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A new era of publishing?

Andrew Perry-Smith, Managing Director of Linkz, talks about the advancement of technology in publishing and the editorial and advertising opportunities created through its adoption.

By Andrew Perry-Smith

For publishers, the continued onslaught of digital and the structural challenges it presented were no doubt perceived by some as the death-knell of an industry whose very existence was steeped in print.

Not only did they have to contend with the immediacy offered by online sites, the digital revolution also welcomed the meteoric rise of mobile technology, with smartphone penetration already at 53% in the UK alone and due to reach more than 100% saturation within a couple of years. Both of these components understandably raised alarm bells. However, thanks to further advancements in the very sector once feared by the industry, publishers now have a way of connecting print with digital and joining the revolution, as opposed to being a victim of it.

Invisible digital watermarks are embedded into adverts or even editorial pages, which allow readers to further engage with content and enhance their experience of traditional media. As consumers, we now openly use smart devices to enhance our lives, whether it’s to connect with friends via social media, or check our bank accounts, so it is no surprise the same enhancement is sought after with regards media.

Some may remember an early attempt to connect both mediums, in the form of QR codes. Though they were moderately successful, it is fair to say they didn’t take off quite as much as anticipated. A retrospective look at QR codes show they experienced problems around levels of consumer uptake - while they were readily adopted by the marketing world and welcomed on to the boardroom table, the reality for the adopted sectors was different.

Despite 3m UK consumers having scanned a QR code during summer 2012, they remained in a minority and the adoption of the codes has yet to demonstrate a widespread return on investment.

For those who did ‘spot and scan’, they often did so for little or no gain. A bad-case scenario was that the consumer was left with a bitter taste in their mouth as a result of an unrewarding experience and, worse, a negative memory and association with the brand – a fifth of respondents don’t expect they’ll use them again in the future claiming they offered no advantages and, according to research done by Foolproof, nearly half of mobile users have “ditched a brand” following a poor mobile experience. A disposable technology, QR codes also had little in the way of security and so the likelihood that the code is a ‘duff’ is potentially high. More disappointing still was the subsequent payoff experience for the consumer when using a code that is, in fact, ‘real’. Being taken to a brand’s desktop website on a small mobile phone screen means the direct sale / response potential is minimal, and the adoption of such a technology, futile.

These failings, largely attributed to a lack of education, provided the perfect platform for a new solution for achieving those coveted tangible results. Enter digital watermarking - an easy to create, cost-effective solution that will put a secure direct response mechanism in the readers’ hands. Unlike QR codes, digital watermarking, that utilises an invisible marker image, is secure, does not take up any space and does not look like someone has made a black and white pixelated mistake on the artwork. This can be enhanced by the creation of a mobile microsite for each code that promises an intuitive, easy to use and effective way for the reader to respond, buy, get more information, see videos / additional images, share, like, tweet, register and so on. Furthermore, the tracking of all data is far more effective, monitoring the whats, wheres and whens of the interaction and how the user responded, making digital watermarking an invaluable data capture tool.

For publishing, the benefits of digital watermarking are two-fold. Not only does it bring both editorial and advertising content to life, encourage readers to interact with the page like they never have before, it also creates a great reason for advertisers to continue with print spend, potentially offering a new revenue stream.

The onus to educate still prevails, but if publishers have bought-in to the benefits of a multi-platform approach, it is a given that they will also buy-in to the benefits of educating their own readers and encouraging uptake at a consumer level. This was very much the experience of House Beautiful magazine in the US, who saw a staggering five-fold increase in reader response rates as a result of using a similar approach.

There is no point sitting on the sidelines – consumers are already managing their lifestyles through a mobile device and not having a multi-level platform is no longer an option. Especially with the influence of younger generations, readers are now somewhat, if not fully, aware that print can, and will, have digital dimensions – and they will be not only be more receptive as a result, but will also come to expect it.