Using smartphone apps to connect the printed page to the Web has gained traction, particularly among consumer magazines, which have experimented with a number of ways to use scan technology to augment their content. The scanning trend is extending to newspapers such as The Oregonian, which is using digital watermarks from the Digimarc publishing platform to offer print readers daily content of added value.
Watermarking technology is like a next-generation QR code, enabling publishers to offer scannable content on the page without the bar code that might make your designers cringe. The Oregonian, for instance, uses a small smartphone image to indicate extra digital content. Readers can download a free Oregonian-branded Digimarc app, which, when pointed at the icon, instantly recognizes the image to launch content such as videos and slideshows. (A demo video of the Digimarc platform is below.)
Peter Bhatia, editor and vice president of The Oregonian, believes the technology will be well-received among the tech-savvy audience in Portland. Despite the transition to digital and the proliferation of smartphones, the newspaper still has a strong print readership ― especially among baby boomers. The smartphone content helps the newspaper bridge the divide between print and digital, Bhatia said in a phone interview.
"While we are aggressively pushing into the digital world and trying to take advantage of that technology and all that it offers, we still believe our print product is viable and will be a for a considerable period of time," said Bhatia. "We're committed to putting out a good newspaper as well as growing the digital side."
A newsroom-driven product
While the Oregonian plans to monetize the scanning technology by offering it to advertisers, the concept was born in the newsroom. It's a good illustration of how digital editors are striving to innovate and think like product developers ― rather than being isolated from the business side.
"In this crazy time it's important for those of us who work in news to find ways to push ahead on the digital side,” Bhatia said.
The first watermarked edition of The Oregonian launched July 31, and the paper is continuing to publish daily content on the front pages of its sections. Bhatia said it's too soon to judge app downloads and engagement, but said the paper will be using analytics to see what kind of content works.
Bhatia particularly sees opportunities to add additional content to features and sports, especially with football right around the corner. The challenge is that the content adds yet another deadline to the workflow of a digital newspaper. Once the designers put a link in the paper to a football video that ends Monday night, the video will have to be live by the time the newspaper shows up on the doorstep early Tuesday.
But, like a lot of daily newspapers, thinking about additional digital content is something the staff staff has gotten used to as it becomes a more digital-first operation. "It's one of the things that makes newspaper journalism so interesting right now," Bhatia said. "Now Digimarc is part of our daily conversation as well."
Digimarc reaches out to more publishers
In addition to reaching out to newspapers such as The Oregonian, Digimarc is shopping its product to magazine publishers. Most recently, Hearst's House Beautiful magazine announced it would use digital watermarks starting with the October issue.
Digimarc's pitch to brands is the ability to offer image recognition technology without QR codes cluttering the page. Jeri Owen, Digimarc's vice president of marketing, noted that watermarketing doesn't require an image at all, and foresees publishers watermarketing several items of content on a single page (for example, a link to buy every item on a fashion page).
"We would like to see newspapers and magazines watermark as much content as possible," Owen said in a phone interview. "Once the readers are well-versed in what this is, you only need to use some sort of a visual indicator for an educational period of time and after that you can eliminate it."
Owen said Digimarc is trying to promote wide adoption of the technology with its pricing model, which charges publishers per link, dependent on how long the publisher wants the link to be active. Fore example, it would cost $4.99 for a daily newspaper to keep a link live for two weeks. Publishers can use athe online self-service portal to embed the links in just a few seconds.
Publishers can create their own branded app to read the watermarks (like The Oregonian), or they can encourage users to download Digimar Discover, a universal app that also recognizes QR codes (a feature Owen noted is useful for publishers that also have advertisers using QR codes).
While companies creating QR codes are technically a competitor for Digimarc, Owen said the technology has mostly just helped paved the way for digital watermarketing. "The use of QR codes will train consumers on what they can do with their phones and help build demand and preference for us longer-term," she said.