Quick Response (QR) codes are those square pixelated barcodes you may have seen popping up on consumer products, advertisements and even television shows. They were invented in 1994 by Denso Wave, a Toyota parts manufacturer in Japan, to track production in its factories. These optically snapped two-dimensional sigils were an interesting alternative to the red-beam scanning of traditional one-dimensional barcodes, and were widely adopted in the industrial world, but when camera phones began to become the norm, a new consumer market opened up. Today there are apps for your iPhone or Android smartphone that can scan QR codes for any number of purposes, from coupons to gaming. The publishing industry, too, which increasingly survives based on its ability to adopt a vigilant and proactive stance toward all things electronic, has shown interest in the capabilities of QR codes to simply and conveniently link printed material to expanded digital content of all sorts. It’s still a relatively new tool for authors and book designers, but they are coming up with some intriguing and unusual applications for QR in their creations. Here are 10 of the most captivating concepts:
Between Page and Screen by Amaranth Borsuk and Brad Bouse
This 44-page chapbook contains no words … until you hold it up to a webcam, whereupon textual sculptures composed by poet Amaranth Borsuk (and coded by her web developer husband Brad Bouse) emerge from the virtual doppelganger of each page. Although abstract and experimental, Between Page and Screen is also an epistolary narrative delving into the relations between a couple named P and S. Presumably the first volume of augmented-reality poetry, it looks like a pop-up book that would beam out of R2-D2: “Help me Obi-Wan, you’re my only hope.” Be sure to check out the video trailer.
Fittingly for a perennial bestseller invented to help inebriated people impress each other, the 2013 edition of Guinness World Records achieves a unique “whoa” factor with its own augmented reality QR trick, called “See It 3D!” Their app (itself downloadable via QR on the book) allows you to wave your iPhone or iPad in front of a page with a QR code on it, and have an animation pop out of the page (the example shown is of a great white shark). You can even take a picture of yourself interacting with a phantom representation of a world record, and share it via social media.
The Visitor’s Guide to American Gardens by Jo Ellen Sharp
Since QR, especially in its augmented reality uses, provides a bridge between the physical world and the virtual, guidebooks seem like a particularly promising application. In the entry for each U.S. botanical attraction listed in this handbook, there is a QR code, which links you straight to the garden’s website, so you can see always-up-to-date information on hours, events, and what’s blooming. This capability of QR, to keep the information offered by books as fresh as what’s available on the Internet, has great potential for publishers, for instance in the textbook trade.
L.A. Candy by Lauren Conrad
This young-adult novel from the star of MTV’s Laguna Beach and The Hills was released in 2009, with a QR code on the jacket that linked to exclusive content such as photos, video, and a Q&A with the starlet-turned-author. HarperTeen has since reproduced this approach for many of its other titles; one unique benefit is that it gives the publisher a new way of measuring the book’s popularity over its lifespan, by tracking how many readers scan the QR code from one month to the next.
QR Code Book: Scan … and be Amazed by Cider Mill Press
Major publishing conglomerate Simon & Schuster recently announced an ambitious plan to add QR codes to all its hardcover and trade paperback books. While the initiative is focused on breadth rather than depth, for now—it’s not clear how much QR content will be included for most books, perhaps just a link to the author’s website and the option of signing up for a newsletter—it’s clear that Simon & Schuster wants to explore the possibilities of this gizmo. They’re distributing the QR Code Book from subsidiary Cider Mill Press (hopefully the rather generic name is a working title), and while it hasn’t been released yet, it seems to be a prototype that experiments with expanded content to make the pages come alive. They describe the book as “mysterious” … count me intrigued.
The Zappos Experience by Joseph A. Michelli
Since they were designed to track inventory, QR codes fit this inspiring case study of stratospheric supply-chain success like a glove … or should that be a shoe? Michelli’s analysis of the online shoe store Zappos.com is enriched with great, useful content for business readers, including unused chapters, a mission statement planning tool, a free one-month membership in the Zappos Insights online course, and samples of “video cover letters” submitted by prospective employees.
X-O Manowar #1 by Robert Venditti and Cary Nord
This inaugural issue of a comic book from Valiant Comics features a cover with a headshot of the main character, with the outline of an iPhone over his mouth. When you scan the QR code below the image, a video appears on the phone that’s just a close-up of the character’s mouth. Over some foreboding background music, he gives a martial speech, ending with: ” … their blood will stain my boots, and the weapon I will use to do it will be their own.” I find the end result resides somewhere in the triangle between creepy, awesome, and ridiculous, but it shows the potential for bringing animation to illustrated books.
The Duel by Giacomo Casanova (and other Melville House titles)
The famous lover’s short tale of honor is just one of five different classic novellas called The Duel (the others are by Anton Chekhov, Joseph Conrad, Heinrich von Kleist, and Alexander Kuprin), all reprinted by the innovative and fearless publishers at Melville House. While this is a great gimmick in itself, what really makes it great is the wealth of “illuminations” provided by QR links, like special features on a great DVD. “In the Illumination for Giacomo Casanova’s The Duel,” the Melville House press release notes, “you’ll find a comic essay by Mark Twain on French dueling and an account of a famous duel fought from hot air balloons. And there’s so much more — maps, cartoons, recipes, photographs, paintings — to enhance the reader’s experience.”
The Purpose-Driven Life (QR Code Enhanced Edition) by Rick Warren
Here, religious publishing shows that it’s every bit as up-to-date as its secular counterparts when it comes to adopting QR technology. This mega-seller from pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church, who gave the invocation at President Obama’s inauguration, has been reprinted using QR for two purpose-driven purposes: to enhance the text with video clips, as well as to update it with annotations that give Warren’s more recent reflections on the stories told and the principles discussed in the first edition.
Upgrade to Free by Beth Ziesenis
This book from “Your Nerdy Best Friend,” as Ziesenis promotes herself, is a guide to apps and other free digital tools to help you maximize efficiency and minimize stress in your own life. It was the first QR offering from Texas State Technical College Publishing, which saw Upgrade to Free as a “test case,” and intended to pursue a partnership with QR firm Immediatag. Unfortunately, a mere two months after that press release, TSTC Publishing announced it would be shutting its doors. That’s too bad, because textbooks do seem to be one of the best opportunities for using QR to supplement printed material. Hopefully other educational publishers will pick up where they left off.