Earth to Esquire: Get Real

Last year it was an e-ink electronic display on the cover; this year, it’s 3D special effects—if you have a webcam handy, anyway.

As I learned this morning from Mashable, Esquire magazine’s December issue will feature something called augmented reality (AR). The way it works, as I understand it, is that you can hold the cover and a few other pages in front of a camera connected to your computer and see a nifty 3D, animated version of it on your computer screen.  As an Associated Press story notes, “it may be the future of print or just a dying medium’s last desperate grab at attention as the Internet swallows more of peoples’ time.”

Augmented reality as a concept has been around for more than a decade, as outlined in Wikipedia. The technology is just starting to be realized, in fairly clunky ways. As observed in ReadWriteWeb recently, venture capitalist money is not exactly pouring into AR startups yet. Someday something really earthshaking may come of it, but that seems several years away still.

Even if AR thrives, can it really do much to help print? You have to admire the Esquire staff for trying just about anything to keep their print franchise going, particularly if it can get them lots of publicity. But realistically, it’s hard to see their use of AR as much more than a gimmick.

As I’ve noted in a comment on the Mashable article, Esquire’s use of AR reminds me of the great CueCat debacle of 2000.   The brilliant idea was to distribute bar code readers to magazine subscribers, who would use them to scan bar codes in ads to take them to related Web sites. The problem, of course, was that no one wanted to go to all that trouble to visit an advertiser’s site when you could just type in the URL by hand. Needless to say, the Cue Cat was a Titanic flop.

Holding up a magazine cover to a webcam is, I grant you, easier than scanning a bar code, and the results are presumably more entertaining than an advertiser’s Web page.  Here’s an example of how it might work, using baseball cards rather than a magazine:

I guess that’s cool. But still, how likely is it to become a routine for readers?  I don’t know about you, but I don’t read books or magazines while sitting in front of my computer.  That’s the enduring beauty of print—I can read it almost anywhere, without the aid of technology.

Will I buy a copy of the December issue of Esquire? Absolutely. Will augmented reality save print? Not so clear.

Eight Resources for Building Your Expertise in Social Media and Business

Social media means business

Social media means business

So now that we’re over our passing fears that social media are just a big productivity drain, how do businesses actually use things like Twitter and Facebook? For people in B2B media, this isn’t an idle question. Our readers and advertisers are increasingly engaging with each other via social media. Whether we stay relevant in that interaction depends on how well we understand the ways they are or aren’t using those media, and how well we use them ourselves.

With this in mind, I’ve gathered eight online sources that, together, can get you up to speed with how business  is using social media today or how it is likely to do so in the future.  All of these sources are reasonably current, and cover the topic from a variety of perspectives and in a range of formats.

Businesses Getting Social

1. 10 Small Business Social Marketing Tips (Mashable, 10/28/2009)

This article by Mashable guest columnist Ross Kimbarovsky gives an excellent overview of social media marketing opportunities, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs, and other tools. For each of the ten suggested opportunities, Kimbarovsky offers both basic and advanced strategies for using these tools. I suspect that even the tech-savviest reader will learn at least one new trick from this roundup of tips (for me, it was learning how to connect my blog posts to my LinkedIn profile.)

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How to Save Your Business by Wasting Time: Social Media and B2B

A story in the Los Angeles Times business section this morning is a useful corrective to much-publicized news yesterday of a new business study blaming social media for lost productivity. The study, conducted by Morse, an IT firm based in the U.K., claims to have shown “that use of Twitter and other social networks by employees at work is costing UK businesses £1.38 billion each year in lost productivity.” But as the Times story emphasizes, social media, far from being an impediment to business, are increasingly crucial to it. In no industry is this more true, of course, than media–including B2B. While that last sentence should be painfully obvious, I fear that for all too many in B2B, it isn’t.

The Morse study got lots of uncritical, “here’s-what-the-press-release-said” coverage in the mainstream media, such as The Beeb. The digerati, of course, quickly picked up the study and tore it to well-deserved shreds. TechDirt’s Michael Masnick wondered “How many times do we need to repeat that time does not equal productivity before these companies stop coming out with such bogus studies?” And Robin Wauters of TechCrunch Europe asked “do you really think that guy next to you who spends hours staring at his Facebook news feed is suddenly going to be way more productive when the IT department blocks access to the site?”

Though it does not mention the Morse study, the Times article may offer the best rebuttal. Focused on the president of a boutique Beverly Hills bakery, Sprinkles, it highlights how social media can become crucial to the success of a business: “Businesses need to go where their customers are, and increasingly these days, that’s on Facebook and other social media sites, analysts say.”

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Can Printcasting Print-on-Demand Work for B2B?

One of the memes at work in the new-media transformation involves the way print can play an ongoing role in the increasingly digital world of publishing. Last week I covered two options, print-on-demand from Magcloud, and digital editions that try to recreate the print experience. Both of these efforts have been marketed heavily to traditional magazine publishers.

Those publishers are less likely to be aware of a similar experiment being developed in the newspaper world, called Printcasting. Driven by Dan Pacheco of the Bakersfield Californian, Printcasting aims to allow virtually anyone to produce a PDF magazine from one or more hyperlocal blogs or other online sources. The Printcasting project was kicked off last year with a grant from the Knight Foundation. While it started as a project for the Bakersfield area, it has now expanded around the world.

As Pacheco explained last year in an FAQ on the project, Printcasting is a do-it-yourself form of publishing:

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In Search of Print-to-Online Success Stories

Photo by Net_Efekt

Photo by Net_Efekt

Tuesday’s post on Advanstar’s decision to take Aftermarket Business magazine online-only was one instance of a critical question for B2B publishers today: how to move successfully from print to online.

This is the question UK-based B2B blogger and consultant Rory Brown asked last week. One problem, he notes, “is that there are hardly any examples of print products that have transitioned online and been a commercial success. Print pounds get turned into digital pennies and publishers are forced to prop up their declining brands rather than turning them off.”

While I’d love to challenge Brown’s assertion, I’ve yet to come up with a good example to back it up. This isn’t to say that there are not highly successful B2B sites, such as Canon Communications’ Medical Device Link, but they are generally not extensions of single print brands but separate products encompassing a group of brands. (Full disclosure: I was a cofounder of Device Link in the mid-1990s and oversaw its content and design for much of the following decade.)

One reason for this general failure may be that print brands just don’t translate well to online. This seems to be the position of Glam Media’s CEO Samir Arora.  As reported this week in the Guardian, “while traditional media companies struggle to turn their brands into cash, his company Glam Media has come from nowhere to invent a new model based on creating a network of shared content.”

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