in trouble because there is so much competition from the Internet.

However, he sees a brighter future for other print media – magazines, catalogues, material beside point-of-sale machines, business cards. “Hopefully we can reinforce some of the print profits with interactivity.

“But will it save the newspaper industry? I don’t think so. They will suffer more.”