Is Mobile the saviour for the printing industry?

In the coming months, most of us will look fondly at our shiny new tablets or smartphone, cancel the newspaper and magazine subscriptions and queue up the latest book downloads from Chapters or Amazon and proclaim the printed word (at least on actual paper) is dead – just like we’ve done with every technological evolution since the PC era. But I wonder if it is mobile that can actually save print – even make it cool again.

The idea of printing needs to change

Technologies are emerging today that should give everyone in the “printing on paper” business a little bit of hope. Things like QR Codes are emerging rapidly and help somewhat bridge the gap between printed materials and the digital world. It’s a start but not really that effective because it isn’t frictionless – people are lazy.

What needs to change is the idea of printing. There needs to be more thought to ways that technology can be applied, as an additional layer, to the printed outcome. That’s a fancy way of saying that those in the printing business need to innovate and use the mobile technology that is available to them right now.

Google Goggles to the rescue?

Image and word recognition is a start. Whatever gets printed on billboards, books and magazines should take into consideration tools like Google Goggles and translation technologies for mobile devices. Aiming your phone at a page or an ad and turning the picture or words into a web search or pointing it to a URL is as simple as it gets for bridging the digital / print divide.

What about location?

This gets interesting now, especially when talking about static billboards and affixing location specific information to those billboards. A simple use of this is when someone comes close to the billboard and checks in, they get some sort of message or benefit from the billboard itself. What’s great about this is that the billboard doesn’t have to change for the message to change. But this still isn’t enough innovation.

Bring on the augmented reality!

Take that billboard example from above and add a little augmented reality and you’ve got, essentially, interactive print. Hold up your phone to the billboard and the display possibilities are endless. Now if you add location to the mix – in fact add multiple locations and, depending on where you are standing, a different augmented reality event could occur. For example, if you were in New York at Times Square at 42nd and 7th and you were staring at a billboard that said something like “HUNGRY?” Holding your phone up to the sign it could, based on the time of day, display an augmented reality message that offered “HUNGRY for Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner” and pointed you to a restaurant. As you moved down the street that same billboard could give you directions to other offerings depending on your location or tell you exactly where a specific restaurant is from where you are standing.

Now add personal taste

The mobile phone is the most personal of our technologies so why not add that layer to this augmented reality jaunt? Staring at that billboard it would take your preferences (say from previous checkins on Foursquare or Facebook Places) and display the closest restaurants of the style you have enjoyed previously. Adding feedback from your social graph via Facebook or Yelp! could be the clincher for the restaurant you eat at. One more plug on that billboard could be an interactive “seat availability” chart that tells you what restaurants (or shows or movies or sporting event) had seats available now. The data is there, we just need to figure out a frictionless way to display it and do it without having to download 100 apps.

What about magazines or newspapers or books?

One of the most frustrating things about print is bookmarking it. We’ve grown so accustomed to bookmarking websites for later consumption but newspapers, books and magazines haven’t moved to this world yet. Why not make that easy? If I’m moved by an ad, let me capture it for use later on when I want to use it. How about the ability to capture an article in the Harvard Business Review? A simple scan of a QR Code could add it to my cloud-based library of articles for reference later on.

Think about context-aware books as well. Printed guides or books about a city – say City of Joy by Dominique Lapierre about living in the shanty towns of Calcutta – could come to life by checking into the book and having it link to a guided tour of the book in the city if you happen to be there when you are reading the book. The key is to capture that moment for that moment or to reference it when you are ready later on.

Mobile as the print saviour

Taken in context to the above, print and big printing seems to be at the forefront of innovation now. Using these technologies can breath life back into an industry who’s funeral has been planned but never scheduled for years now. Mobile makes print move. It’s the interactive billboards that should be worried…

What do you think?

About the author

Rob Woodbridge

I'm Rob, the founder of and I've spent 14 years immersed in the mobile and pervasive computing world. During this great time I've helped some of the most innovative companies grow their business through mobile. If you are in need of a mobile business advisor or coach, connect with me here to get things rolling.

  • Great article. I agree that print and mobile can compliment each other when done right. High-quality print isn’t going to disappear, it’s just going to have to get more integrated with the rest of a consumer’s life; social, mobile, location, etc.

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