The smartphone has become the latest hope for news outlets struggling to fight falling print revenue.
The Star, Malaysia’s most read English daily, recently introduced the iSnap, a feature that brings the “newspaper to life” using augmented reality technology and two major Australian publishers, Fairfax and News Limited have both launched new smartphone enhancements in the past month.
Over at The Star, iSnap sprang from an internal challenge thrown to the New Media Department and to the paper’s technology partner, Knorex Pte Ltd of Singapore. Summoned by the owners to find new ways to enhance the flagship publication, both teams started an intense brainstorming session that eventually triggered the iSnap concept.
iSnap brings an extra dimension to print content through a combination of Augmented Reality and image recognition technology. Readers of the print-version of the newspaper simply point the built-in camera in their phones at a news article or an advertisement that has the iSnap logo and it will trigger interactivity. It is a feature that facilitates access to a playable video or audio clip, additional content such as photo galleries, maps and product catalogues, or call-to-action features like contest entry forms. It therefore gives more depth to editorial content by giving readers access to material beyond what is displayed on the printed page, such as videos and photo galleries. By that same token, advertisers will have the opportunity to immediately engage with readers with the interactive elements incorporated into their ads. It is a whole new way of approaching print content.
“Reading a newspaper will never be the same again” says Ho Kay Tat, the Group Managing Director and CEO. We are very excited about it. For example, if you are reading a review of a movie in the newspaper, iSnap technology allows us to play a video trailer of the movie for you to watch.”
Unlike QR codes, which are usually limited to one response per code and lead users to external sites (thereby leaving the app they are currently using), iSnap is more flexible in that it offers several kinds of interaction within the same screen, often without having to leave the current app. Furthermore, iSnap actually scans the whole page and not just the logo. The iSnap logo is just there as a signpost to tell readers that a page is iSnap-able.
Since its launch, iSnap has been embedded in The Star Mobile app (currently available for iOS and Android smartphones), a smart move considering the paper already had a sizeable installed base of more than 100,000 for the iPhone alone.
Attracted by this innovative way to immediately engage readers with their brands, eight advertisers participated in the launch campaign – Prudential, Canon, Toyota, Mah Sing, Shell, Heineken, SenHeng and UOB.
iSnap alsoenco works with The Star’s newly launched ePaper; readers can point their iSnap-enabled smartphones at the screen just as though it was a page of the printed newspaper. An important feature considering that The Star just released its first e-paper edition, following the Audit Bureau of Circulations’ recent agreement to count the sale of a digital replica of a newspaper as the sale of the printed version.
The new digital replica edition, powered by NewspaperDirect, delivers 100 percent of the content from the printed publication.
Meanwhile, Fairfax Media and News Limited have seized the chance to capitalize on Australia’s high smartphone penetration with their new apps, respectively Airlink and News Alive. Developed internally and added to existing iPhone apps for Fairfax publications Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) and The Age, Airlink is predominantly used to access extra editorial content. After a paper goes to print in the evening Airlink is used the following day to update stories with extra articles, photos, video and comments. The addition of Airlink to SMH app’s appears to have been a success, driving downloads of the app up by 14 percent in the first week of the partnership. Fairfax’s creative manager Zac Skulander revealed in an interview with July’s edition of The Panpa Bulletin that the next step will be to encourage advertisers to create “bespoke Airlink copy.”
News Ltd’s News Alive links to editorial copy at several of the publisher’s titles, but is mainly used as an advertising tool. Its software produces a three-dimensional image that the user is able to interact with, something developers hope will encourage readers to engage with the app for longer. Scott O’Brien, from the company Explore Engage, which first developed the News Alive app, explains that the company’s research “shows that people engage with augmented reality five to 10-times longer than a simple video.”
The use of mobile platforms to invigorate print media is certainly an exciting development, but there is a key difference between Eastern and Western news markets that may mean that publishers in the western world will not have much success with enticing readers back to print with smartphone interaction. Newspaper circulation in Asia has remained healthy because the rise of digital news online has not dissuaded consumers from buying print copies of titles, in contrast with the situation in Europe, America and Australia. Readers in these regions are more likely to continue turning to social networking sites than dedicated apps. Publishers in these areas could therefore find convincing readers to download a specific app and buy a print-version newspaper to be a considerable challenge.