Mint-flavored QR codes

As someone who skims through 20+ newspapers every day, one specific thing that catches my eye—though I don’t do anything about it—in Mint newspaper is the use of QR codes.

I don’t think I have seen QR codes being used as prominently as Mint in any other newspaper. I recall The Times of India sporadically trying to add hybrid print + digital methods occasionally, but Mint’s use of QR codes is a daily, permanent affair!

Mint has a QR code on almost every single page, right at the top, as part of the top bar!

So, each section in Mint newspaper, as represented by the page title/header, has a specific QR code. This includes ‘Plain facts’, ‘Economy and policy’, ‘Corporate’, ‘Market’, ‘Deals, tech. and startups’, ‘global’, ‘newswrap’, ‘Long story’, ‘Mint money’, ‘Views’, and ‘Business of Life/Indulge’, at least as per the edition last Friday (September 16, 2022) that I took as a sample for this post.

But this is a daily affair, so you may pick up any Mint newspaper, Monday to Friday (the Saturday/Weekend edition, called ‘Mint Lounge’ does not have any QR code at all.

What happens when you scan a QR code on any of the pages? You go to the web version of Livemint, and directly into that section!

A famous quip by Jerry Seinfeld goes, “It’s amazing that the amount of news that happens in the world every day always just exactly fits the newspaper” 🙂

But Mint’s QR codes virtually extend the amount of news that can fit in the newspaper by bridging the printed version to the digital version. If, given the size restrictions, a page for corporate news carries only 8 news items, the online version, given the endless nature of space available, can carry, for instance, 25 news items (depending on the editorial call, of course).

But here are some questions on the way Mint uses QR codes.

1. Who is it meant for?

Are the QR codes meant for those who bought/buy the print newspaper, to pivot them to the digital version so they can read more?

That assumption presumes that those who read the print newspaper carry their mobile devices with them all the time (this is largely true) and are willing to scan the QR code with an interest to know more than what they see in print.

Is this the case with the most common use case of print newspapers – the morning reading session along with coffee/tea? Isn’t the very reason why someone buys a print newspaper (a dying segment, the world over… except in India) not to be struck with the digital screen (with its massive distraction rabbit holes) first thing in the morning?

2. Print to digital friction

That brings me to a related point – the friction of moving between two modes of reading.

A print newspaper has a particular flow, content segregation nuance, and scheme. This offers a certain familiarity and comfort to those accustomed.

In comparison, the digital version of a newspaper looks like any other website – packed with content. But the crucial difference is that in the digital version, you can click on multiple places to go wherever you want to go, and not necessarily in the flow expected of you (like in the print newspaper). Sure, you can go to the last page of the print newspaper, and then come to the 2nd page, and so on, but if you read one news on the last page, and then another on page 3, and yet another on page 5… you would essentially be confused about what you are reading.

The simpler method is to skim pages, page after page, in the hope of covering each page, for broad awareness of what happened in the world in the last 24 hours.

But a digital version, with its endless number of hyperlinks, is a different beast altogether.

So there are 2 kinds of friction involved:

  • the need to move from print to device-led digital, and come back to print (considering each page has a QR code that leads to a different section!!)
  • the need to orient yourself to a hyperlinked universe of random content flow vs. the predictability of print

3. There is no cue for considering the QR code

When did Mint start adding QR codes in their print edition? It’s unlikely to be during their actual launch in 2007 when QR codes were around but with very limited use because smartphones had not caught up yet (iPhone launched in 2007, for context). It’s possible that they were added in the relaunch in 2016, though the relaunch announcement does not mention it.

But observe how inconspicuous they are, on every page. They look almost like some graphic element that we can ignore owing to the colored layout, unlike the white QR codes that we are more familiar with because of UPI payments. The way they are placed, like a diamond, instead of a standard square, most people may even overlook them completely, imagining them to be an aesthetic design element in the page header than a functional QR code that leads them to the same section’s online edition!

So, how and why would someone, who is the print newspaper’s reader/subscriber, know that they have this digital extension available to them?

If, for instance, there was some text-based cue next to it that adds some context, that may lead more people to scan the code. For example: “9 more corporate news stories in today’s digital version. Scan QR code to read now”. This may incentivize people to scan the code because it gives a specific reason.

The way the code exists now, it seems to be hiding in plain sight.

I’m sure someone at Mint gave QR codes a serious thought given how pervasive they are in the print edition every weekday. I also believe they can be very effective in luring print readers—more valuable because the assumption is that they are more likely to the subscribers—to the digital version. But the way they are integrated into the print version now seems a bit pointless.