Despite Small Numbers, Magazines Are Big on Bar Codes

Everyday Food, EW, Woman's Day See Technology as Way to Connect With Advertisers and Readers

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NEW YORK ( -- You could be forgiven for wondering why magazines keep adding interactive bar codes and icons, those symbols that let camera phones fetch extra content or special offers, once you realize how few readers use the things.

While magazine trials with bar codes haven't amounted to much, plenty of publishers and advertisers are busily experimenting.
While magazine trials with bar codes haven't amounted to much, plenty of publishers and advertisers are busily experimenting.
Although more than 1 million people pay for Everyday Food, for example, the magazine's November issue featuring seven different SnapTag codes only garnered 6,500 "snaps." And an Intel Core processors ad with a ScanLife bar code that appeared in the February issue of Wired, a magazine with paid circulation approaching 755,000, got just 740 reader scans over four weeks. Those figures could seem pretty close to zero. But the Everyday Food showing proved solid enough for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, its publisher, to plan SnapTags for the April issue of its flagship Martha Stewart Living. What's going on here?

"I don't look at it as 'close to zero,'" said Janet Balis, exec VP-media sales and marketing at MSLO. "I think you're talking about a very active level of engagement. We're not counting the number of people who read the ad, spend time with the brand and thought about the messaging. This is that highest form of engagement, where a person has pulled a phone out of her purse or off her desk and interacted with the magazine."

Intel seems all right with 740 scans of its bar code. "Yeah, it is a pretty small number to date," said Travis Hockersmith, global media manager. "There's no way to make that necessarily look like a bigger number. But that's okay to us."

"Print continues to be an important medium, but our audience is also more and more connected all the time, which has to do with the mobile devices they're carrying," Mr. Hockersmith said. "It just seemed like a natural way to connect our audience with additional and more immersive Intel content."

Entertainment Weekly, which has an average paid circulation approaching 1.8 million, typically gets about 5,000 takers when it runs an ad using a SnapTag. "These numbers, albeit smaller than a lot of people might expect, are growing," said Publisher Ray Chelstowski. The magazine's focus on entertainment also lends itself to codes that summon samples or an Amazon product page, he said. "Having mechanisms in place that allow readers to take action on what they read in the moment is a very important thing for us."

Not every magazine that has tried 2-D bar codes or similar systems, to be sure, is still at it. Men's Health, one earlier experimenter, hasn't used them since the summer of 2008, while Rolling Stone hasn't run bar codes since that fall.

How interactive should print be?
And there's a long-term question about how interactive print should actually be. Publishers still often describe magazines as a medium with which readers sit back and follow editors' lead -- the opposite of the hyperactive online experience in which you lean forward to flick both your attention and cursor around.

But in the nearer term, plenty of publishers and advertisers are busily experimenting. Some have gotten good results with a system called LinkMe Mobile, for example, that lets readers get content by sending in photos of whole ads -- no bar codes or other symbols required.

When Woman's Day -- paid circulation north of 3.9 million -- first published an "interactive issue" in November 2008, using LinkMe Mobile technology on 11 ads and 11 editorial features, it got 168,000 snaps. Woman's Day then used LinkMe Mobile in four issues last year, receiving more than 600,000 snaps in total. This year, however, Woman's Day plans to rely on Microsoft Tags, according to Carlos Lamadrid, VP-publisher. "We feel it's the next tech," he said. "It's easier to use for most users."

Conde Nast is also expanding its use of Microsoft Tag codes, which require readers to download an app but doesn't need readers to send photos anywhere. Golf Digest, a title with paid circulation near 1.7 million, included 11 tags in the editorial pages of its November issue, promising free video of golf tips, product demonstrations and a photo shoot with Michael Jordan. It got 30,000 Tags scanned, according to Golf Digest.

Sports Illustrated just ran six Jagtags -- bar codes from yet another contender in the space -- in its new Swimsuit Issue. It's too soon to say how many people will photograph those Jagtags, which offer to send videos of swimsuit models to readers' phones, but the Jagtags in three earlier issues of Sports Illustrated -- paid circulation 3.2 million -- were used between 35,000 and 60,000 times.

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