QR Codes Connect Print to the Web

    by Michael Josefowicz
    May 25, 2009
    Image by "Project Stickermap":http://www.flickr.com/photos/stickermap/ via Flickr.

    Point your phone at a printed page. Take a picture. Get taken to a website. That’s the power of QR codes, codes embedded in print that can link cell phones to specific websites. They’ve been doing this for years in Japan, and now they are starting to do it in Europe. Sooner or later it will get to the States.

    From the user’s point of view, this is very cool. But the important issue for newspapers and journalists is that every click gives feedback on what is interesting to whom and when. In the post-Google advertising environment, QR codes could finally help solve the dilemma that has long plagued advertisers, the “50%-of-advertising-doesn’t work, but-I-don’t-know-which-half” problem.

    In the post-Google advertising environment, QR codes could finally help solve the dilemma that has long plagued advertisers."

    QR codes are coming

    George Alexander at Beyond Print describes QR codes:


    The “QR code,” a kind of two-dimensional bar code intended to be read by cell phone cameras, is now being included in a few European periodicals. The code directs your phone’s web browser to a site with additional information. Some Japanese magazines are full of the codes.

    He notes that QR codes are beginning to appear on the pages of some European publications; one of the earliest adopters was the German tabloid Welt Kompakt, which started including QR codes with some of its articles in late 2007.

    “The Japanese, of course, are already heavy users of this technology,” writes Alexander. “In one Japanese poll, over three-quarters of respondents said they had used QR codes, and many magazines incorporate them.”

    In Japan, black-and-white QR codes are already old news. From a repost originally at Creativity Online:


    A recent design project from Japan infuses contemporary art into ho-hum QR code graphics. To tout Takashi Murakami’s ongoing collaboration with Louis Vuitton, Tokyo-based creative agency SET dispensed with the standard black-and-white pattern and designed a stylized QR code inspired by the artist’s work for the fashion brand.

    By providing a quick and convenient way to immediately go from a printed page to the web, QR codes provide a new link between the real and web worlds.

    Real-time user metrics from print

    Mediabids has demonstrated that if you can supply the numbers to demonstrate that advertising works, it’s not that hard to sell print ads. The QR code + the cell phone brings that functionality to news-on-paper.

    The advantages for the business side of the house is clear. Communities of interest form and disband in days. If their emergence can be anticipated, it’s much easier to sell them stuff. A classic example of preparing products to sell to a suddenly convened community of interest is T-shirts to go with a concert. Another example is how public fascination with the 9/11 attacks led to the 9/11 Commission report rising to the top of the bestseller list in only a few weeks.


    The Pet Shop Boys used a QR Code for the cover art on their 2007 single ‘Integral.’

    The new ability of a print media that can output data streams at production speeds and costs means any content that appears on a blog or a wiki can be re-formated and published in print. The newer ability of print as a channel for on-the-ground information to come back to the web means that the print edition can now add an important dimension to the needed feedback.

    Gauging Reader Interest with QR Codes

    The potential value for journalists is less immediately clear. The traction of a story is created when focused interest emerges from the audience. Authentic interest has to be voluntary. It cannot be forced or manufactured. In the classroom, that’s called the teachable moment. In the news cycle, it’s captured in the notion of the “big story.”

    If journalists assemble their stories on wikis and have access to real-time feedback on what is interesting to the communities they serve, it will give them better guidance on how to move with a story. Public response, gathered through QR code input, could help reporters to better and more quickly learn what stories the public wants to read. A story becomes a true co-creation formed by the tensions of the community’s interest and the reporter’s ability to tell a better story.

    A versioned newspaper filled with QR codes can pinpoint “where” an exchange takes place. “Where” is the critical issue for successful versioned newspaper distribution. Once a newspaper ad salesperson can deliver “where” information to local advertisers, it’s a very clear value proposition.

    For an editor or journalist, QR codes can deliver real time data on the most ineffable and important feedback, answering questions like “Is this story interesting to people who live in a geographically defined community?” While there is an approximation of the “interesting” factor on the web, the fact is that the web is still for a niche audience of very interested people. If the task is to engage the previously uninterested, data from web clicks is much too noisy.

