Going mobile

Print is on the move again.

Ever since Bernard Silver and Norman Woodland invented the barcode in 1949 business has worked to turn objects into information. The recession in advertising, the migration from print to digital media, consumer preference for mobile devices—all have accelerated the trend toward digitizing the physical world.

Enter the QR, or quick response, code. What looks like a stamp, a maze or a square hieroglyph is really a portal to a new world of information-rich advertising. QR codes allow people with cameras in their smartphones to load websites just by pointing the device at, say, a magazine ad that carries the code. They function like hyperlinks on websites, taking readers directly to the information they want.

It’s more than the latest online fad. The technology just might help authors connect with an elusive audience.

Specialty publications are among the first to adopt the technology. The October issue of This Old House is loaded with codes. And not only in the ads. The editors are using the little squares for contests, access to how-to videos and requests for literature—techniques authors might adopt to publicize their work and promote their brand.

Builder Buzz QR CodeTrade publications are embracing the technology, too. Last month Randall-Reilly’s trucking division sent an email to media buyers announcing a program to allow readers to “unlock access to multimedia content.” Consumer publications are also rolling out programs. A recent issue of People featured a QR code in an ad for Panasonic. Why not publish the codes in any printed collateral used to publicize your work? You can track the responses, analyze the data and reach out to new audiences with targeted messages on the device of their choice.

Our agency joined the movement last week when we designed a QR code for a social media platform I helped to create. Printed on postcards that we’ll distribute at a tradeshow next month, the code will lead smartphone users to a blog that highlights trends in the industries in which our clients compete.

Try it yourself. Download an app like QR Reader, hold your smartphone up to this screen and visit the site—all without having to key in a lengthy URL.

The very technology that threatened to destroy print is enabling it to reach new readers. As the economy recovers and mobile devices spread, writers can use that knowledge to turn dead wood into dynamic sources of data . . . and revenue.

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