A Harry Potter-Style Newspaper

With 15 augmented reality features a day, the Weser-Kurier in the German city of Bremen combines printed newspaper content with multimedia effects as a way of targeting younger readers.

“Our daily newspaper needs to take new viewing habits into account, meaning that we place a greater emphasis on our visual language today. Augmented reality is an innovative means of reaching out to other target groups, in particular younger people, through multimedia content, while also enhancing our main product,” says Christian Wagner.

Panorama spoke with Christian Wagner, Managing Editor at the Weser-Kurier media group and Managing Director of Weser-Kurier Digital GmbH. He has worked for the Bremen newspaper group in various roles for 33 years and is the brains behind the augmented reality project.

Panorama: In 2013, the Weser-Kurier became the first German daily newspaper to include augmented reality content. Why do you combine printed newspaper articles with online elements?

Christian Wagner: In the past ten years, we have launched several innovative digital projects, such as our e-paper edition with the slogan “tomorrow’s print newspaper today”, a free electronic archive for our subscribers containing every edition to date, our web presence and a news app. By investing in augmented reality, we have deliberately chosen interaction between the print and digital worlds, rather than a purely online development.

... and AR enhances the print version of your newspaper.

Yes, since readers need to have the printed newspaper pages in front of them in order to view our AR effects using a free app. In that sense, AR is actually an extension of the newspaper or what I might even describe as a Harry Potter-style newspaper. Our ads manager at the time, Michael Sulenski, and board member Eric Dauphin had the belief and vision that such added value could lead to something interesting from the very outset.

By investing in augmented reality, the Weser-Kurier has deliberately chosen interaction between the print and digital worlds, rather than a purely online development.

To what extent does AR pose a particular challenge for the Weser-Kurier as a local newspaper.

Finding topics to cover isn’t difficult,but the challenge for us as a daily newspaper are the short turn-around times. And, of course, it’s also demanding for the staff. Our editors had to change their way of thinking and learn how to accompany articles with attractive visual elements.

How many AR effects do you publish per edition?

We publish 15 in total – ten in the main edition and five in a regional supplement. Those include some automated repeat effects like the weather forecast. If our readers access the weather forecast via augmented reality, they always see the most up-to-date version.

Do you mainly cover local topics?

Yes, as a local newspaper we deliberately focus on local topics such as videos of press conferences of the Bundesliga club SW Werder Bremen or interviews with local politicians. I have a nice story about that. A politician once made some changes to the written version of an interview before it went to press. The original version, however, could be heard in the video, which he hadn’t asked to approve. As you can imagine, it attracted a great deal of attention ...

What forms of augmented reality do you use?

We often use videos – we’ve reduced their maximum length from four minutes originally to 90 seconds so that readers won’t click away. In addition, we regularly present image galleries and 3D animations. The latter lend themselves to construction projects, for instance. However, we also use audio clips. Recently, for example, we accompanied an article about the birds of the year with birdsong. We also sometimes refer to text versions that are longer than those printed in the newspaper.

“Augmented reality is an ideal way of attracting younger readers via our daily newspaper.”
Do you also offer AR elements to your advertising clients?

Yes, both for classic ads in the daily newspaper and for tabloid supplements. We’re convinced of the potential of that form of advertising. However, it needs to be planned very carefully because the response rate can be identified right down to the individual user. If the response rate is too low, of course the advertising client won’t be happy, The response rate for this form of advertising is therefore very closely related to how well the ad featuring the AR element has been prepared. It’s better to sell no AR effect at all than a poor one.

For how long are the AR elements from the Weser-Kurier available as download?

Originally, they were available for 30 days, but that made little sense. First, we needed massive server capacity for that. And, second, we realized that some 80 percent of AR animations are viewed on the day of publication. That’s why we now only store the effects for seven days.

When designing and implementing AR elements, do you work together with an external services provider or do you do everything in house?

Until a few weeks ago, we delivered the AR material to an external partner for finishing. Now, however, we do everything in house. The major benefit is that we have more time to complete the AR effects. We’re more flexible than before, since we no longer have to keep to such a strict schedule.

As a daily newspaper, you are under major time pressure. How can that be reconciled with the production of AR elements?

The production workflow is much more convenient now that we do everything in house. The editorial team, which is now also in charge of AR finishing, typically works until 11 p.m. However, AR updates are possible at any time after that,allowing us to provide our readers with access to election results or sports scores, for example, even after the print deadline.

Does AR also have its limits?

Unfortunately, it isn’t yet possible to augment text elements. There always needs to be an image (of a certain size) so that the smartphone can launch the AR effect.

How has AR changed the daily work of your journalists?

We had to radically change our way of thinking. At our daily editorial meeting, it’s become even more important to plan beyond the written articles. We have our own AR experts, video journalists and graphic designers in the newsroomto ensure that our AR effects are of a high quality and do not appear amateurish.

What are your response figures like?

Some 30,000 people have downloaded our app. We recorded the highest number of views early on when we ran a contest involving 15 different effects to popularize our new service. Some 4,000 users viewed all 15 effects, totaling 60,000 views – that record holds to this day. Good topics attract very high numbers of views, but for that you really need to offer people something.

Do you draw conclusions based on how your readers use the AR effects?

Yes, for us AR is like a feedback channel for the printed newspaper. Clicks on the animations provide us with information about the behavior of our readers.Senior citizens, for instance, often only read the newspaper in the late morningor that background reports are often read on Sundays or on public holidays.

The publication of augmented reality elements is one thing, but actually convincing readers to view interactive content is another matter. How do you persuade your readers to get out their smartphones?

We have a brief download guide on page 2 of every edition. In order to actively promote our value added, we have a content-specific teaser for each effect to encourage readers to get their smartphone out.

Speaking of readers, is your print/multimedia combination also part of a deliberate strategy to appeal to a younger readership that has a greater affinity with the online world?

Yes. As a media company, we also need to reach out to other target groups. Augmented reality is an ideal way of attracting younger readers via our daily newspaper. Previously, we tried that by means of digital channels only, but now we’re also doing it through printed contentt.

Do you believe that printed daily newspapers will have to make increasing use of online content in the future in order to combat the decline in circulations?

The printed newspaper is and remains the flagship of our media company – that is true primarily in financial terms, since we only generate a fraction of our total turnover by means of digital channels. However, our daily newspaper undoubtedly needs to take the trend toward new viewing habits into account. Without wishing to break with traditions or reading habits, we want to make our newspaper more contemporary in order to cater to younger people. Augmented reality is an innovative means of targeting other target groups, in particular younger people, by means of multimedia content, while also enhancing our main product.

About the Weser-Kurier

The Weser-Kurier, which is published seven times a week, has an audited circulation of 149,255 copies and eight regional editions. It is distributed in the city of Bremen and the surrounding area of Lower Saxony within a radius of approx. 50 kilometers. Bremer Tageszeitungen AG also publishes five different editions of Stadtkurier twice a week. The newspaper publisher has relied on Muller Martini systems in its mailroom for many years.