Using QR Codes to Expand the Reading Experience

by | Jun 10, 2011

by Camille Picott

I’m really pleased to have an article for you today from Camille Picott, an author and self-publisher. Camille also belongs to the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association, where I’ve had a chance to look at her lovely and beautifully-produced middle grade novel, Raggedy Chan. Recently Camille started researching QR codes, which are showing up everywhere. Here’s her report:


By night I’m a writer and self-publisher, by day I’m a full-time working mom in the wine industry. My daytime and nighttime lives rarely intersect, but in recent weeks I’ve been learning about these nifty things called QR Codes (Quick Response Codes). Here’s an example of what they look like:

QR codes for self-publishers

A QR Code is a two-dimensional bade code that can be read by a Smart Phone. (If you’ve already got a Smart Phone with a QR Reader, go ahead and scan this code – it should take you to my website, www.pixiupress.com.) They have the potential to open new doors for indie writers and publishers.

This past week I had the privilege of taking a webinar on QR Codes. The webinar was presented by Rick Breslin, Founder and CEO of Hello Vino. And though the webinar focused on QR Codes in the wine industry, I learned quite a bit that can be applied to the publishing company.

Here’s some of what I learned from the Hello Vino webinar. And although this webinar was aimed at the wine industry, most of what I learned can be applied to the publishing industry.

You can use a QR Code to:

  1. Link directly to a URL—sends your customer to a URL of your choosing. From a URL, there are a various things your customer can do:
    • Discounts/Coupons
    • Access additional information about product
    • Enter sweepstakes
    • Sign up to receive more information
    • Access video
    • Make a purchase
    • Interact with social media
  2. Send a text message—allows your customer can send you a text message (Interesting tidbit: this allows you to capture the phone number of the person texting you.)
  3. Call a phone number—allows customer to call phone number supplied by you
  4. Decode a secret message—you can embed a message up to 500 characters long in the QR Code; scanning the code will display the “secret” message. Some companies have been using this method to send customers on scavenger hunts.
  5. Download Vcard contact info—allows you to download contact info; the future of business cards

Where you can get a free QR Code:

  1. Go QR – this is a neat site that allows you to create QR codes that do all 5 of the items listed above. It’s totally free.
  2. Kawya – another free site. It allows you to do all of the above except #5.
  3. To find other free QR code generators, do a Google search for Free QR Codes.

What the QR Code Scanners do (not all do exactly the same things):

  1. Send you automatically to a website
  2. Capture the website so you can go to it later
  3. Give customer yes/no options
  4. Maintain history of accessed sites

What your customer needs to scan a QR Code:

  1. A Smart Phone with a camera
  2. An App that reads QR Codes. Here are a few:
  3. A QR Code that’s dark in color on a white/light background (contrast is imperative)
  4. A crisp QR Code, preferably one that’s generated from an EPS file. JPEGs may work, but be sure to test them.

Why QR Codes are good for businesses:

  1. Deliver extra value to your customer
  2. Allow you to collect contact info
  3. Allow you to capture the location of your customers (usually with their permission)
  4. Present incentives to purchase
  5. Allow you to interact with your customer
  6. Inexpensive and quick to set up
  7. Allow you to track consumer awareness and engagement

Best Practices for businesses using QR Codes:

Raggedy Chan

  1. Use short URLs. The longer the URL, the more complex the QR Code. The more complex the URL Code, the more difficult it is to scan (generally, you have to make complex codes proportionately larger). If you don’t have a short URL, you can shorten it using bit.ly.
  2. Cross Platform Compatibility. Make sure the Code can be used on multiple devices.
  3. Give instructions to your consumer so they know what to do with the QR Code. For example, if you print the Code on the cover of a book, print a statement like this below/beside it: “Scan this with a Smart Phone app that reads QR Codes.” Until QR Codes are more widely recognized, businesses must help educate consumers. Check out this Macy’s YouTube campaign to educate consumers on QR Codes.
  4. Test QR Codes over and over again with multiple apps and phones before releasing to the public.
  5. A “micro site” for customers. A regular webpage can be pretty hard to read and navigate on a Smart Phone. Landing sites for QR Codes need to be dimensionally smaller; in other words, designed for a small Smart Phone screen. Check out Hello Vino’s website for an example of a “micro site”. On the right hand side of their home page is a picture of a Smart Phone displaying the Hello Vino app. The website even allows you to navigate the app right on your computer so you can see how it will look on a small screen. Notice how easy everything is to read and how nicely it fits on a small screen.

