Ricoh's Clickable Paper connects printed text with online content

Ricoh's Clickable Paper connects printed text with online content

A collaboration between Cal Poly and Ricoh has resulted in a smart new app that bridges the gap between printed text - of any type and age - and the web.


The pitch

Ricoh’s Clickable Paper is an image-recognition-based alternative to interactive anchors such as barcodes or QR codes. Mobile users can scan any printed surface—even one printed years or centuries ago—with a free app that acts as an augmented reality “bridge” to online, interactive content. Each designated “hot spot” on the printed page may be assigned multiple online events.

Originally focused on marketing and promotional applications, Clickable Paper is increasingly being used to provide AR enhancement to other forms of print—notably books involving training and higher education. One such application is the recently-revised edition of Introduction to Graphic Communication, a college-level textbook on the art, science, and business of print.

The team

California Polytechnic State University Professor Emeritus, Harvey Levenson, wrote the first edition of Introduction to Graphic Communication in 2007. It was widely adopted throughout the printing industry. However, like all printed books dealing with technology, it rapidly became outdated. So, in 2017, Levenson approached former Seybold editor John Parsons to create a revised version. The two sought to combine print and multimedia—dubbed a “multi-book” in their Kickstarter campaign—and partnered with teams at Ricoh USA and Viddler to create the work, which was self-published this year.

What's the gap in the market?

Educators and trainers are faced with acute challenges when dealing with rapidly-changing technology—both as the subject matter of educational books, and as the means of conveying knowledge.

"Printed books, although scientifically shown to have greater effectiveness screen-based media, rapidly become outdated," Parsons says. "Learning Management Systems and the web itself, while easy to update and potentially ubiquitous, tend to be chaotic and difficult to manage.

"The e-book approach and other “books under glass” technologies would seem to be an acceptable compromise but have proven to be a disappointment in many respects. They do not have the “haptic” advantages of physical books. And, despite advances in the EPUB standard, e-books are not yet as versatile as the open web and other Internet-based services."

Parsons believe that the hybrid print-web approach made possible by Clickable Paper means that books can have the best of both worlds. "It meets the need for an engaging, touch experience, and combines it with the discovery potential, updateability, and peer-to-peer interaction of mobile devices," he says.

Success so far?

Introduction to Graphic Communication has been adopted by Ryerson University in Toronto, Arizona State University, and other colleges, vocational schools, and high schools in the U.S. A growing number of printing companies are also planning to use it for internal training, as well as to help designers, print buyers, and other partners better understand the printing process.

The book and its enabling AR technology will also be demonstrated at PRINT 18, the annual U.S. trade show and conference for the printing industry.

Biggest challenges?

For a publishing project involving multiple media sources, a significant challenge has been finding and curating video content.

"As one might expect, YouTube is a vast wasteland of video content—with occasional gems but involving long hours of search and permission-seeking," Parsons reports. "Fortunately, a growing number of institutions and OEMs adopting the book have expressed interest in creating new subject matter video. In other words, the “team” is becoming a growing collaboration of passionate print industry advocates."

Another challenge is the requirement that users download an app to experience the multimedia component of the book.

"Mobile device users tend to resist doing so unless they have a compelling reason," Parsons admits. "Until recently, this was a major problem with QR code usage outside Japan. However, this barrier is more significant for trade books than it is for textbooks and training materials. If instructors, trainers or other leaders direct the reader to download the app, then their natural resistance can be overcome."

Ultimate ambition?

The book is a prototype for other textbooks, although it remains to be seen if other types of books will benefit from this hybrid approach made possible by Clickable Paper. "Children’s books, travel guides, training manuals, and cookbooks are logical categories that might benefit greatly from an AR “bridge” to interactive media—such as that hosted on Viddler and other platforms," Parsons says.

Advice to other publishing entrepreneurs?

"Authors and publishers need to take a close look at the cost of media development for such a project," Parsons suggests. "Books that already have good sources of video content are at a clear advantage here. However, video is not the only online option for a Clickable-enabled book. Any existing mobile experience, provided it adds to the book reader’s experience, is a candidate for AR enablement.

"Above all, consider the ultimate aims and desires of the typical reader. If the online experience augments that of the book—and is better facilitated by AR than by, for example, ordinary search—then a hybrid approach is worth the effort."