    QR codes have the potential to cut through that noise and help transform the way we use these media. My personal passion is not print or newspapers, it’s fixing high school education. Since I believe that print is the best learning tool and the web is the best talking and tracking tool, as the connections grow between these two media, a tipping point in educating our young people will emerge. That’s one way the world is changing.

    The common wisdom about print has created a ferocious noise that has drowned out the signals of new print-to-the-cloud technology. I will try to amplify that signal over the next few weeks. Once it gets on the radar of journalists and newspaper publishers, the world will change, again.

    Michael Josefowicz spent 30 years at Red Ink Productions, a boutique print production brokerage he co-founded which served New York-based design studios and non-profit organizations. He came out of retirement to teach production at Parsons The New School for Design for the next 7 years. He now blogs about the digital printing industry at Tough Love for Xerox.

    Tagged: japan newspapers print print-on-demand qr codes

    21 responses to “QR Codes Connect Print to the Web”

    1. I enjoyed your post, have you had the chance to check out Microsoft Tag? Let me know when you have the chance. I agree that there are some major opportunities in print advertising to leverage 2D Barcodes to enhance reader’s experiences.

    2. Michael-
      I do think that mobile connecting print or public advertising to more robust information online IS the future. I just think that the US is going to skip over QR codes.

      There are new image recognition technologies that are already becoming available (like this one http://www.kooaba.com/using-kooaba/) that will skip us right past QR codes and right past the problems associated with QR codes (like not being able to get a close enough picture to make the QR code recognizable to the system).

      I’m excited for the possibilities!

    3. Emee says:

      Cool! I do this all the time when I see books in stores that I like, so good to know there will now be linked info. But what does the QR stand for? — just looked it up on wikipedia “Quick Response”.

    4. MichaelJ says:

      Elliot and Nicole,

      Thanks for getting both of these technologies on my radar. Both look very cool. I’ll need a little time to really check them out.

      Just an FYI – my personal passion is fixing bottom of the pyramid high school education. I’ve done lots of bloviating over at ToughLove and keep looking for signs on the ground.

      The app is pretty clear, A poster on the civil war in the classroom. The kid goes to the wiki on the civil war. A one pager in print with headlines and blurbs. The cell phone goes to “read more” or “wathc tyhe video” . . it goes on and on.

      The kids love the cell phones. Textbooks are way too slow. If you ever come across any examples in K -12, please let me know.

    5. Lars says:

      Hi Michael:

      Indeed QR was well-established as a good way to drive traceable connections to mobile web campaigns in Japan.. for easily over 5-years now.

      See the Louis Vuitton example mentioned here:

      Elliot & Nichole – MS Tag, or codes buried into pictures, seem sexy enough – but – lack two key points that make this really work.

      How many phones have the ability to scan MS = critical mass, and how can people tell if there is something to scan behind that movie poster = obvious call-to-action.

      Cheers from Tokyo!

    6. Kevin G. says:

      Hi Michael, there is another company, Pongr, that appears to be doing something similar except it doesn’t use the QR codes. I read an article on their blog about the differences between the Japan market and U.S. market. Their site is http://blog.pongr.com. There is some specific information on there about print to mobile Internet stuff.


    7. MichaelJ says:


      Thank you for the point. It’s a thoughful and realistic look at the issues from the advertiser mareketing point of view.

    8. John Evans says:

      You need to check out Jarrod Robinson’s work with his students in Boort, Australia.Jarrod aka @mrrobbo, has been using QR Codes in his Outdoor Ed and Science classes.

      Check out these links to his blog:



    9. QR codes really are an incredible technology. They can be a tool to help print products remain somewhat relevant. I wrote a series last year on how journalists/newspapers could use QR codes – check it out: http://www.newmediabytes.com/2008/04/05/qr-codes-will-revolutionize-the-newspaper-consumer-relationship-if-papers-allow-it/

    10. MichaelJ says:

      Thanks to all. “Keep those cards and letters coming!”