A quick story relating to QR Code Best Practices:

A colleague of mine did some experimenting with QR Codes. Using a long URL, she was unable to successfully scan .5″ QR Code. When she blew the code up to 1″, she was able the scan it. Our IT department shortened the URL, and she was able to scan it at .5″. This illustrates 1) how important it is to have a short QR Code, and 2) how important it is to test QR Codes.

QR Codes are Ugly! What can I do?

Worried that QR Codes are going to look tacky on your book cover? Check out some of the innovative ways you can spruce up at QR Code:

QR codes for self-publishers

If you’re looking to do something like this, you have to hire a designer. I did a quick Google search and found BeQRiuos, a place that specializes in creating custom QR Codes. I don’t know what this sort of thing costs, but if you’re interested it would probably be worth your time to request a quote from a few of these companies. (Notice that both of these QR Codes adhere to #3 of “What your customer needs to scan a QR Code” – that is, both provide a dark QR Code on a lighter background for contrast.)

My plans for QR Codes:

I have a lot of ideas for how I would like to use QR Codes on my upcoming books. I’m thinking they will function as “Bonus Features.” Here are some things I would like to include:

  1. Full color illustrations for fantasy creatures in my books
  2. YouTube video of me giving a school presentation
  3. YouTube video of me talking about my writing process/inspiration for my story
  4. Early drafts of the book or deleted/altered scenes
  5. Promote the free teaching curricula I give away on my website

QR Codes and E-books:

I don’t see any reason why a writer/publisher can’t include QR Codes in e-books. I’m thinking in my table of contents, I will have a “Bonus Features” hyperlink which will take readers to the QR Code. I will also include a hyperlink to the website, in case the reader does not have a Smart Phone. For those readers who may not have a Smart Phone or an e-reader with access to the web, I may also include the actual website address.

I’d love to hear ideas from other indie writers and publishers regarding QR apps. How would you use them to supplement the reading experience for your customer?

Camille PicottCamille Picott is the author of Raggedy Chan, a middle grade fantasy novel named Best Juvenile Fantasy 2010 by the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association. Check out Raggedy Chan e-book on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Print copies of Raggedy Chan (which include 40 full-color illustrations) can be purchased at Pixiu Press.

QR ode by Kaywa QR code generator. Amazon links are affiliate links.

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38 Comments

  1. Tawnya

    It’s impressive that you are getting ideas from this post as well as from our
    argument made at this time.

    Reply
  2. Shaunte

    Heya this is somewhat of off topic but I was wondering if blogs use WYSIWYG editors or
    if you have to manually code with HTML. I’m starting a blog soon but have no coding know-how so I wanted to get guidance from someone with experience.

    Any help would be greatly appreciated!

    Reply
  3. Sharon Goldinger

    Chrismg, as long as the content is yours (your drawings, etc.) it shouldn’t be a problem bercause it’s your copyrighted material.

    Reply
  4. chrismg

    what about copyright? can I place QR in the text of a published book, using it as a web link to pages with specific drawings, videos, text, photos. This is only the QR, not uploading or copying any of those items into the book. I’d think it would be like providing a citation in a book …. is that the case? Anyone can help me here?

    Reply
  5. Charles

    I’m curious, do you or other folks still use QR Codes? I know the practice in general wane but from what I understand it is making a comeback. Thoughts?

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Hi Charles,

      Yes, in fact I’ve seen quite a few of them at conferences recently, and I continue to use them on cards and in my slide presentations, where people hold up their phones to scan the codes and can download documents, worksheets, or slide sets in the moment.

