BoSacks Speaks Out: Defending Print the Right Way

By Bob Sacks on August 26, 2013

Several times this week I have been involved in correspondence and conversations about QR codes and various other forms of augmented reality. The theory continuously presented to me is that print will be saved by the use of augmented reality. It is at that point I stick my feet into the ground, as I think there is nothing much further from the truth on this subject than this thought process.

I need to be clear here, as I have many friends and associates who own or work for augmented reality companies. I support the use of AR in that it is a wonderful tool and can be a bonus for any printed product for either ads or editorial. But I am not a fan of augmented reality in regards to it being used the savior of print. In that regard, it is a total red herring to print's ability to succeed or not succeed in regards to printed magazines.

Here is my reason why although it is a good tool, it isn't something that you could or would use on every page, or for any extended period in a printed magazine. When we are offered a QR code or other AR launch system in a magazine that takes us to the web, we are then forced to balance two separate devices. The web product/cell phone/tablet in one hand and a magazine in the other hand, or on your lap, or perhaps on the desk, making neither a comfortable long-term reading experience. Continually sending people from the printed magazine page to an electronic device defeats the purpose of having a good print product and the concurrent rewarding lean back experience that we are all so proud of as an industry. As the old expression goes, putting lipstick on a pig only wastes your time and annoys the pig. Although AR indeed has its valuable moments and its usefulness, AR is a distraction to the nature of our printed products. In this case it is trying to fake the electrification of the printed page. If I wanted to get online, I would have done so. If I chose to read a magazine, why send me somewhere online? Does that make sense to you?

 Last month was the not so surprising news that Microsoft has left the augmented reality business Their going out of the 2D business move by them makes perfect sense to me.  Of course, I will add that they had the least attractive system of all of them to my eyes.

For me, I find it a total pain to have find and pull up the correct scanning app on my phone. And it's not just one set of software that you need. Oh no! There are dozens of versions of augmented reality programs and companies out there. If that industry really wants success and traction with the general public, my advice to them is to build a universal translator. Yes, that is right, just like on Star Trek. One downloaded software application that reads and understands all of the multitude of various languages of the augmented reality universe. If there are dozens of different systems the AR world cannot succeed. There must be either one winning technology or one universal translator.

I must state so that there is no misunderstanding, augmented reality does have some terrific benefits for advertisers, readers and publishers. Innovative use of AR can supplement a magazine's content, where print cannot.  Of that, I am a big fan. It is useful in many creative ways. It can actually deliver more timely information than print can and it can deliver more of it. So my argument is that augmented reality with its many uses is good and not going to go away any time soon, but it is surely not going to be the savior of print.  We will live or die upon our own sword.

Print will survive because it does things that a web based product can't do.  With a printed magazine you enter the single minded world of non-distraction as the editor intended you to. (Digital editions have a different agenda). When it comes to magazines, the engagement factor for print is exactly that. A one-on-one relationship between you and the minds on the other side of the page that created an experience, which won't be interrupted by popups, audio prompts, incoming emails or other distractions. It is a relatively inexpensive product and on most occasions contains excellence in editorial quality and beautiful reproduction of art and photos.

When you get right down to it, the whole dialog of the death of print has been terribly exaggerated.  Most of the trauma is from failing newspapers and magazines who can't supply the reader with the kind of 21st century content that they need, desire and are willing to pay for. Those titles that can supply outstanding content aren't suffering.

The demand for printed products isn't going away anytime soon. Printed magazines are in a long, slow descent to a new reality, that feels like death, but actually isn't.  The thought that sending readers from the printed page to the web will save print is misguided and inaccurate.

I would greatly appreciate some e-mails, thoughts and reactions to this subject. What do you think?


By Bob Sacks| August 26, 2013

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Bob Sacks

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