augment ReadWriteWeb has an interesting piece about a German newspaper pairing an issue of its paper with an “augmented reality” iPhone app, so that when the iPhone is held over certain places on the paper it displays content related to the stories in the paper.

I tend to think of “augmented reality” as being what you get when you hold the iPhone up and an app superimposes something over the camera view—but then again, this German paper’s app is also location-based, in a sense, so I suppose that’s fair. It’s a clever idea, and reminds me of the “digital footnote” QR codes I mentioned one publisher adding to a public domain book a few months back (and, subsequently, another developer implementing without needing QR codes).

The RWW headline asks if augmented reality can help “save” the print publishing industry—though oddly enough, the article text doesn’t really follow up on this beyond a vague comment at the end that it “is perhaps a hint at how augmented reality can help the dwindling print publishing industry.”

The headline put me in mind of an editorial I’d seen just a few minutes before on Techdirt, that asks if we should really be interested in “saving” any industry. Mike Masnick writes that whenever you hear someone using that term, you should pay a lot closer attention to what it is they really mean:

The truth is, whenever anyone seriously (not mockingly) refers to "saving" an industry, invariably, they’re really talking about saving a few legacy companies in that industry from whatever disruptive innovation is shaking things up. It’s never actually about "saving an industry," because the "industry" almost never actually needs to be saved. The industry may be in the process of being changed (often radically), but that’s not the same thing as needing saving.

It led me to consider writing a satirical column on how the industries going through radical changes were actually the ones that were being “saved”—in the sense that they’d found a new religion and were making radical changes to their entire system of beliefs as a result. But I don’t think I could carry the joke quite that far.

It’s not too surprising we should keep seeing headlines like that right now, given how many industries are being disrupted by the digital revolution—e.g., music, movies, books, newspapers, etc. “Can X be saved?” is just another way of asking “is X dead?” and we know just how many people have been asking that lately.


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