The Issue with Augmented Reality

By • Nov 3rd, 2009 • Category: 26th Story, Technology

Esquire magazine, December 2009 issueNext Monday I’ll be stopping at the Hudson Newsstand in Port Authority to pick up the December issue of Esquire, and not because I need to read up on cummerbunds and weekend watches. As a twenty-one-year-old female, I’m hardly Esquire’s target demographic, but they’ve caught my eye with their upcoming issue featuring augmented reality. And, well, Robert Downey Jr. on the cover also helps. But I want to see augmented reality in action, because it sure looks cool in the videos.

After Esquire announced the new feature last week, posts quickly popped up reviewing the magazine’s execution and asking questions. December will surely see a boost in sales due to people like me buying the magazine for the novelty of the experience, but is this something that will go on to save the print industry? Will people be able to appreciate the need for a webcam to read something in print? Will the cost of AR technology ever be completely offset by ad sales and thus a sustainable feature? Are we creating a future for AR?

It’s important to remember that, while you may be adding a medium, you might not necessarily be adding value. In an OpEd for AgencySpy, Jack Benoff criticized Esquire for using AR as a self-proclaimed gimmick instead of adding any value beyond what could be accomplished online. As far as we can tell, the interactive feature is mostly entertainment based, but Benoff offers one way to take AR to the next, necessary level:

Of course it’s easy to sit here and rip on someone else’s work without providing any real value, so here’s an idea: what if Esquire’s “fashion spread” allowed people to overlay images of an article of clothing on themselves ( for example ties) so that they could match (or in my case, learn how to match) them with their existing wardrobe. Editorial content could provide tips, tricks and insights. Now, that might provide some real value to consumers looking to make a purchase (not to mention the brands that sell those articles of clothing) and would be an execution that could be updated and utilized all year long (that is, Esquire could sell the space to various retailers each and every season).

So while I’ll be picking up the issue to marvel at the AR magic, I would love to see magazines (or even books!) take on augmented reality to engage with the reader and provide valuable interaction.

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  • jesusangelgarcia

    I love this idea. Unfortunately, I'm sure it's cost-prohibitive at this point for indie artists, but like all tech innovations the costs will come down in time. When they do, creative people will find infinite ways to integrate the media and offer a variety of, let's say, “bonus” material for readers of books, not unlike how many CDs today come with supplemental DVDs, which has helped prop up outdated music-industry models. Bottom line: consumers crave media overload.

    I'm convinced that the “multimedia novel” is the way of the future. I see huge opportunities for narrative extensions in the form of accompanying soundtracks and video/photography projects. I'm working on such a plan to augment my first novel right now, though my efforts will have to focus on download/Web-based apps (old-school, ha!). Combining everything within the covers of a real live book on paper would be mind-melting.

    Exciting time for 21st-century authors and publishers. Infinite possibilities for literary-audio-visual mashups.

  • robert wahl

    I see my Middle Grade novella's illustrations shown in a 3-D hologram with HDTV like clarity materializaing in front of the child as s/he reads… turn the AR dial and scan 360 degrees of the 3-D image! Amazing. Tune the AR audio and the characters speak the dialogue on the page in voices you've made up for them. Yep, like it!

    Haste yee back ;-)

  • Tiara

    I'll be blunt. This issue will be the shit.

    It's nice to see the print world taking an active role in their future. And it's also nice to see them doing something other than lay off employees. I hope this issue puts all of those “the print world is dead” pieces to rest.

    On the subject of the aesthetics of the cover, it's too crowded. They need to fix that. Stat. Otherwise, I am impressed and next Monday I will buy my first ever copy of Esquire.


    Agreed. I'm ready to move on from this premature AR hype. Marketers have hijacked technology that is still in its infancy. Hopefully it will subside before it is squashed, so that the hardware, etc. has a chance to catch up with the possibilities (I think games and entertainment are more likely than shopping apps). Although I will say it's nice to see any publisher trying anything new right now.

    Some relevant project links for those who are interested in what AR can do for publishing and beyond (not affiliated with us in any way):

  • Kathryn

    Esquire seems to favor this crowded cover:
    While it may be to busy for the eye, it's a consistent style choice that I've come to recognize as Esquire's – helps it stand out on the rack.

    I'm bringing my laptop to work so I can have a webcam to read, er, watch it!

  • Kathryn

    Thanks for sharing the links! I loooved the diplome presentation; AR made it such a rich experience.

    Commenters in Jack Benoff's OpEd voiced concern that AR would go the way of virtual reality, but I hope these kinds of gimmicks bring enough attention to the technology without killing it…

  • Kathryn

    AR could be so awesome in children's books…like the next (next, next) generation Reading Rainbow.

  • Kathryn

    Agreed. Even if the technology is a long way off, it's just as important to get in the right mindset about what books have the potential to be.