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Can digital innovation futureproof SA’s magazine industry?

With the latest ABC data showing a stark decline in magazine circulation numbers, many have been asking what magazines need to do to futureproof their existence. The answer? Digital technology. ‘The publishing industry is going through a period of change. The opportunity for smart innovators is to use digital technology to energise the industry,’ said Steve Thobela,

Novus Print: Executive – South (part of the Novus Holdings Group).
Thobela, who has been a print industry advocate for almost 30 years since starting his career as an apprentice typographer, explains that QR codes, which traditionally were used as barcodes to keep track of inventory, hold great potential to unlock additional revenue streams for the publishing and printing industries.

‘We are only beginning to harness the power of the QR code as a disruptive technology in South Africa, but are not yet using it to its full potential as we are still thinking of it as a barcode, when it is so much more,’ said Thobela. ‘From getting customers to interact with the brand and product through added information, entering competitions or shopping and facilitating payments – they create a new world in which print is relevant to the audience, with digital complementing it.’

Global trends show that QR codes are widely used. According The Economist, the use of QR codes in Japan and China enabled $1.65 trillion of mobile payments in 2016, with advertisers, publishers and handset-makers popularising QR codes as a way to share information with customers. Furthermore, it is reported that the use of these codes is increasing in the Middle East and Africa, with the global QR market in labels and packaging to grow by 8.7 per cent by 2027. This is because they have a high storage capability for text, URLs, webpages, contact information, and others, specifically in security, inventory management, mobile payment and marketing and advertising.

According to FIPP, a global network that looks at media trends, in some markets QR codes have in some markets allowed smart innovators to come up with new business models. ‘Some of our magazine clients are effectively using the QR code to generate new revenue streams,’ said Thobela. ‘Magazines are encouraging readers to shop directly from the printed copy by using their phones to scan the QR code from the magazine’s pages.’  Statistics SA estimates that 22 million South Africans use a smartphone, which is, more than one third of the population. ‘The opportunity for the magazine industry to tap into this market, and benefit from the digital boom, is huge.’

In some instances, book publishers are also using QR codes, creating a more engaging experience for the user that merges print and electronic technologies. Cookbook authors are using QR codes in their books to drive users to download video instructions via their smartphones. ‘Instead of capturing product information typically found on food and beverage products, the cookbook QR codes help to capture a sensory world, and give the audience a more engaging and authentic experience.

‘The opportunities for different industries to use the QR code in printing and publishing really are endless. Print, whether magazines or newspapers, is, and will continue to be relevant, but, just like any other industry impacted by the rise of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (a change in the way we do things, determined by technology), we do need to find new ways of doing things to thrive,’ concluded Thobela.

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