The Possibilities and Pitfalls of AR in Publishing

The Possibilities and Pitfalls of AR in Publishing

So that was The London Book Fair 2014. What a fantastic show. We were kindly invited to talk at the event on the role of AR in publishing.

So that was The London Book Fair 2014. What a fantastic show.


We were kindly invited to talk at the event on the role of AR in publishing. 


Now augmented reality and publishing should in theory go hand-in-glove and it’s not a new thought really. But there’s been understandable reticence to embrace it properly by the industry and see whether there really is a case for augmented reality in the space between physical sales and e-books as a ‘third way’ of apptivated product experiences.


In my talk I outlined some general principles for guidance, which follow here. But I have to say we were delighted by the response we got to our approach and the possibilities opened up by the Zapcode Creator system to make AR an affordable and creative tool for publishers of all shapes and sizes.


Our personal feeling is that too many people are dipping their toe in the water of AR in publishing. They are doing something half-hearted or using it as an after-thought for marketing promotion which is making everyone question whether AR can actually work commercially in the sector. That’s a sure way to waste time and money. Either do it well or not at all. On the bright side, there’s an opportunity for a publisher to put their head above the parapet and really commit to creating the first breakout AR-enabled book. We’ve already done that successfully with Pedigree here in the UK. If you know any more be sure to send them our way!


3 principles for AR in publishing before you even start


  1. If you could deliver the content faster, easier or better in an app or elsewhere then do that. Don’t use AR as a gimmick for the sake of it.
  2. If you haven’t got anything special to give in terms of content and experience through the AR experience don’t bother.
  3. Make sure the product works as a standalone product. People buy real first, virtual second as an added value experience. UNLESS you make it clear that it is specifically an app-enabled product and work your sales projections and marketing strategy on that basis.


7 strategic considerations if you are going ahead


  1. Define the category: Does AR make sense at all here? Am I likely to want AR to interrupt my thriller or literary classic? Or is it a fun addition to an annual, pop up book for kids, history or art publication, study book or Guinness Book of World Records?
  2. Define the occasion: Where is the book likely to be read and what are the environmental factors to consider. Can you actually hold the book and phone at the same time?! Is it going to be dark with just a dim bedside light? Do I want a mobile at bedtime with my kids? Or am I on the tube with no network connection?
  3. Defining your audience: They need to already know their way around a mobile and be comfortable with the idea of downloading an app. We’re not educating them about smartphones. Think carefully about whether your audience are likely to want to engage in this sort of experience in the first place. 
  4. Define your objectives: Is this about selling more books to end-users or creating a new SKU - a new digital edition perhaps? Can you charge more for this product at POP or through an app? Or is it about showing marketing support to retailers and in-store theatre around a launch? Should the bookstores be putting in some money too for this initiative if it’s driving footfall in store?
  5. Commit to a budget: AR doesn’t have to cost the earth but the approach will be determined by the budget. It is going to cost money and one of the departments of publishing, marketing or digital has to swallow the cost. Figure that out up front to save lots of time.
  6. Integrate the experience properly from day one and not as an after thought: This includes making sure that you can actually get access to assets that may have rights issues – audio, illustration, characters, video footage etc.; thinking about the relationship between what’s on the page and what will appear in the AR view. The more these can work together so 1+1=3 the more magical and rewarding the experience will be.
  7. Sign post the concept clearly: You need a clear call to action and need to make this part of the design. Make the instruction easy to find and simple to understand, stating the benefit to the reader. There’s no point investing in AR and then not telling people about it nor branding AR enabled pages (unless it’s part of the experience as a treasure hunt). Make sure this conversation happens BEFORE proofs are approved and gone to print. There’s also lots of fun stuff that can be done in-store to create appointment to visit experiences. We’ve had great success with Easter and Halloween hunts with ASDA. This should be good news for bookstores like Waterstones to deliver retail-tainment. The design and marketing team have to get their heads round this and embrace it or it won’t work and the whole project will have been for nothing.


And 3 practical ones


  1. Multiple editions: Think up-front about whether there are going to be multiple formats for hardback and paperback editions that might have different artwork/crops; will there also be translations into different languages for different territories? Our zapcode gets round the issues of image retrieval here but it is going to mean more production time and cost for these different iterations.
  2. Materials: There are a few watch-outs here: avoid gloss surfaces or other fancy 3D, UV techniques which can play havoc with the tech. Also avoid placing the experience near the gutter. Remember the fold of pages. If it’s a thick book what will the curvature of the page be like even when open? Do you want the experience to happen on the page itself or ‘grab & go’ off the page or both? If there’s sound, think about ambient noise where the book will be read. Is the book going to be vertical or horizontal, held in your hand or placed on a surface? All these considerations will effect the design, cost and end effectiveness of the end result.
  3. Too many cooks: Who’s leading the project and has final sign off? Who’s getting clearance and delivering assets? Who has final say on the number of experiences? Remember less can often be more. Where projects fail is where there isn’t a clear decision maker driving the project.


So there we go. Lots to think about and a fantastic opportunity for the industry when done correctly.