July 8, 2016

AR, VR and PR: How New Technology Can Help Publishing


For the past 5 to 10 years, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) have been creating Internet buzz and conjuring up images of a real-life Star Trek for consumers and marketers alike. While the two altered realities are often lumped together, they represent very different experiences, resulting in two separate approaches for content developers and marketers.

Arguably the more talked about of the two, VR devices like the Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR and HTC Vive are beginning to hit mainstream markets. Simple devices like Google Cardboard integrate with smartphone VR capabilities for a far more affordable consumer experience. With VR, users are immersed in an artificial world. The experience is removed from real-life and takes place entirely within the 360-degree scope of the gear.

AR, on the other hand, incorporates objects and environments from the real world and will overlay 3D graphics onto users’ view of the world around them. Somewhat mainstream examples of AR include Google Glass and Microsoft’s new HoloLens, as well as a variety of smartphone apps.

The potential applications for these systems in movies and gaming is huge, but how are these two experiences stacking up across various industries that aren’t entertainment? For starters, they’re both shaking the dust off the publishing industry.

Publishing and Virtual Reality

In the publishing world, The New York Times rolled out its virtual reality mobile app, NYT VR, that tells stories through an “immersive, 360-degree video experience.” Their VR film, “The Displaced,” told the story of 3 child refugees and won the Cannes Lions’ Grand Prix this year and two Gold Lions. The initial launch of NYT VR was considered the most successful app launch in the organization’s history. The Times sent 1.2 million Google Cardboard units to subscribers to generate hype about the launch. While not the purest form of virtual reality, 360-degree video engages users with content on an emotional level introduces the concept of immersion into a virtual plane to mainstream culture. Other publications experimenting with VR include The Wall Street Journal and InStyle.

Brands and advertisers also have a chance to work with publications to create VR content. In its December 2015 issue, Outside magazine introduced a VR component to their publication. In a partnership with the brand The North Face, Outside distributed “The North Face: Nepal,” an immersive VR film experience. Outside shipped Google Cardboard units to 75,000 subscribers in order to drive them to Outside Online and access the content. This new content is engaging, and also represents a new potential revenue source for the publication, as it evolves in the ways brands can partner with it.

Publishing and Augmented Reality

While VR is creating its own unique space at media giants like The Times and The Wall Street Journal, augmented reality has made a different sort of impact on the publishing industry. NYT VR creates a digital, immersive, visual journalistic experience, but AR can interact with the printed page. For just a snapshot of what it can do: Disney created an app that animates children’s coloring books and People Magazine’s Style Watch enabled readers to scan magazine pages and instantly make purchases as well as view additional content like styling tips. For one last example of augmented reality in print publishing, take a look at Anomoly. It’s a 370-page graphic novel with 50 pages of augmented reality content – allowing readers to watch characters to spring to life on top of the page through the window of their smartphone.

The implications for advertisers in this space are notable as well. For instance, Vogue printed an issue in September 2015 with an interactive Target ad – freeing the retailer from the advertising constraints of an 8×10 page. Using AR to expedite the shopping experience also makes it easier for marketers to track user behavior and ROI for print-based advertising. Further in the print-AR crossover is IKEA’s 2014 catalog. Shoppers could scan pages of the printed catalog using their catalog app and then place virtual furniture in their own home. By eliminating steps in the purchasing process, AR has the potential to become a marketer’s dream.


Consider that NYT VR and Outside magazine had to send out thousands (even millions) of Google Cardboard headsets in order to encourage users and readers to download their apps. The VR experience on something like Google Cardboard is also significantly lower quality than on a high-end device like the Oculus Rift. The fact that VR integration for publications requires users have access to gear is a major barrier to adoption. 360-degree videos might be immersive and engaging, but they don’t necessarily drive users to print. Instead, they establish a whole new medium for storytelling.

AR, on the other hand, relies largely on smartphones within the publishing space. True, there was the underwhelming spectacle that was Google Glass was an underwhelming spectacle, but wearable gear isn’t necessary in mainstream adoption of AR, and that might make it the most compelling. Publishers and advertisers can count on the fact that most of their readers already have access to smartphones and know how to download and use an app.

When it comes to VR, the publishing industry is evolving — adopting new technologies and new mediums and changing the way stories are told. And brands can be a part of that storytelling. Meanwhile, AR has the potential to revitalize print publishing by bringing interactive components to a traditionally motionless medium. And since AR doesn’t rely on hardware so much as content, ease of adoption could see this revitalization in the very near future.