      Reply
  6. Lala Mcnerney

    Creative ideas ! For what it’s worth , if anyone has been looking for a IL SOS VSD 657 , my kids filled out and faxed a template document here http://goo.gl/UPLFJ8

    Reply
  7. Tom Brown

    Nice. One additional suggestion. When using a QR code, it is very helpful to add the URL underneath the code so that if the reader does not have a smart phone, they can still access the page from their PC or laptop.

    I helped edit a book for a noted entrepreneur and we incorporated QR codes throughout the book. He has a free chapter available for download that has some QR codes integrated. Check it out http://www.PEPtheBook.com

    Reply
  8. Pam Coca

    Hi Joel,

    Enjoyed the article and wanted to invite you (and your readers) to a FREE webinar on QR Codes I am giving in a few weeks: Crackin’ the Code. I will cover show everyone how to read them, create them, alter and beautify them, and more. It is going to be fun! I think you’d enjoy it.

    It will be recorded and registrants will receive a link to the recording.
    It is Nov. 19th and people can register at http://www.madcapsoftware.com/resources/livewebinars.aspx

    Reply
  9. Greg Bright

    Will QR codes scan OK on standard white or creame interior book pages like you get with Create Space or Lulu?

    Reply
    • Pam Coca

      Greg

      To answer your question about white or creame backgrounds for QR Codes – Absolutely! QR Codes require a strong contrast. Dark or bright colored data squares on a white or creame background is perfect.

      Reply
  10. John Noi

    Great stuff! For those interested, I’ve got a selection of eight other examples on how QR Codes can be used in books on my website http://www.broadcastingonapaper.com. Check out the post on the Lifestyle ideas.

    Reply
  11. Nick

    Hi Joel,

    Great Article! Don’t forget Tagginn on you list of QR Code managers.. You can create, edit and Track your own QR Codes and Microsoft Tag’s! We’ve got a free package available! https://www.tagginn.com

    Very best wishes,

    Nick

    Reply
  12. muzza

    thanks for the info
    i have got one question please.
    is it legal to use qr code in a book, that linked to a youtube video? (not my video, but someones else!)
    thanks.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Muzza, I don’t see why that would be a problem.

      Reply
  13. Billy

    It’s been a while since this was published, and I’m wondering about the relative success of folks who include QR codes in e-books. It seems redundant to do so, considering the fact that many people read e-books on the devices that are to scan the codes in the first place. It seems that if you are to create interactive e-books it may be more worthwhile to just include the link, or in the case of videos or images, just include them as they are. This would streamline the process.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Billy, the basic idea of the QR codes is to use them offline, like printed on shelf tags, in books, magazines or on the back of your business card. It’s a way to create the equivalent of a link in the real world back to a location online.

      Hope that helps, and thanks for stopping by.

      Reply
  14. Anke Wehner

    Just a reminder: Don’t forget that not everyone has a smartphone.
    Do remember to provide normal, clickable links in addition to those codes.

    I’d be seriously pissed off if I bought a book and were locked out of extra content because I don’t have a smartphone (except if that extra content were ringtones or something else phone-specific.)

    Reply
  15. Claire Datnow

    Check out our innovation using QR codes to seamlessly link the printed text to video clips that let the reader see and hear what the characters in the story are seeing and hearing! WOW! how? To see how please view a two minute video on:
    http://www.mediamint.net.

    Notice that the QR codes are not add ons, they are integrated into the the story. In November, We will publish the first QR code enhanced print book, The Adventures of The Sizzling Six: The Living Treasure, book three in the Eco mystery series for young adults.

    Reply
  16. qr code generator

    Hey, have you tried http://uqr.me? You miss it on your post..

    They own the best qr code generator worldwide ( rounded corners, color gradients, foreground image ), permit to generate your own recyclable ( dynamic ) qr code with analytics and it’s FREE!

    Reply
  17. Alice

    I just read the latest book of Ducth bestselling author Judith Visser (‘Time Out’) and this book has QR codes in it too. It was my first experience with this and I really liked it, I felt it added something, it was a bonus to an already very exciting story. The QR codes allowed me to see pictures of scenery, and to read background information (mini biographies) of some of the characters in the book. I thought it was great!
    On Judith Vissers website you can see what some of the QR codes look like as a page, because she uploaded some pictures : http://www.judithvisser.nl

    Reply
  18. Tom Brown (@tombrownjr)

    Great write-up. I am incorporating QR codes into the 2nd printing of my clients book (www.PEPtheBook.com). I really like the send a text option that will also be added.

