At the beginning of the month, newspaper publishing giant News UK catapulted itself onto a new platform of cross-media potential and made the industry as a whole sit up and take notice.
In a move described by the publisher as "unlocking this new world of digital entertainment for both our print and digital customers", it unveiled its new Sun+ packages, alongside the launch of The Sun’s online paywall, on 1 August.
The packages involve readers of the printed newspaper collecting a certain number of codes within the paper that will give them ongoing access to The Sun’s now gated online, mobile and tablet content and user benefits.
The alphanumeric and QR codes, which are printed inside the papers, have been made possible through a massive investment by the publisher in Kodak’s Prosper S30 high-speed inkjet printheads.
Their installation on adjustable rails into News UK’s Manroland presses means that the variable content can be positioned anywhere on the page, giving the publisher flexibility on its uses.
Of course this is nothing new. Retailers have been using codes for a while, pushing shoppers from reading their leaflets and catalogues to visit their online realms, using codes to entice them with ‘exclusive offers’ and discounts.
But for newspapers, which as we all know are watching their printed readership circulations nosedive year on year, this is quite refreshing. Instead of trying to attract readers to its digital output, passively accepting the decline of its print, News UK is actively encouraging readers to buy the printed version and use it interactively with a mobile device or computer; they can enjoy both mediums and, crucially, pay for the privilege.
And by doing so the publisher is gathering useful data on the behaviour and preferences of their loyal following, enabling them to better target their advertising.
Kodak’s newspaper sales manager, UK and Ireland Mark Humphreys says this type of integration is the future. "This technology has huge possibilities. Everyone understands that circulations are dropping, and I think it’s a great way to re-energise the printed circulation and link it to the digital format with cross-media," he explains.
"There’s an audience that doesn’t necessarily buy newspapers at the moment because the content isn’t right for them, but I think you have to link the two and make it exciting.
"If you want to attract tomorrow’s reader, then put something technology-based in there that they can have a play with now," he says.
And Humphreys says that, as a marketing tool, this kind of technology could be applied to any kind of publication.
The man behind new interactive magazine iLove agrees. "Print is limited by space, but by making it interactive we can solve that. It is a cohesive way of educating, entertaining and selling products off the page," says Adrian Fleming, director of Digital Space, which created the new fashion and beauty title.
Digital Space has dubbed iLove a direct response publishing title. It directs readers through its app to scan pages that are embedded with digital watermarks, giving access to additional information about products on the page, as well as purchasing options.
"This is really about marketing," says Fleming. "Focusing on stopping the decline of your print circulation is the wrong way to look at it. You should start by looking at what your customers want. If you give them that, they’ll buy it."
He says that while News UK’s new technology is "a clever move", it’s not a one size fits all. "Publishers need to understand what technology to use for their medium and why. It’s a learning curve in cross-media that publishers, printers, consumers and brands have to embrace.
Whether they are numerical or QR codes, or it’s a digital watermark or image-augmented reality, using them in the right way is a win-win for both digital and print," he says.
Perhaps the slowest to embrace such cross-media integration is the book, whose publishers traditionally do not use consumer marketing. But change is afoot.
Children’s book publishers and printers are working together to create added online content through coding and apps. Even academic titles such as Sage’s Discovering Statistics have truly embraced integrated media, by providing video content and additional learning through the use of various technologies in conjunction with their books.
Martin McCall, head of sales and digital content, at book printer CPI says they too have been using such techniques in partnership with publishers, and he believes it is a growing trend.
He says that now, more than ever, printers must make sure they work in partnership with their publishers.
"It’s a question of book publishers dipping their toes in the water to find out what works for them. Data capture will become vital in the future and we can work with them on this."
"Publishers need us to come to them with new ideas on what we can use, be it code or augmented reality. It’s part of our job to make sure that we can help them with their requirements," he says.
So while integrated campaigns are nothing new, with such a noise surrounding cross-media, perhaps we are on the verge of a combined digital and print experience being the norm rather than the exception.
Unified print and digital solutions are the future
Chris Taylor, Chief operating officer, News UK
At News UK, we firmly believe that professional journalism is worth paying for. This applies equally to print, online and in app. We deliberately avoid using terms such as ‘digital first’, because we want to give our readers freedom to choose how they like to consume news.
Print and digital are equally important platforms for our products, and we are keen to ensure our loyal print readers have the opportunity to access the additional products and services we are able to offer digitally. These include Barclays Premier League video clips, which are part of our new Sun+ digital entertainment bundle.
To ensure that loyal print buyers of The Sun get access to the world of Sun+ in digital, we have developed a product called Print+. We have made a substantial investment in both manufacturing and IT capabilities, which allows us to print a unique code on every single copy of The Sun. Readers can then collect those codes to unlock access to Sun+ digitally on a month-by-month basis.
This capability is based on inkjet printing technology from Kodak, code generation and validation from Hive and, crucially, our own custom engineering and integrations.
We are not limited to printing unique codes, however. Indeed, the solution we have built is able to go well beyond this and enable us to create bespoke content and images for every copy. We are excited about the further opportunities that this presents both for our readers and, potentially, our commercial partners.
At News UK, we feel that these kind of unified print and digital solutions are a natural evolution of a clear strategy based on paid-for quality journalism and consumer choice. And we predict the rest of the industry will ultimately come to the same conclusion if they adopt a similar strategy.
What impact will cross-media technology have on printers?
Kirk Galloway, managing director, Buxton Press
"Buxton Press has enthusiastically embraced cross-media technology, because we believe it to be an integral form of today’s print requirements. Ink on paper is - and will remain - a vital and exciting strand in the cross-media package. Integrating it with a framework that includes page-turning devices and apps makes sense; a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Publishers are using different media formats to extend their brands and printers need to recognise this. As the technology is more widely used, more people will learn how to maximise its potential."
Jon Hearnden, commercial operations director, Wyndeham
"Whether it’s a tipping point or not, time will tell. But it’s important for businesses to evaluate and consider the options thrown up by digital and cross-media. We know that multichannel gives customers alternative routes to communicate with their target audience and that may impact on print runs and volumes in future. But if that’s going to happen, as a business you have to embrace it. The digital cross-media platform will expand your offering and add value to customers’ business. Of course there’s a threat here, but there’s a bigger one if you ignore it."
Gary Peeling, managing director, Precision Printing
"Integrated and cross-media aspects will increasingly become the norm and print will probably be central to its success. It will be used as a launchpad, because when you browse though magazines you come across products you don’t know about, which happens much less regularly over the internet. This is a great strength of print, so although right now could be a tipping point for cross-media integration, print remains a hugely important main focus. We will see it used as a capturing device and a starting point for the consumer journey."