Picking on the new Esquire augmented reality cover is a bit too easy. Sure, we could laugh at the idea that consumers will carry the physical magazine over to their home office, boot up the computer, spend five minutes downloading software, and then hold the magazine cover up to the web cam to get an enhanced experience. Of course it’s crap, a 2009 rendition of the 1990s’ :CueCat barcode reader that Forbes and Wired tried to get you to use at the tail end of the last internet bubble. Remember that? You plugged a device into your computer, which took about five minutes, and then held the magazine up to the device to get an enhanced experience …
The :CueCat bombed, of course. Wikipedia rattles off the disaster: PC World called it one of “The 25 Worst Tech Products of All Time”; Jeff Salkowski of the Chicago Tribune wrote, “you have to wonder about a business plan based on the notion that people want to interact with a soda can.” By 2005, a liquidator web site tried to unload 2 million of the ugly plastic devices for 30 cents each.
So here we go again; a national magazine asking people to jump through hoops to connect a print vehicle with a web communication. Why are we repeating history, the mistake of interactivity for interactivity’s sake? Magazines, like books, have their place in life, and no one wants to hold one channel (Esquire) up to another (a computer) to get an enhanced experience. The augmented-reality chore is like walking into a restaurant and having the waiter give you a burger sans bun, and then inviting you back to the kitchen to help the cook finish the ensemble.
It’s not a facelift, it’s a positioning strategy
Esquire is not led by dummies. They know they are asking too much, that augmented reality is a fad that will too pass, and that most users will never see the super-web-cam result. (Someone said risque women posing as elves are involved, but that’s just hearsay.) Esquire’s editors also realize print is under pressure — the once uberhot Maxim magazine recently shuttered its print edition in the UK, and Esquire’s total ad pages booked are down 24% year over year — and anything they can do to differentiate themselves in the marketplace helps. So Esquire is rolling out a series of physical gimmicks (such as the recent E-Ink cover), all good for PR, which generates buzz among readers, which gets advertisers to consider pushing media budgets Esquire’s way.
Sure, we don’t want to hold magazine covers up to web cams any more than we want to build hamburgers at a restaurant. But Megan Fox can only go so far. Esquire, all we can say is well played — you’re resonating with a stupid technological gimmick that makes us view you differently in your competitive set. No, we won’t head for the web cam … but we may just sign up for a subscription.