2D Barcodes and What They Mean to You

Josie Leavitt - May 4, 2010

Maybe I’m behind the times, but I’ve just learned about 2D barcodes. I’ve been noticing these odd-looking barcodes on more and more books every day. At first I  wondered what these things were, I was busy shelving and not paying much attention, until today. I was shelving SuperFreakonomics and the 2D barcode finally caught my eye.
First you must have a “smart phone” and a free or 99 cent app to get the reader to work. I have an iPhone so I downloaded my app and took a picture of the barcode. I wasn’t expecting much, but then I was blown away. The photo of the barcode led me to a web page that was all about SuperFreakonomics. It was as exhilarating and it was creepy. Everything you’d want to know about the book was right there, in less than two seconds. Can’t bother to read the back of the book? Just download the barcode and you’ve got a multi-media bononza awaiting you on your phone.
Want to read the author’s blog? Just scroll down. Want to know where to buy the book, and compare prices with Amazon, Borders, Barnes & Noble, Indie Bound and Powell’s, that’s just another click away. You can even take a quiz to find out if you’re a “SuperFreak.”  It’s like a toy version of the book. All the cool features of a promotional website, but you don’t have to be a computer to get there. It’s genius and it scares the heck out of me.
Lauren Conrad’s book, L.A. Candy, has very interactive content aimed at the adolescents the book is marketed for. There are video clips, hair and make-up pages, links to her other books, and of course, a buy the book page. Of course Amazon is listed first because these lists are always alphabetical. It sort of makes me wish the ABA had named Indiebound, All About Indies so it would show first on these lists and not after Borders, but I digress.
I think 2D barcodes are here to stay and I suspect we’ll see them on more and more books, especially books for Young Adults.  I think what’s seemingly a gadget right now, will be the wave of the future. I haven’t decided if being able to access all sorts of a book before you buy is a good thing, or if it will spoil the reader’s enjoyment of the book.
I’ll let everyone know once I’m done taking the SuperFreak quiz.

9 thoughts on “2D Barcodes and What They Mean to You

  1. Lyle Blake Smythers

    Interesting, but I have a question about terminology.
    2D means two-dimensional, just as 3D means three-dimensional. In this sense, all barcodes are 2D, including the older kind. So why are these being called 2D as if that’s a special designation?

  2. Carin

    Thank you so much for explaining those! I had noticed those too over the years but didn’t know what it was so had tuned it out. That sounds really cool! Too bad I have a dumb phone.

  3. JohnB

    Lyle, these are called 2D because there are multiple lines of information. In a (so-called) 1D barcode, there is a single line of information, and the 2D is more like a paragraph — a lot more information. If you look at a 1D and a 2D barcode side by side, you’ll see that it doesn’t matter where you scan across the 1D so long as you go all the way across. On a 2D it matters, because the bars aren’t “bars” anymore — they don’t go unchanged from top to bottom. You can think of each scan across, going a bit lower each time, as reading yet another miniaturized barcode.
    Because they pack in so much more information in the 2D format, they can be more easily used to do things like what Josie’s talking about here.

  4. elizabeth dulemba

    It’s exciting from a browser’s standpoint – you could really spend all day in a bookstore checking out all the additional info! Of course, are there any protections that browsers don’t find what they want in your store, then order through Amazon? That would be pretty low, but what’s to stop it?
    Exciting and scary all at the same time.

  5. Antony McGregor Dey

    Hey Josie,
    Thanks for the great write-up on the way we’re helping HarperCollins to better connect with their readers. 2D Barcodes and mobile technologies in general are a great marketing partner to books as it’s rare that you’ll read a book in front of a computer but everyone has their phone on them.
    We see this as a great way of linking the ever growing libraries of associated digital content with the physical book. Read the book? Now listen to the authors podcast on their inspiration behind the main characters, we call this ‘DVD extras for Books’ and you can expect to see a lot more happening this year.
    The other great side to this technology is the new knowledge the publishers starts to gain about their reading audience after the sale. We can report on where the books are being read, what’s being read and identify trends in sales at the retail level long after the book has passed it’s initial hype. In fact in one particular title the level of mobile traffic has in fact grown as sales have dropped! We attribute this to people passing the books onto friends and interest in the older titles picking up as the sequels come out.
    There is so much promise in this technology and we’re only getting started!
    Antony McGregor Dey

  6. Josie Leavitt

    I believe you can only see the websites on the smart phone. But, the bar code really only takes you to the book’s promo website, so you can navigate to it the old-fashioned way and still get all the info.

  7. Maneesha

    Its called 2D barcodes because data is encoded in 2 dimensions( ie. horizontal & vertical) unlike the 1D barcodes, in which data is encoded only vertically.


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