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QR Codes, NFC Chips and New Paths to Book Discovery

QR codes and NFC chips can turn any corner, lamppost or surface into a bookstore.

By Javier Celaya

For the last few years, the priority in the book world was to digitize the content (all new releases and as well as backlist catalogs). The upcoming priority will be to “digitize” the bookstore experience with the aim to enhance book discovery and increase in-store sales. Bookstores must integrate the offline-online discoverability and purchase processes to improve the overall consumer experience, as well as to minimize losing sales opportunities (paper and ebooks) during store visits.

Very soon we will see QR codes, touch screens and NFC chips, among other discoverability technologies, in our bookstores and they will be used to expedite the purchase as e-books and as a way of generating customer loyalty for those who prefer to read on paper. Thanks to the use of these new technologies, bookstores will be able to make a larger number of books visible to their clients. If, for any reason, a certain book is out of stock, the bookseller will be able to print out the cover of the book with a QR code and offer readers the possibility of purchasing either the paper or digital version of the book online.

Ever since their creation in 1994 by a company belonging to the Japanese group Toyota, Quick Response Barcodes — better known as QR codes — have made discoverability considerably easier in supermarkets, restaurants, bars, etc. We have gradually grown accustomed to seeing these small graphics everywhere (newspapers and magazine ads, store windows, etc.) and will gradually grow accustomed to seeing these black and white Mondrian graphics everywhere in the book world too, including bookstores, libraries, book reviews, book covers, etc. To date, the use of these codes in the publishing sector has basically focused on providing readers with supplementary information on the book. Various authors, such as Nick Bilton and Tony Wagner, have also incorporated these codes on their book covers or inside their books with a view to adding audiovisual content as a way of enriching their reading experience.

NFC Chips in Your E-reader

NFC chips also provide many new discoverability opportunities within a bookstore or a library. Near field communication (NFC) is a set of standards for smartphones and tablet devices to establish radio communication with each other, similar to Bluetooth technologies, by touching them together or bringing them into close proximity, usually no more than a few centimeters. It appears that Barnes & Noble plans to embed NFC chips into their Nooks devices. Publishers would ship a copy of each hardcover with an NFC chip embedded with all the editorial reviews they can get on BN.com. Any Nook customer will just touch the book cover and it will get immediate access to all kinds of information about the book and the author, such as retail price, special offers, reviews, complementary videos, and more.

Beyond this promotional use in the stores, these discoverability technologies will revolutionize the way in which we discover, purchase and read in the new digital era. Let us imagine someone reading a book review in a newspaper, cultural supplement or literary magazine and deciding to purchase it after reading the review. One would simply have to scan the code and access an electronic commerce platform allowing the purchase. If the electronic version is desired, the platform will provide a frictionless online purchase experience. However, if the print version is desired, the reader will inform the platform of the postal address to which the selected book should be forwarded or their nearest bookstore where they can pick it up.

A Bookstore Anywhere, Everywhere

These codes open up a new world of online marketing possibilities for the publishing industry. Thanks to the emergence of social electronic commerce, QR code and NFC chips users will also be able to purchase any books at any given time discovered via their smartphones or mobile phones. In other words, any corner, lamppost or surface may become a bookstore.

These new discovery processes of books and authors may be multiplied by a thousand considering that the Internet has no boundaries. We will soon see touch screens in bookshops reflecting QR codes with an never ending book catalog. We will also see them in libraries where they will be used to improve book borrowing processes. However, the most important thing of all is that we will encounter these unique graphics and codes in unexpected places and that they will allow authors and publishers to make their work known beyond traditional points of sale. We will consequently come across books in bus stops, queuing for the cinema, leaving theatre performances, at art exhibitions, on flights or traveling on the train.

Magazines, newspapers, bookstores and libraries will begin to realize the possibilities offered by these new tools which will bolster marketing and book selling strategies. Other cultural meeting points, such as museums and art galleries, are already using these codes as means of interacting with clients to offer specific visits, extra information, books on the artist or the exhibition, etc.

These new ways of discovering, purchasing and consuming cultural content are another indication of just how rapidly the times are changing. It is not enough to offer a given product to a client; it is necessary to offer a new experience to stimulate the decision to purchase. Formats are constantly undergoing outer and inner changes; although they may result in different mechanisms and futuristic formats, they are still books in search of readers.

Javier Celaya, a frequent contributor to Publishing Perspectives, is CEO and founder of Dosdoce.com, an online portal analyzes the use of the new technologies in the cultural sector and publishes annual studies related to trends in the Spanish publishing sector.

DISCUSS: How Can Publishers Best Use NFC Chips in Books?

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2 Comments

  1. Posted May 4, 2012 at 4:48 am | Permalink

    I assume this means that high street booksellers will be able to sell Ebooks directly to consumers? At the moment, consumers often browse the stores to decide what to read and then go home and make the purchase online.

  2. Posted May 4, 2012 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    I wonder what uses there will be for these technologies for books that are published under an “open access” model since purchase will not be the main goal for their use?

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