Esquire’s Augmented Reality Issue

esquire Esquires Augmented Reality IssueA few weeks ago, Hearst Corp’s Esquire announced that they’d debut a snazzy new “augmented reality” issue and be the first publication to take the relatively new technology into its pages. AR, the hot new trend in iPhone apps, layers data, images and video that users can interact with in real-time. The issue is now on stands and after users download some software (and, oh, P.S., buy a Web cam) they can take a look.

So what’s exactly in these high-tech pages? Let’s start with cover boy Robert Downey Jr. explaining how elementary it is, dear readers.

Esquire created a 3-D cover, which has Mr. Downey Jr. literally doing a song and dance for his upcoming feature film Sherlock Holmes (he even digs at the magazine for rolling out an AR issue just so readers will pick it up from stands). Inside, a fashion photo shoot changes the model’s clothes so they are weather appropriate as the reader turns the page.

The monthly “Funny Joke from a Beautiful Woman” column features leggy actress Gillian Jacobs in a men’s button down shirt. She tells one joke during the daytime, but she’ll tell a cheekier one if readers turn to her page after midnight.

There’s also a a song, a photo slideshow, and an ad from Lexus.

Users will have to point a little “marker” at the bottom of the magazine’s pages toward the Web cam to activate the features. (Esquire is throwing a bone to the archaic technophobes who don’t own Web cams and hosting a contest to win one of 50 of them).

Here’s editor in chief David Granger, giving a little preview of the issue:

 Esquires Augmented Reality Issue

Esquire has a history of coming up with a few techy gimmicks to catch readers’ eyes on newsstands. There was the E-Ink cover last October, a window for an advertisement in February and a “mix and match” issue in May, which allowed readers to play with parts of George Clooney, President Obama, and Justin Timberlake’s faces and put them together like paper dolls.

Esquire has been working with digital design firm The Barbarian Group since the spring, figuring out how to one-up themselves.

Along with bringing in The Barbarian Group, Esquire worked with animation studio Pysop, (which made those eye-catching Coca-Cola ads) to shoot Robert Downey Jr.’s “semi-improvised stand-up/lie-down/sit-on-the-cover routine” against a green screen with a high-end HD camera, according to an explanation on the Esquire site. They also animated flurries for the fashion photo shoot and created Ms. Jacobs’ backdrop.

A Wall Street Journal source told PaidContent that the issue cost Esquire six figures to make.

Is it worth it? Perhaps the issue’s sales numbers will tell us whether AR pays off. Okay, augmented reality is cool, new technology and it’s great that a traditional media company is playing with it. But the thrill is gone for readers after about 30 seconds and it’s a pain to download all of the applications to make it work.

Nobody reads a magazine to look at 3-D images. We can go to a 3-D Pixar movie or cue up YouTube or even play a video game for that kind of experience. Reading a magazine like Esquire is all about the great writing and original content within its pages. These augmented reality features are beautiful, but not useful to the reader just yet.

Perhaps if Esquire or other publications could figure out how to make the features interact with news features–and make them update in real time–they’d add a little more value to that $3.99 cover price (which they are increasing to $4.99 next year).

According to the magazine, Esquire plans to find even more inventive ways of using augmented reality. “Advancements to further involve the user were happening even as we produced this issue, and while motion-sensor recognition already exists, so-called ‘natural-feature tracking’ technology could soon put you inside AR without any googly-looking boxes at all. And that’s to say nothing of what you can do on your cell phone. But we hope you enjoy this first leap in augmented magazines. It’s a giant one.”