Publishers are looking for a bridge to get magazine and newspaper readers to reach out to corresponding Web sites, which is why odd little images are appearing on the pages of more publications.
Readers can swipe the images in publications such as The Dallas Morning News, Forbes and Parade magazine with a scanning device to easily access a related Web page.
Some analysts say the technology is ahead of its time because few people are reading newspapers while sitting at their PCs online. But publications are trying the technology as a way to push the boundaries of a printed story with expanded multimedia coverage, interactive quizzes and other value-added content.
"The concept in theory makes sense, but in practice is where it gets bogged down," said Alan Alper, an analyst at Gomez. "I think we give consumers more credit than they deserve they havent seen a way to interact [with both mediums]."
Competitors in the emerging market differ in how they link print readers to the Web. Digital Convergence is the most aggressive company offering the scanning technology to the publications sector, with rivals such as Digimarc and GoCode.
According to Digital Convergence, 1.3 million people have registered for its free software since its deployment in September, and 4 million have accessed the Web from a printed publication using its free CueCat scanner. The Dallas Morning News Web site receives 1,000 hits per day through the codes.
Digital Convergence charges publications an annual fee for its technology, and a separate fee every time an advertiser includes the code in an ad. Publications can charge advertisers a premium for the service, which can be used to offer readers coupons or other promotions.
This week, mens magazine Gear becomes the latest publication to embed Digital Convergences CRQ technology in its stories and advertisements. An upcoming issue will enable readers who have installed the companys free scanner to swipe a proprietary bar code and be linked to MP3 files related to music reviews in the magazine. Users need both the scanner and free software.
Instead of the scanner, readers can also use Convergence pens from A.T. Cross that save scanned Web links when users are away from their computers. Nearly 15,000 Convergence pens have been sold at a cost of $89.99 each.
While many experts predicted mass adoption of the technology will be slow, Michael Garin, Digital Convergences president and chief operating officer, was optimistic. He predicted that it will take a couple of years for his technology to be as ubiquitous as "the mouse is today."
Ben Miller, vice president of development at GoCode, said the power of the technology will be truly recognized when users can easily transport data to their wireless devices. "Publishers say, When this gets into a PalmPilot or a cell phone, thats when Im interested, " Miller said.
GoCodes product is currently being tested by The Gazette in Colorado Springs, Colo., and The Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C.
Digital Convergence, meanwhile, stresses the broader uses of its technology. Users can swipe most of the universal product codes or international standard book number codes on products such as Coca-Cola to be transported to related Web sites. Since September, consumers have done so 10 million times, the company said.
Likewise, RadioShack is not only the primary distributor of the free CueCats; its also a customer. The electronics store has added codes to many of its catalogs, which has resulted in 1 million visits to its Web site since September.