Augmented Reality Enchanted Newspapers and Magical Magazines

Augmented Reality
Augmented Reality | Photo (detail): © Pixsooz - Fotolia.com

Classic newspapers and magazines can now be turned into multi-media experiences when displayed on smart phones and tablets. Augmented Reality is the name of the technology that goes into it. Its potential for the world of journalism is being explored at the moment.

Did you know that your local newspaper kiosk just round the corner is now selling enchanted newspapers and magical magazines? At first glance one might think they are the same old printed sheets of paper, but on each page there are in fact mysterious and magical powers just waiting to be unleashed. Well, what would you call it when pictures suddenly start moving, illustrations take on a life of their own and diagrams morph into sculptures that can be walked around as we do a modern work of art in a gallery?

Video: Jan-Eric Peters explains „Die Welt of the future“

In September 2013 the editor-in-chief at Die Welt newspaper, Jan-Eric Peters, posted an online video message that most definitely cast a spell on its astonished beholders. In the clip, which can still be viewed on the web portal of Axel Springer Verlag, Peters demonstrates a new smart-phone app, slowly scanning the phone over the pages of the current print edition of Die Welt. The pages can then be seen on the phone’s display – but there is a whole lot more to it than that: the front cover suddenly becomes a video, an illustration in the middle of an article about the planned Berliner Schloss (Berlin Palace) rises up and takes the form of a three-dimensional model and an information diagram depicting the world’s leading economic powers veritably leaps off the page in 3D. Towards the end of the clip Peters then proudly announces that from now on you will be able to experience this kind of magic in every edition of Die Welt.

A new step into the future?

Interestingly this enhancing of printed matter with virtual elements, as enthusiastically as the editor-in-chief at Die Welt might sing its praises as “a new step into the future”, is in fact not so new at all. Augmented Reality (AR), as it is known in specialist circles, has been an issue in the publishing business for quite a few years. In 2010 the SZ-Magazin, the magazine supplement of the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, experimented a little with AR effects. On the cover there was the image of a woman with her hands covering her face. It was only by viewing it with your smart-phone camera that it was slowly revealed who the woman was – the famous German TV journalist, Sandra Maischberger. One year later Stern magazine used augmented reality for a special edition published for the IFA, the International Consumer Electronics Fair in Berlin – both in the editorial section of the magazine and in its advertising section. In both cases, however, the experiment remained somewhat limited.

“At the moment augmented reality is not an issue for us”, says Angela Kesselring, head of publishing at the SZ-Magazin. According to her, the extra effort concerning production technology would render a regular use of AR somewhat improbable at the moment. Despite the most positive feedback, Stern’s use of AR also came to nothing due to technical difficulties. “It is not suited to production on a weekly basis”, explained the editor in charge of the project, Werner Hinzpeter, to Menschen Machen Medien – the magazine produced by verdi. – the sector’s professional association.

Augmented Reality as a marketing instrument

On the other hand AR developments definitely remain on track when they are integrated as seamlessly as possible into the original print scenario, explains Anett Gläsel-Maslov from metaio – an AR provider in Munich - that did the technical work for the special edition of the SZ-Magazin. In this process in particular, called “tracking”, there has been amazing progress made over the last few years. In terms of technological realisation, what Die Welt managed to put together was, in her opinion, well engineered indeed.

Whether the readers think the same is, however, a different matter altogether, as was shown by a self-test in a Saturday edition of Die Welt from April 2014. All the magic, so extolled by Herr Peters, does not seem to have materialised on the pages yet. There are only three spots in the paper that can be scanned by a smart phone, one of them is an image gallery, which is also available online; the second spot is an image film for the Airbus Group. When it comes to the third spot, the smart phone gives up the ghost. “Concerning the various uses of augmented reality, if we are honest, the results so far have been somewhat sobering”, says Stefan Heijnk, professor for print and online journalism at the University of Hanover, in his evaluation of the current state of AR technology.

For Heijnk AR applications at the moment are above all marketing instruments. “In most cases it is still a case of temporarily getting attention.” There are still, however, no real standards for any kind of long-term integration with top-level quality, i.e. a technological solution that produces content that is actually felt by readers to be valuable.

At the moment Heijnk sees the greatest potential for augmented reality in the print sector in making printed newspapers and magazines interesting for all those people who only do their reading online. Or for those people who are just reaching the age when reading newspapers becomes interesting. “AR elements could really start generating added value, if they were integrated into special pages for children - both from the point of view of reader loyalty to the printed paper, as well as from the point of the brand itself.”