How QR codes could save newspapers from obsolescence

by Shawn Smith on April 8, 2008

QR code engraved on a rock - Flickr photo by akaalias

Image by akaalias

The function of newspapers will never be obsolete. Reporting and sharing information is the fundamental purpose of newspapers and for that and other purposes, their presence will always be necessary. The news must be disseminated for the protection of rights and justice. In this post, I am strictly referring to newspapers’ obsolescence in the physical form. With the growing use of mobile devices and integration of the internet, newspapers are no longer something people have to purchase and physically hold to receive news. Could QR codes change that?

One of the biggest problems with print is that it doesn’t integrate nicely with web and mobile markets. I can’t bookmark a story in a paper. I can’t flip to a related link in another section. The shortcomings of print are exactly what has propelled the consumer to get more news on the web.

Newspapers are faced with:

  • Fewer pages for in-depth stories because of falling revenues
  • Limited ways to engage users online directly from the print product
  • Limits in how they interact with local online communities

QR codes are poised to change the game.

Save paper space and bring back in-depths

Fewer print advertisements have meant many papers have scaled back the number of pages they print. Fewer pages mean fewer stories or inches for longer pieces. To solve this, some papers have printed notes that longer versions of stories are available online. But how good is that without a direct link to the stories?

Instead, newspapers could save even more paper space by shortening the longer stories, putting even more content online and placing QR codes in their stories that would send readers to the online version with their mobile devices.

Now the full story is much more reader-friendly and saves the paper money.

You might be saying ‘Who wants to read a long in-depth story on their phone?’ Good point. QR codes have a solution for that too.

QR codes will revolutionize relationship between newspapers and consumers

QR codes could make papers’ stories bookmark-able

Ever ask to borrow some one’s paper in a coffee shop but didn’t have time to finish a great article you found? Would be kind of rude to take the stranger’s paper, wouldn’t it?

What if that story had a QR code that allowed you to save the web URL of the story and save it to a social bookmarking service such as del.icio.us? Would you go back and read the story online? My guess is you just might!

Enter Qtags – a bookmarking service that allows you to save messages from QR advertisements and send memos to yourself.

Adding bookmarking capabilities to your newspapers’ stories increase their chances of circulation and of being shared with a wider audience. Yes!

Newspapers could become an interactive shopping guide

I mentioned in my previous post on QR codes turning newspapers into cash cows that newspapers may be able to place affiliate links in their codes to sell products they are already reviewing.

I know there’s been plenty of times I saw something reviewed in a story that I wanted to buy immediately after seeing the story – possibly a concert or a new electronic gizmo. Instead, I most likely would have to remember to save the article or do some searching on the web to find the item I read about.

By adding a shopping guide component through no extra work but adding a little image, a newspaper can broaden its readership to shopping socialites – codes can even include addresses of local stores that sell reviewed items!

Newspapers could become real-time city guides

Some of the most interesting stories for local people are restaurant or venue reviews and event previews. The hard part is remembering where that restaurant was or who is playing and when.

By using QR codes, newspapers can send readers menus, specials and addresses of reviewed restaurants to help people make a better choice about where they want to eat on Friday night. Event previews can also include data that will sync with a phone’s calendaring service so users never forget when they need to buy tickets.

There’s no need to go back and fumble through a wrinkled stack of papers to find the information that the consumer wants. Newspapers can immediately become immensely more useful.

More useful=more buy-able.
QR codes on a fruits food package - image by akaalias

Image by akaalias

Physical papers could better engage communities through linking!

To succeed on the web, news websites need to do a better job of linking to community websites and blogs. After publishing a story about the latest school board meeting fiasco, the news site needs to link to local community blogs talking about the incident. That’s being a good community guide.

Other than printing a snippet of what the blogosophere is saying, newspapers are extremely limited in how they can interact with the local community. Now with QR tags, newspapers can send users to referenced blogs and community sites and past stories so community members can get more information about a reported topic.

Talk about finally engaging the community in real conversation!

A couple more examples

David Harper has a great list of other uses for QR tags, including linking to podcasts, building games or scavenger hunts, “find me” maps, creating newspaper-branded walking audio tours (at bottom of page) and others. Check them out!

What’s next?

Now that you’ve got a good idea of what QR codes are, how they could help generate revenue and how they could make newspapers more relevant to mobile consumers, it’s time to learn how you can get started using them. Look forward to the next post!