Digimarc's Secret Code: Digital Watermarks Embedded in a Magazine (With Video)
When a phone equipped with a reader app is held up anywhere on a page with embedded information, users are directed to related multimedia content, advertising or social media.
Publishing Executive caught up with Digimarc Chairman and CEO Bruce Davis at the recent MPA: Digital conference in New York.
Publishing Executive: First of all, I want to understand the technology. There was a term somebody used while you guys were up on stage before-invisible watermark. Is that what the technology is based on?
Bruce Davis: I use the expression 'Invisible QR Code.' We perform the same function, we're just not visible to human beings. We're experts in signal processing; everything that human beings see and hear is a signal. So what we do is we make subtle modifications to the signals that you and I hear to create a digital code that allows a computer to see and hear more like humans do.
Computers basically are blind and deaf. That's why these symbologies have been created like 1-D barodes and 2-D barcodes in order to produce a structured data set the computer can look at and say 'I know what that is.' What we do is take that concept and make it invisible. For a publisher, space is money, so we take up no space, and many publishers don't want to disrupt their presentation with a QR code because it's kind of big and ugly. We then would be an excellent means of identifying the content for such publishers, either to save money or promote aesthetics.
PE: How does it live on the page?
Davis: It's everywhere. My phone recognizes [the embedded information] through the Digimark discover app, which is available for white labeling by publishers ... A couple of metaphors that I use are braille for computers, or a dog whistle. Dogs can hear it, you can't. Braille helps people who are blind. The computer is blind, so we are essentially presenting a different image to the computer. It's not seeing this [page that we see], it's seeing something different.
PE: You've said this technology attracts new and younger readers. Why is that?
Davis: Well I think that the various identification means that are being developed and deployed all address a critical problem of the publishing industry, and that problem is that the print publications are static and not connected. That means they capture just a moment in time, and you can't easily pass them on or engage in social networking with them, and you can't bring supplemental advertising or editorial materials to bear on the audience immediately, and so the magazines have suffered in readership and in advertising.
With these symbologies you can use the magazines essentially as a taking off point to a multimedia experience. That to me is essential to the future of publishing, it's not just nice to have.
The reason I think that print publications will survive is because of their form factor. It's an ergonomic benefit. A lot of people like the feel of them, like flipping pages, like the smell of them, like the portability. So all those things are special to a magazine and you can't replicate in digital. But as long as print denies digital, remains an island, it will increasingly be impinged upon by it because digital has time limits and pass-along and direct response marketing and all those things that the youth generation have come to expect: convenience, choice, control, immediate response.
So [with these technologies] the print magazine becomes part of the digital strategy of the publisher. An integral part and an enduring part I believe, rather than being seen as competing with digital, as is true in many publishers' organizations right now. When we were on the stage earlier I was commenting on one of the impediments to adoption being that publishers have set up digital as a competitor to print, not as a compliment, because there wasn't any connection. Now that a connection is becoming available publishers ought to rethink their strategies and think about maximizing the benefit for the audience and their advertisers by integrating the print and the digital.
The magazines will feel modern to [younger audiences]. Its really an emotional level connection. Right now magazines are old fashioned to the younger generation. If we can update these magazines with these modern technologies and make them part of this digital universe then they won't feel old fashioned any longer and the undeniable benefits of the form factor will become more obvious to the youth generation, and they'll say, 'Yeah, I'll take the magazine along, because that's the way I find stuff on the Internet.'
PE: How does this help publishers find new advertisers, rather than just become a new option to present to existing advertisers?
Davis: Our technology works in all media: audio, video and text. So it's possible for an advertiser to create a web or network for their audience, in which they can enter at various points in the network and be connected to all the other stuff. So you can envision at some point in the future a digital property recommending print magazines ... maybe some special promotional benefits. So there are ways to cross market using a single technical solution. In our beta period Volkswagon AG was using our technology in their customer magazine .... [where] they had articles about new safety and performance features. That isn't very compelling unless you take your phone out and look at it and it shows you literally how it works. So [in that case] they are creating a greater engagement with their customers on some new features that will get customers to buy their cars.
PE: What about this question of educating consumers in how to use these technologies. Is it really as much of a hurdle as some would have us believe?
Davis: The people who ask that question are not among the young, not very hip, and they may be a lost generation. (Laughs) The publishers that got up on stage after us [for a session hosted by Microsoft Tag]—Allure, Golf Digest—all got it. They don't view it as a burden, they view it as an opportunity because what they're doing is telling their audience how to better enjoy their publication, and who wouldn't want to do that? And the amount of space necessary to do this is quite small. You can do it in a paragraph or less for all of these symbologies. And it also then lays a foundation for an argument that they are providing a platform to advertisers, because they are educating their audience about the use of symbologies in their publication, so they ought to be able to sell them the advertiser at a premium because they have created an enhanced environment for sales.
That's the pitch. So it makes sense both in terms of being able to satisfy their audience and building additional profits through advertising.
Editor's Note: Watch the accompanying video demonstration of racing magazine V8X to see how the technology works. Pages featuring watermarked information have a small Digimarc symbol and description of the content that can be accessed.