Hold Esquire’s December issue in front of a webcam, and an on-screen image of the magazine pops to life, letters flying off the cover. Shift and tilt the magazine, and the animation on the screen moves accordingly. Robert Downey Jr. emerges out of the on-screen page in 3-D, offering half-improvised shtick on Esquire’s latest high-tech experiment for keeping print magazines relevant amid the digital onslaught. Esquire’s top editors are clearly enthused about the new technology, called “augmented reality.”
Triggering the animation is a box just below Downey’s cover image, resembling a crossword puzzle and looking a little out of place. The magazine has printed about a half-dozen boxes inside the issue, each calling up a separate interactive feature, plus a couple of ads. The issue will be available nationally by Nov. 16. At a fraught time for the magazine industry, one could draw a lot of conclusions from Esquire’s attempts at innovation: It may be the future of print or just a dying medium’s last desperate grab at attention as the Internet swallows more of peoples’ time.