QR codes and publishing: Editoras creates a “living” book

I probably wouldn’t have paid much attention to a recent article in Galleycat if I hadn’t just finished translating a customer satisfaction survey that mentioned QR codes. For the uninitiated, QR (short for quick response) codes are those psychedelic–looking square codes that are increasingly popping up everywhere these days. They were originally developed for the automotive industry but are now used for a wide variety of applications. The Japanese government, for instance, uses QR codes in visas embedded in passports.

According to Galleycat, a book of QR codes created as part of a viral publicity campaign for Brazil’s Editoras Online has been one of the hits of the Mediabistro Publishing App Expo. Editoras Online is the Brazilian equivalent to Amazon.com. Like every bookseller, Editoras keeps a sharp eye on customer trends and searches for new ways to engage the digitally savvy youth market. This year it teamed up with DDB Brazil to create a citywide viral campaign that reached out to young audiences through mobile technology.

To launch the campaign, workers slapped 4,000 stickers bearing 200 different encrypted QR code messages on almost every imaginable type of exterior surface throughout the city of Sao Paolo. Each sticker carried one of two key theme messages: hate and love. By scanning the QR code with a mobile phone, readers received a text message related to love or hate. People following the campaign’s Twitter profile were invited to tweet their own short phrases about love or hate that were subsequently linked to a QR code and made available to the general public via the QR code stickers.  According to Editoras, these codes were updated with new phrases on a weekly basis.

Editoras simultaneously produced a bound book titled C.A.O.S. (colectivo amor e ódio em segundos) containing the 200 QR codes created for the campaign. It became an instant must-have item and sold out within a week of its release. For as long as the Twitter campaign remains active, readers will enjoy a perpetually evolving “living book.” However long the company’s commitment to renovate the content lasts, the campaign has provided great PR for its business and boosted online sales.

While Editoras’ C.A.O.S. project could qualify as conceptual art, authors and publishers are beginning to experiment with more some of QR technology’s more practical applications for book production. As Mick Winkler points out in Scan Me – Everybody’s Guide to the Magical World of QR Codes, this technology offers many tantalizing possibilities for authors, publishers, and readers. For instance, QR codes applied to the back cover of a book could provide an undecided shopper with a link to the author’s or publisher’s website or blog where he or she could browse through a more detailed author biography, discussion forums, readers’ recommendations, and information about awards, book-signing events, or special deals on audio book versions. Readers could also give the book a “like” rating or sign up to receive a publisher’s or author’s newsletter. QR codes have a number of creative applications between a book’s covers: placed on a specific page, they can provide readers to links offering supplementary material such as maps, audio or video content, or clues to a mystery. The same technology could be used effectively in textbooks, either to update material or provide supplementary maps, charts, audiovisual content, and other information. All of these applications come with the same caveat: all links for CR codes embedded in books must be made to incredibly stable sources if the “living” book is to fulfill its claim to interactivity over time.

An article written by Patrick Burgoyne for Creative review.org offers detailed information about Editoras’ living book project and documentation of some of the locations where QR were placed through the city of Sao Paolo. It also features two videos that give a full description of the campaign. I recommend watching both, but I have to admit that I was fascinated by the shorter of the two that documented how the printed book was “checked” with a mobile phone before release to ensure that each code correctly generated a text message. It made me wonder when I’ll be asked to proof and copyedit a book via my mobile phone. Would it be love or hate from the very first second? Even if it sounds like total chaos at first, I’ve learned to never say never in this business when it comes to technology.