In ye olden days, writers hawked their tombs of bound paper, kept whole by glue and string, to the masses who gathered at ye olde book traders to hear them speak and sign their flowing prose. In this digital age if you are an author like Cecelia Ahern, backed by a large multinational publisher like HarperCollins, you can place a specialised glyph (a picture/character) within the pages of your book. When Cecelia’s readers visit a unique HarperCollins website, they show the glyph to a webcam and get instant access to a whole new virtual world inspired by Cecelia’s stories. Now, the amount of money that went into that I don’t even want to think about, far too much for the average author to consider. Many authors can only dream of having such a sophisticated, creative interaction with their audience. Yet why wait for publishers to lead the way? In this digital age, abounding with free technologies, we are able to set the new frontiers ourselves using the simple QR code.
Now if you don’t know what a QR code is don’t worry too much. Just accost any teenage girl with a mobile phone or harassed looking business person with a blackberry and they will be able to tell you. Just be prepared, anybody with a touch screen smart phone will look at you like you have grown antlers... and possibly fur. A QR code is a 2D barcode, generally square in shape that can be read by barcode apps (on desktops and mobile phones) and camera phones. QR codes originated in Japan, created by a Toyota subsidiary Denso-Wave. Initially they were used to track vehicle parts but today they are being embraced by corporations for marketing purposes. You may have seen them on various promotional posters, on the side of Pepsi cans or on ads in the subway. When someone scans the barcode with their phone it takes them to a website which can contain additional information, ads, videos, text, audio, a donation page, or coupons for discounts.
An example of one is shown below. If you possess a smart phone, it should have a built in QR code reader. If you don’t already have a barcode app on your phone Click here using your mobile internet and download an appropriate one for your model. By scanning the code below, the application will direct you to a YouTube video. I did this video to promote an interview with Sheila Hollingworth, co-author of A Decent Proposal.
You may ask how users scanning funny looking squares with their smart phones could have any impact on the writing industry. It is an undeniable fact that people are spending more time using their mobile devices than ever before. It is predicted by eMarketer that smart phone users in the US alone will reach 73.3 million by the end of 2011, representing 31% of the total mobile user population. According to Mashable mobile scanning have increased 12 fold in the second half of 2010. This is a massive trend that has been overlooked by the industry in the wake of the eBook revolution, and frankly it is a wasted opportunity. Consider the types of content a QR code could take a scanner to. Sample chapters, videos, audios, Facebook ‘like’ pages.
This type of interaction between an author and a reader has never been done. Ever. But it is being used to generate thousands by large corporations, and the best part is, you can generate your own QR code for free. Imagine having a QR code at the beginning of your e-book that opens a video of you thanking your reader for making the purchase, or providing a discount for the next novel in the series. Or better yet, what about a series of QR codes throughout an e-book or series that unlocks extra short stories, readings or podcasts of a chapter.
Then there are all the possible offline applications for the code. Place QR codes on business cards so people can scan them and view a trailer to your book, or read a sample chapter. If you are in a major city why not set up a treasure hunt by scattering posters with the code around the streets so that readers have to physically visit each code to unlock the next part of the story. Whether it is posters in public transport areas or t-shirts at a trade fair, the interactive possibilities are immense. An endeavour very similar to HarperCollins can be set up without paying even a thousandth of what they did.
This sort of reader interaction is what will set indie authors apart in this coming digital climate. Perhaps it’s time you gave up ye olde book trader for something more modern...
Emily Craven is a young emerging writer from South Australia. Over the past year she has been learning as much as possible about e-books and internet marketing. Her blog posts on creative interaction in the digital age can be found at http://ebookrevolution.blogspot.com/