Augmented reality is slowly becoming more well-known and used in a number of different formats. Some industries have embraced it, such as events, travel, training, construction and design. Other sectors where it would seem to be a perfect fit, such as publishing, have been slow to embrace the magical technology. "Some still see digital as the big monster that's going to eat them, and prefer to put their head into the sand," says SeeBook director Dr Rosa Sala Rose.
At one of the largest publishing conferences, the London Book Fair, Augmented Reality apps were a hot topic for discussion and created a real buzz. The interest is there, but are publishers reluctant to take the plunge into the digital world?
Unsurprisingly, so far children’s books seem to be the focus for making use of the technology. The fit is perfect; children become more engaged when they see the story come to life. It’s also a great way to increase learning and development through reading.
Not all books, supplements or magazines should be enhanced with digital content. But, like any tool, mixed reality needs to be used correctly. Ill-considered use of any technology is evident instantly. Some books, in our opinion, should definitely not be integrated with mixed reality – 360 Shades of Grey anyone?
But joking aside, where could it work well? Take for example the highly successful cookbook market, which is estimated to be worth around £90M. Although as a genre it remains extremely popular, sales of recipe books have declined as the number of online recipes available has increased. Augmented and virtual reality could be just the thing that bridges the gap between print and digital content and could see the market rise again. Personally, I know quite a few people who’d love a one-to-one cookery lesson with Paul Hollywood in their own private virtual reality headset.
Some publishers have completely by-passed augmented reality and gone straight to interactive digital storytelling. Although digital content appeals to some audiences and provides an accessible format for those who regularly read on their mobile and tablet devices – the danger is that they will alienate readers who still want to read stories in print. Augmented reality surely provides the best of both worlds – printed books that can be enhanced with digital content.
It’s possible that books that are currently most popular amongst adults may increase in popularity amongst younger people if integrated with augmented reality apps and virtual reality content. As TV series such as Game of Thrones, or films like Harry Potter became blockbusters overnight, will mixed-reality-enhanced books be the next craze? Word of mouth can be a powerful marketing tool, and as these new technologies are embraced, more people will talk about the stories that immersed them in new interesting ways.
Perhaps another reason why the take-up in virtual and augmented reality in the publishing sector has been slow is because - as with any significant change from the norm - there needs to be a champion or ambassador pushing the idea forward. In fact, The New York Times are the first publication to employ a full-time virtual reality editor. As a global leading publication, this should not be ignored. Is this the way forward for all publishing houses?