    Reply
  19. Tracy Brady

    Great article — I am very excited to try using QR codes in my classroom next year. One correction, though, I downloaded a QR code reader to my “dumb” phone, and it works just fine.

    Reply
  20. Johnny Batch

    I used a QR code on the cover of my Indie Mystery novel – Null Pointer. It has my book and author name and series title and the URL of my web site. It blends in well with the high-tech angle of the story, so I have it on the cover, but it’s also on the back of the paperback.

    The ebook cover has the QR code on it too.

    Cheers!

    Reply
  21. Anthony St. Clair

    I love the idea of using the QR code for bonuses. One thing that immediately comes to mind: have a fantasy world? QR code could link to a detailed map. (I’m thinking of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld city of Ankh-Morpork — a map can come in handy for some of those reads!)

    Reply
  22. Jamie DeBree

    Is there any way to test these without an app/scanner of some sort? I’m of the “no smartphone” (or cell phone at all) persuasion, so while I can certainly see the potential (especially with business cards and ebook inclusion), I have no way to make sure they work or not (for the moment – just waiting for Amazon to announce that tablet…which I assume will be able to scan these).

    Suggestions?

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Hi Jamie,

      I think your best bet is to borrow someone’s smartphone for the testing, since you need a barcode reader to scan them, and that’s going to be the only real test since they are intended for use with smartphones.

      Reply
      • Jamie DeBree

        Thanks Joel – that’s what I figured.

        Maybe I’ll turn it into a reader-assisted project/contest. Hmm…

        Reply
  23. Tom Evans

    Wow, it works, so powerful yet simple

    Here’s my quick test http://www.tomevans.co/contact/

    And I used the free app QRReader to zap it

    Will give this some thought now – am thinking promo codes etc

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Cool test, Tom. This could be quite useful. I just finished a book for a client that has about 24 QR codes in it instead of notes, so you can just go straight to the reference with your phone.

      Reply
  24. Joel Friedlander

    An interesting post by Chris Brogan today. Here’s an excerpt:

    Think instead about how you can enable your buyers to connect with experiences in meaningful ways. And when I say experiences, Tim Hayden talked yesterday about putting QR codes on Kendall Jackson wines, such that people who wanted a bit more information about the wine on the shelf could not only get that, but then she’d be given recipes specific to the location where she’s looking at the wine: chowder pairings in Boston and chili recommendations in Austin. That’s powerful. Who cares about the tech that brings it to you? Focus on the experience of what that’s going to do for your buyer.

    For the whole thing, here’s a link.

    Reply
  25. Amor

    Camille,
    Thank you very much for this informative article,every line provides new information,new idea….you have a great writting skills that captures the souls and minds.
    keep writting to keep me reading…

    Reply
  26. Lynn Dean

    Any time you add value to a product, you increase potential interest. QR codes seem to have great potential to do just that.

    For example, if I write a story with a quilting motif, it could include a QR code that would enable readers to download the corresponding pdf quilt pattern. If I write a SERIES of similar stories, each with a free quilt pattern that becomes part of a larger sampler…

    Keep them reading!

    Reply
    • Camille Picott

      Hi Lynn, I absolutely love your idea for QR Codes! If you don’t mind keeping me posted, I’d love to know when you go live with this idea and what sort of response you get.

      Best of luck!
      -Camille

      Reply
  27. George Angus

    Camille,

    Absolute coolness! I’m can see that there are a ton of possibilities here. Thanks for opening the door to a whole new world for me!

    George

    Reply
    • Claire Datnow

      Thanks for your interesting article on the use of Qr codes. Your ideas rock! How about integrating QR codes into the story to transport the reader from the printed word on the page to video clips that let reader see and hear what the characters are seeing and hearing.WOW! This has been implemented in a young adult Eco mystery series, The Adventures of The Sizzling:The Living Treasure. Too Cool.

      Reply

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