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Augmented reality and magazines

Esquire Magazine Unveils ‘Augmented Reality’
Thursday , October 29, 2009

AP

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NEW YORK – Hold Esquire’s December issue in front of a webcam, and an

on-screen image of the magazine pops to life, letters flying off the cover.
Shift and tilt the magazine, and the animation on the screen moves
accordingly.

Robert Downey Jr. emerges out of the on-screen page in 3-D, offering

half-improvised shtick on Esquire <http://www.esquire.com/> ‘s latest
high-tech experiment for keeping print magazines relevant amid the digital
onslaught.

Esquire’s top editors are clearly enthused about the new technology, called
“augmented reality.”

“I felt like a caveman seeing fire for the first time,” says David
Curcurito, the magazine’s art director.
Triggering the animation is a box just below Downey’s cover image,
resembling a crossword puzzle and looking a little out of place. The
magazine has printed about a half-dozen boxes inside the issue, each calling
up a separate interactive feature, plus a couple of ads. The issue will be

available nationally by Nov. 16.

At a fraught time for the magazine industry, one could draw a lot of
conclusions from Esquire’s attempts at innovation: 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.
With the Web drawing some ad dollars and readers from print, publishers have
made various attempts to give more oomph to the medium. Time Inc. has tested
personalized magazines that allow readers to mix and match sections from
eight different titles. Entertainment Weekly ran a video screen in some
copies of its fall TV preview issue. Last year, Esquire animated the front
of its 75th anniversary edition with digital e-ink, the same stuff used in
Amazon’s Kindle electronic-book reader.

Though Esquire is being forced to rein in expenses like most publications,
the augmented reality issue is one sign the magazine’s parent company,
Hearst Corp., isn’t taking as big an ax to its properties’ budgets. Hearst,
a privately held company, publishes 14 other magazines, including Good
Housekeeping and Cosmopolitan.

While declining to give out a dollar figure, Esquire Editor-in-Chief David
Granger acknowledged the issue is costing more than usual to put together.

The car maker Lexus is absorbing some of the expense by agreeing to buy

space for two “augmented reality” advertisements in the issue. Granger said
the magazine won’t be able to use the technology every month, but would like
to as often as possible.

Economics aside, the technology is about keeping things fresh. As Granger
and Curcurito spoke – both sporting Esquire-type gear, blue jeans and sport
coats – it’s clear that ginning up new ways to get the magazine noticed is a
job they enjoy.

“For us, it’s just fun,” Granger says. “We’ve tried all kinds of things –
and yeah, some of them have been stunts – to try to get people interested in
the magazine.”

He grabs the December issue from Curcurito to show off the next trick.
On the page is Esquire’s regular men’s fashion spread, while on the screen,
the model is pelted by a computer-animated snow storm. Granger gives the
page a quarter rotation, the weather turns sunny and the model starts

throwing on summer clothes.

The magazine’s regular “Funny Joke from a Beautiful Woman,” feature gets a
new twist from actress Gillian Jacobs in a gray nighty. She’ll tell a
second, “dirtier” joke should readers return after midnight.

Clearly not all is fun and humor in the magazine business.

The number of ad pages Esquire sold in the first half of the year fell to
roughly 319, down 26 percent from 431 the year before, according to the
Publishers Information Bureau.

And Granger isn’t aloof from the debate raging about the future of
journalism and media. He simply believes print still has some surprises to
offer.

Explaining why Esquire has decided to pursue things like e-ink and augmented
reality, he said, “I got so sick of people talking about old media versus
new media. I wanted to prove that print is still kind of cool. I think of it
as kind of our job to show people the strength of our medium.”

He may be doing something right. Unlike many printed publications, Esquire
has managed to hold onto its readership even as the Internet grows. Its
online audience is relatively modest – 362,000 unique visitors in September,
according to comScore Inc. – as Esquire keeps some of its lengthier features
off the Web. But its average print circulation grew this decade by about
38,000 copies – to 718,000 in the second half of 2009, according to the
Audit Bureau of Circulations. Both subscriptions and newsstand sales have
climbed.

But that still leaves Esquire and the rest of the business in a waiting game
to see if advertisers return as the recession eases.

With all the dazzle in the December issue shown off, Granger rests back in
his chair, the view of midtown Manhattan behind him out of the 21st-story
window of Hearst’s glass and steel tower on 8th Avenue.

“I just hope it starts coming back soon,” he says. “It’s got to, right?”

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