Images courtesy of Dentsu
These days, children are more likely to reach for an iPad than a newspaper, but Tokyo Shimbun, one of Japan’s largest daily newspapers, wants to put print back into their hands.  

With help from advertising firm Dentsu, Tokyo Shimbun launched an augmented-reality reading application called Tokyo AR in October 2012 that translates the newspaper into kid-friendly content. When app users hold their smartphone over the newspaper pages, the articles become animated with cartoon characters, pop-up headlines, and commentaries. The free app was developed by AR platform Aurasma and can be downloaded for both Apple and Android devices.  

Tokyo Shimbun and Dentsu have a long history together, and that is precisely why they asked us to join the project,” said Dentsu creative director Hirofumi Hayashi. “With regard to the Tokyo AR app, it was an initiative taken by the Tokyo Shimbun team (before Dentsu joined the project) with the aim to broaden the scope of creativity for ads in the Tokyo Shimbun newspapers.”  

Hayashi said the app has received positive feedback locally and internationally. “The Tokyo Shimbun readers who have children or grandchildren are saying, ‘The newspaper turned into an educational tool for my children,’ and ‘It’s good that children get to become familiar with newspapers’ … this AR service has received huge attention from media from around the world, and we think that we succeeded in conveying the Tokyo Shimbun’s innovative spirit through this campaign.”  

Advertisers are also utilizing this app. “In the October 20 edition, we created four ad spaces in addition to the kids’ articles with the AR feature,” Hayashi said. “These ad spaces drew interest among many advertisers, and this initiative seems to be quite a promising new move for the Tokyo Shimbun’s advertising department.” A promotional video has been viewed more than 50,000 times on YouTube.  

According to Hayashi, there are five national newspapers in Japan, with Tokyo Shimbun being the only local newspaper distributed in the Tokyo metropolitan area.  

“The Japanese newspaper market is very unique in the sense that most of the readers subscribe to their favorite newspapers to have them delivered to their homes in the morning so that they can browse and read through them before they leave the house,” Hayashi said. “The household readership for 2012 was 88 percent. However, the figure is declining compared to 2002 in which 109 percent of households subscribed (to two or more newspapers). The Japanese newspaper market is shrinking as a result of the aging of the readers, and I believe the situation is quite similar in the U.S. and elsewhere.”  

Hayashi said Tokyo Shimbun and other newspapers in the country are applying AR technology to their pages in order to enrich their product.  

“I personally feel that the print media companies will be looking into the possibility of utilizing AR technology so that it can deliver a more practical and concrete service, rather than continuing to pursue its entertainment element,” Hayashi said. “There ought to be a fresh dimension in applying AR that will be unique to the newspaper medium. I believe the answer will eventually lead to the creation of new added value for the newspaper medium and to a new generation of newspaper fans.”          

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