QR Codes: Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should

QR Code for Wikipedias Homepage

QR Code for Wikipedia's Homepage

Everyone in publishing is talking about QR codes, which have gained traction in Japan as marketing and supplementary content vehicles. Basically you have a 2D bar code with embedded characters, typically a URL, which you access via your cameraphone. Abroad, McDonald’s puts the nutritional information of their food in QR codes on the wrappers, Sony used them to lead people in Australia on a treasure hunt related to the Bond film “Quantum of Solace,” and Pepsi printed the codes on about 400 million products in the UK.

So why hasn’t this taken off in the U.S.? Well, it’s pretty simple. We’re not ready. Our mobile phone technology is way behind Japan, and American consumer behavior is still dominated by voice and text. There are only a handful of devices with web browsers and a good enough camera to recognize the codes – iPhones and Blackberries have, in our testing, less than a 25% success rate. As noted by the conspicuous silence around Fox’s QR code experiment with “Notorious” in January, we’re not there yet. (Of course, Fox bungled their strategy by planting web-dependent features in NYC subway stations.) Analysts are predicting 2010-11 for mass adoption in the U.S.

Which is a long way of saying: I’m sorry HarperCollins. Your QR code experiment for Lauren Conrad’s YA novel L.A. Candy is not only too early, but also too little. I could access the mobile site on my desktop computer, but not directly through my iPhone web browser. I had to be directed through a QR Code – which means I had to download the iPhone app, then take a picture of my laptop just to see the mobile content.

Ok, not great, but fine so far. I’m on my mobile device, looking at a nicely laid out version of the site. There’s the first chapter, a short streaming video, and a buy the book link. Nothing I can’t find elsewhere. But let’s say I’m on my mobile, and I want to share this with my friend. Since I know I can’t email the link, I hit “Share It” – where I have to give up my name, DOB, email, and cell number. Then the service texts me and asks to forward the text to my friend myself. Except, for iPhone users at least, I can’t forward texts. And, at present, I can’t copy and paste the text and send in a new message.

Of course, at this point who would still be bothering with all this, beyond someone working in internet marketing for another publisher, readying his blog entry?

I will grant that the consumer experience may be better on different phones. Does anyone know of a web-enabled camera-phone out there with forwarding-text capabilities? Oh yeah, and a QR code reader app built in? …And major market share in the YA audience, the intended recipient of these codes?

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Filed under industry, mobile

3 responses to “QR Codes: Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should

  1. Don’t you think QR Codes are the future, though? They are so simple for businesses, once the technology catches up with the intent.

    The Lunch Pail just did a real-world evaluation of QR codes by evaluating an experience with a Continental Airlines mobile boarding pass. It’s a pretty interesting read. Check it out, if you want: http://lunchpail.knotice.com/2009/06/19/realworld-assessment-mobile-boarding-passes/

  2. That shouldn’t stop anyone from playing with QR Codes though 🙂

    JFTR: I have made a Generator for QR Codes. Maybe try it out for yourself.

  3. dan2600

    Another reason QR codes haven’t taken off in the USA is the lack of necessity.

    They have been popular in to Japan for the past 3 years due to the low “web” adoption rate, as well as HTTPs inability to support kata/hira/kanji charaters.

    Here in the USA the call to action “goto http://www.moviename.com” is something we can do without even thinking about it. However for someone who’s native language isn’t english to have to remeber type a long URL on a phone or when they get home, just isn’t theasable. For awhile (I don’t know if it still remains true) many Japaneses’ primary internet connection was their phone. So QRcodes made sense (there is hardly any technology behind them…they are a 2-bit bitmap image nearly the same as a barcode that have been around since the early 90’s). The fact that the biggie test only had a 25% success rate i find hard to believe as for a QRcode to work you only need to have a resolution of about 100px by 100px ( about 4% of the iphones resolution and should technically work on a half mega pixel phone as well ). Considering i can take a photo of a CD cover and have SnapTell Reconize it, but a QRcode program can’t recognize a 2-bit barcode would be an indication of crappy software rather then hardware.

    You also have to keep in mind, in Japan people are much more into media interaction in comparison to Americans who just want media fed to them, which can be seen by the general failure of most interactive advertising. Remember CueCat?
    The novelty of scanning a barcode and having something appear just isn’t that appealing.

    We will be seeing more of these “alternate reality” apps (which uses a lot of the same tech as QR codes), but I don’t think QR will ever take off in the states.

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