The magazine industry recently emerged from a decade-long period of denial about digital media. While all of the major publishers have had digital units and toe-dipping exercises all along (remember, news magazine CD-Roms and Time Inc.’s Pathfinder?) there has always been resistance to digerati insistence that print experiences were seriously threatened by digital.
Not so much anymore. As circulation seizes up and declines and advertisers seem shaky at best about the role of print in their marketing mix, suddenly the periodical industry is all-in for digital, especially apps. Many have used the term “digital do-over” to describe the opportunity to catch the app/tablet/mobile wave that most of them boggled online. And so we are getting a range of magazine editions of the print product as well as new units at companies like Rodale and Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia that are churning out lines of apps.
Many of the periodicals have been playing with 2D mobile codes, watermarking and augmented reality as ways of linking print with mobile experiences. Microsoft, Digimarc, Metaio, Layer, SnapTag and others all have courted the mags with schemes for activating pages. The hurdle for readers has been the need to find and download one of these third party’s apps in order to read the 2D code and get the goodies. The trend this year, however, is toward the “companion app.” Magazines like Glamour, Lucky, House Beautiful, Sports Illustrated and others now are embedding the scan technology into their own branded apps.
John Paris, who leads mobile for Time Inc., tells me he believes this will be an important trend among magazines in the coming year. The advantages are clear. The magazine keeps the user in its own brand house, able to measure and account for interactions, move users across other content and ad offerings, and connect the print identity to a digital identity all the more.
Even more to the point, the prevalence of companion apps for magazines could help publishers standardize the mobile activation code chaos in their own pages. Many advertisers now include QR codes on their own advertising apart from any code program the publisher offers. As a result, the reader is faced with a cacophony of mobile callouts from the pages of any one book -- a watermark here, a QR code there, and an AR promote over there. The companion app gives the publisher a richer multi-screen offering that might lure advertisers into the magazine’s own mobile program. In-print campaigns can be tied to in-app promotions that run deeper than simple links to a mobile site or video.
Ultimately, magazines are looking to regain some control over reader experiences that have fragmented across multiple screens. Their challenge with companion apps will be to build complementary experiences that create a new “second screen” reflex and compel readers to pull out their smartphones as they crack open the monthly issue.
Among all of the magazine companion apps, however, Lucky magazine’s Lucky Shopper is among the most ambitious. This app has a universal product scanner embedded that allows the shopper to use the magazine app as an in-store companion for getting product information and sharing finds.
In the end, mobilized media allow -- perhaps require -- that analog media re-imagine themselves and their roles in people’s lives as services and not just experiences.