Thanks to Lorina Stephens (Five River Books) for pointing this one out: Ubimark books has come up with a new concept in print books to allow readers to tie into the internet experience as easily as digital books do...these books include QR codes (those little square 2d bar codes you photograph with your cell phone) to connect readers to maps, photos, and commentary. Interested in more detail about this scene? Want to see a map of where it takes place? Photo of the house in question? You whip out your smart phone, use the camera to take shot of the QR, and the QR application on your phone connects you directly to the relevant Internet page.
Naturally, this allows publishers to upload a lot of supplementary material, but what is really exciting is that it turns print books into Books 2.0 because like Web 2.0, the commentary and supplementary content is generated by other readers. Instant book club!
Check out the video at http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/books_come_alive_with_qr_codes_data_in_the_cloud.php
As a university instructor, I could definitely see some applications for textbooks -- click the QR code for anything you don't quite understand, and get the FAQ file on that topic, the powerpoint, the discussion group.... Could be interesting!
On the other hand, I'm not sure I want a QR code on every page of my novel...I think I would find it distracting. Here I am trying to get into the scene of the hero fighting the pirates, or whatever, and there is this QR code staring at me saying, "Hey, buddy! Want to see what other people have to say about how realistic this scene isn't? Hey you, yeah, I'm talking to you! There is a whole bunch of stuff here you're missing! Stop what you're doing and come see!" Yeah, not so much! It would be like your spouse talking to you while you're trying to read. And there is no gurantee that reader-supplied commentary wouldn't include a whole bunch of spoliers: "Hey, did you notice the line about the butler -- this is where he does the murder!"
One code at the end of the book or at the end of each chapter, maybe -- or maybe QR codes will become the new scene break mark...but I think Ubimark might be overdoing it with one or two a page. Though for a historic work, might make sense to provide access to more explanations than for a contemporary novel. I could certainly see them as useful in reading Chaucer, though at some point, a hyperlinked digital text (where you could simply touch a word on your Kobo/Kindle or whatever, and it would define it for you etc...
But still, interesting possibilities...