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Simon & Schuster is adding QR codes to all its print books. Will readers bite?

Simon & Schuster is adding QR codes to the back jackets of all its hardcover and trade paperback titles starting this fall. The publisher hopes to use the the codes to build direct-to-consumer relationships, but will readers actually scan them?

Twenty-six percent of Simon & Schuster’s sales are now digital, and the QR codes are seen as a way to link digital and print. The codes “make it easy for consumers to visit our site and hopefully subscribe to one of our newsletters,” S&S chief digital officer Ellie Hirschhorn wrote in a recent email to employees. Scanning the QR code on a book “will bring the consumer to the author’s mobile page on S& where they can sign up for an email, browse the author’s other books and watch video.” Jackets will also include a printed link to the author’s website “so consumers without smartphones or QR scanners could still easily find the author’s page.”

S&S says consumers can use any QR scanner to read the codes. The company will track the number of scans for each title.

Will readers actually scan the codes?

As my colleague Erica Ogg recently reported:

While QR codes are popular in places like Japan, they haven’t caught on in the U.S. yet. The ability to scan these codes is almost universal in smartphones thanks to apps and built-in scanners, but people are just not embracing them: Bloomberg Businessweek recently reported that just 5 percent of Americans scanned a QR code last summer, even though the codes are popping up in 8 percent of print ads.

In the piece linked to above, Bloomberg Businessweek quotes a digital ad agency director who says, “Very few people want to visit your corporate website to begin with. Fewer want to do it when they’re out in the world or reading a magazine.” The article also says that fewer ad agencies are using QR codes these days since customers don’t seem to care about them.

Simon & Schuster’s QR code initiative probably isn’t expensive and it’s worth a try. But it remains to be seen whether readers really care about checking out an author page on a publisher website. And readers who try to scan the codes in bookstores will likely get frowns from booksellers who think they’re using a barcode scanner like Amazon’s price check app to find a cheaper price online.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock / gualtiero boffi

11 Responses to “Simon & Schuster is adding QR codes to all its print books. Will readers bite?”

  1. QR codes are an extra step, what is the point of putting an ugly stamp on your brand after you have spent all your time and effort trying to make your brand appealing. how about a short code or web page. Old School, yet effective

  2. Turndog Millionaire

    I can’t see this working. It will just blend in with the rest of the back cover and not offer people any reason to click. I only find QR codes work when they stand out and provide a reason to click. If they could click, be taken to an exclusive mobile edition chapter (or anything interesting), then this could certainly work

    This does sound like the Field of Dreams mentality, though

    Matthew (Turndog Millionaire)

  3. Mindbendingpuzzles

    I can’t see the benefit this brings to the customer so it seems pointless to me.

    Now if they included a code to allow a download of the book in electronic format then I might be interested. That would be the best of both worlds. Nice hardback copy of the book on my shelf to display with the convenience of being able to read the book on my e-reader when I am out and about.

  4. Antony McGregor Dey

    QR codes and SMS as mobile call-to-action see very high response rates when used in the right context. At we power most of the QR Codes (and SMS) you see on book jackets where we’ve seen outstanding results. Our average campaigns on Teen titles see about an 16% response rate of total copies sold, on romance and business titles we’re seeing response rates around 8%. If you’d like a case study email us – info (at) link (dot) me

  5. David Thomas

    Consumers will use the QR codes IF S&S supplies something interesting and inviting on the initial page. It has to be more than just a link to the online catalog page, or a list of the author’s books, etc. The idea is to engage the consumer immediately on some deeper level. A lot of authors are not exactly camera candy, so short videos need to supplement the content.

  6. I don’t see the point of using QR codes that direct to an author’s website. People are much more likely to go to the website if the URL is written out. To effectively use QR codes, scanning should lead to bonus content, something that’s only available by scanning the code: an interview with the author, deleted scene, etc.