Could AR Be the Unlikely Savior of Print?

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We're not far from the day when any printed magazine or newspaper will be able to break free from its historic physical limitations by including a dynamic digital layer. Augmented reality has the potential to revive the once-thriving, now-desiccated print industry -- but it has to be done right.

Make content with intent

AR demands that we approach content creation with conscious intent. That's because, for the foreseeable future, AR experiences will require a headset or mobile device, effectively creating a built-in barrier to adoption. Of course, this means many consumers can and will opt out of the experience before it even begins. As a consequence, we will be held to a new standard of creating high quality experiences that serve a real purpose. Mindless filler content will not have a place.

If AR is to succeed, it must enhance the two-dimensional printed page and delight the consumer, making itself more than just a novelty but a must-have experience. AR content should be a welcome complement to the physical page, providing something that may not be conveyable with words alone. The possibilities of exactly what that could be are what is so exciting about AR! Print will no longer be bound by physical limitations, or word counts, or even two-dimensionality. AR will allow it to live and breathe outside of the page.

Content will drive the tech

In the case of Twitter, Facebook, or Snapchat, a platform was built and consumers shaped how it was used. But AR experiences require a bit more than a screen and a mouse. We will have to give the average consumer especially compelling reasons to join AR experiences. Without that irresistible pull of amazing content, people are not likely to find AR worth the hassle. It is an exciting and amazing opportunity for any content creator out there, new-school or old-school.

Last year, The New Yorker dove into AR with their Innovation issue, letting readers take a virtual jaunt into the city by pointing their cameras at the covers after downloading an app. The experience brought the 2D doors of the cover's subway car to life through AR, which then brought readers on a 3D subway ride through a digital NYC. This forward-thinking campaign offered a deeper level of artistic expression than would have otherwise been possible in print.

This was a highly successful and whimsical use of AR, but the end result was fleeting, if captivating, entertainment. To cross from novelty into necessity, we must make the reader feel that the story is incomplete without the AR component.

AR should create experiences that drive conversations and spark curiosity, and allow readers to dive even deeper into the story. Imagine future use cases incorporating related maps, charts and demonstrations, allowing for content creators to include explanatory 3D videos throughout the magazine. AR could act as a bridge between the physical and digital, linking to related articles or any other form of multimedia. A novel could be interspersed with video vignettes; a deep-dive, longform story could include interview snippets. Again, the breadth of possibilities is exciting.

A return to consumer-centric thinking

The guiding principle underlying AR's unlikely role as print's savior is nothing new: create content that resonates with consumers. People are only becoming more deeply entrenched in a digital world where everything is connected. AR has the ability to bring the print experience into that world in a way that, if done correctly, could result in breathtaking, new, mixed experiences. As consumer society continues to digitally evolve, print needs to evolve with it. AR and similar technologies could be the tools that enable it to do so.

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