    11. In our research on QR Codes and through our QR code project, iCandy, we’ve observed that there is quite a bit of interest in using QR Codes in K-12 education:

      • for special needs kids who can’t type URLs
      • augmentation of printed materials – linking to videos or other online resources< ;li>
      • scavenger hunts and ways to engage students in the physical world
      • see also http://twitter.com/msquihuis/status/1864187505 for other links to QR codes in education

      Other applications have included using QR codes to retrieve library catalog info (Univ of Bath), government applications (City of Manor), healthcare, food safety (http://bit.ly/r1RwL ), organic agricultural products (http://bit.ly/qgIaO), manufacturing, and document retrieval (http://bit.ly/rwodd)

      iCandy incorporate analytics to provide data on those paper click thrus – date/time/location plus platform – Mac/PC/mobile.

      One thing to keep in mind when applying QR codes is to make sure the content you’re connecting to is formatted for the device. In other words, if you’re deploying QR codes with the idea that they’re going to be scanned by mobile phones, be sure the content is formatted for mobile phones.

      If the QR code is going to be scanned from a webcam, be sure the content is formatted for the desktop.

      iCandy provides desktop software that allows you to create and print QR codes and it takes advantage of your computer’s webcam so you can scan them from your computer as well.

      We have an iPhone app that will be out this summer that allows you to scan qr codes and share what you’ve found on Facebook and Twitter.

      In the meantime, people who are interested in QR codes should do a search on ‘qr code’ or ‘#qr code’ in Twitter where there is an active community of people discussing qr codes and their applications.

    12. MichaelJ says:

      Thank you for stopping by and sharing. At my blog I’m trying to get the power of q codes to incorporate into a product that can replace textbooks in K-12 with something much better, faster and cheper.

      I’m calling it Clickable Print, for now. The idea is that responsive one sheets linked to videos would be perfect for bottom of the pyramid high school kids, all of whom have and/or want the best cell phones they can find.

    13. Mariush says:

      Just 2 days ago new QR codes related project was started:


      it is a kind of social type of website allowing people to generate their own QR codes.and manage theme (change content, type, way of access: public or password protected, etc…, without the need to reprint code tag).
      And as Margarita Quihuis said it is well formatted for mobile phones so people after scan of those codes will get well formatted content but it also has a normal view for desktop users. check it out.

    14. MichaelJ says:

      A question for all our QR expert visitors:

      Are there examples of people using QR to enable personal video on the mobile, as opposed to web pages?

    15. Thanks for a useful article.
      Tags like QR codes are not just for connecting print to the web – what about connecting you to your lost pet or luggage? You can setup tags like these and more at Vizitag.com. And with regard to the commeent about mobile image recognition (MIR) vs. tags you can find more out about these competing technologies at vizitag.blogspot.com.

    16. akugel says:

      I think the main reason QR isn’t catching on in the States is that you have to download an app to your mobile phone in order to use it. It’s a shame the carriers don’t have this simple app on board from the get go.

    17. MichaelJ says:

      To Stewart,
      thanks. I recently came upon the notion of physical hyperlinking at wikipedia that goes into that part of it in great detail. Given the use of bar codes for decades, it’s a natural evolution.

      To Akugel,
      Maybe, but from what I read both Android and the Iphone have QR readers available. Plus given the number of apps that are downloaded on both platforms, I have to disagree.

      My sense is still that it happened first in Japan because they have one of the most robust wireless cell phone capabilities on the planet.

      Given yesterday’s announcement of the new faster, faster, faster connection through ATT, I have to believe it’s only a matter of time before it gets to internet style growth here in the States.

    18. Clayton Vought says:

      I have to say, the introduction to this article is inaccurate. The QR code was not simply created for cell phone camera use, it was just implemented later on. QR (Quick Response) was actually created by a Japanese company (Denso-Wave) in efforts to fully integrate sales, logistics, inventory, and line management. It can handle more data as well as more characters such as binary and kanji. I had actually worked with Denso Manuacturing on many occasions where we used the information within the code to adjust a production line automatically for each product. The user would simply scan a kanban and the machines did everything else. The code would be sent to a computer where it compared the part number to a database which held information about product width, barcode position, and next available serial number. My company produced the laser marker that served as the brains for the production line.

    19. At interlinkONE, we are very excited about the QR Code opportunities that exist for printers and marketers.

      We recently published a presentation that walks through the basics of QR Codes, how they can be measured, and how to use them in a marketing campaign. I hope that you find it helpful:


    20. Mobile Barcodes, popularly known as QR Codes is a fantastic medium for advertisers and publishers. It is an amazing approach to bring digital information into real life with a bit of interaction.

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