Ashley Johnson
Apr 15, 2010

Can print find a clear digital path?

The global print industry is confounding naysayers by utilising digital technology. But content needs to be wisely chosen.

Can print find a clear digital path?
A recent report published by Innovation International Media Consulting called Innovations in Magazines, suggests their may be plenty of life yet in the print mgazine sector.

The survey claims that even in a tough market magazines have been able to reinvent themselves by engaging readership in a whole new way: incorporating digital media into the print experience.

A host of new tools are available. These include the latest in augmented reality - using a visual cue from print and a webcam to create 3D, computer-generated imagery on the page. Similarly, in terms of 2D technology, there are tags that first allow mobile phone cameras to read barcodes and then transfer anything from websites to videos directly into the phone’s browser. While early data suggests only an average of two per cent of readers use these new tags, print media owners and advertisers are still optimistic. Even video is finding a home in print, by inserting a micro-thin monitor, speaker and battery directly into the pages of a magazine.

If used properly, this technology could help breathe life into the magazine industry by creating new and innovative connections with readers beyond the printed page.

And with magazines across the globe going through a similar downturn to other print media, namely the double whammy of rapidly disappearing ad sale revenue and the increase in free digital consumption, this would be an especially welcome development.

For the first time, there is now a very clear pathway between print and online that goes way beyond a published URL link.
“Using this kind of technology is all about creating connections,” says Nico Abbruzzese, head of digital for Maxus Asia-Pacific. “A very small percentage of consumers will go online based on a call-to-action they’ve seen in print. What these new technologies create is an appeal and connection to an online experience.”

But while this new technology offers easier connectivity and conversion, its real appeal will lie in the additional content offered. In other words, magazines cannot rely on the technology alone to hook people. “When magazines use these technologies, the content that is enabled or expressed is extremely important,” says Cheuk Chiang, CEO of PHD Asia-Pacific. “The strength of the content will determine how long consumers engage with it.”

Abbruzzese agrees: “I’ve seen augmented reality work really well in magazines like GQ and Esquire because they offered different content online. You were seeing something new.”

Magazines that use this technology effectively will therefore be able to build on their content in a digital environment, rather than just replicating what has already been seen in print.

Content aside, incorporating new platforms and remaining media-agnostic is key to staying relevant to consumers. If convergence trends tell us anything, it is that all forms of technology are evolving towards performing similar tasks.

“A few years ago consumers would have been turned off by seeing this technology in print,” says Chiang. “Nowadays they won’t because of the convergence trend. One channel isn’t just one channel anymore - TV isn’t just TV. It also gives you access to the internet. A phone is more than a phone - you can access the internet, watch TV and take pictures.”

And it appears that the same may be happening with print. Consumers simply expect more when they interface with various media and technology, and print should no longer be seen as an exception.

As the innovation report suggests, magazines would be wise to begin incorporating these new digital applications if they want to stand a chance of keeping pace with the ever-evolving consumer.

“We’re always looking for new ways to engage people,” concludes Abbruzzese. “If we can do that in a new and interesting way, it’s a very exciting thing.”

Industry comments

Andrew Au, marketing manager Asia-Pacific, The Economist:
“Smart publishers are adapting to what people want and how they interact with media today. But there is still a lot of testing going on. Places like the US and Europe are a few years ahead of Asia. 2D tags, augmented reality, and embedded video will take a few years to be used out here consistently. The ones that work elsewhere will eventually make it to Asia. We have the benefit of not having to dive headfirst into developing this technology. We can wait and see what works first.”

Thorsten Nolte, director, Upfront Media:

“I do not believe that using gimmicks like augmented reality will stop the decline in profits. The challenges that the publishers face are not to do with the content that they providing - they’re related to the fact the content is free and more up-to-date through digital means. Magazines should be investing in interactive tablet version of their traditional publications, not enhancing features in products that are based on an outdated business model.”

Got a view?
Email [email protected]

This article was originally published in the 8 April 20120 issue of Media.

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