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Art Licensing by artist Joan Beiriger: I'm happy to share art licensing info but please
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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

QR Codes: The Selling and Marketing Tool of the Future (maybe)

You may or may not know what QR (quick response) codes are but the use of them to market, sell products, and manage companies are gaining momentum in the United States due to increase usage of smart devices and the availability of QR decoders. It has taken the U.S. a while to catch up with Japan because Japan has been using them for over 15 years. Denso Wave a subsidiary of Toyota invented the QR codes in 1994.

So what is so cool about QR codes and how are they used? QR codes are similar to bar codes in that they contain data but unlike bar codes that are one-dimensional and can only hold 20 numbers, QR codes are two-dimensional and can hold thousands of alpha-numeric characters and instructions to activate applications. By using a smart device* that has a QR decoder app on it, a person can scan a QR code and it automatically links to the internet, activate e-mail, make a phone call, or connect to a web browser depending on the data encrypted in the code. Of course, the device must possess the features to allow it to do so. For instance, a QR code phone number will place a call if it is scanned with a smart phone but will not if scanned with an iPad2 because an iPad does not have a phone. Note: There are other bar codes similar to QR codes such as Microsoft Tag but they are not as prevalent as QR codes.

* A smart device has a camera, touch screen, and can connect to the internet, e-mail provider, sometimes a telephone provider, and web browser. It can be a smart phone (iPhone, Android, etc.), iPod touch, iPad2, etc.

Japan uses QR codes to download content from the internet, logistics in manufacturing, passports, ticketing at train stations, staff rosters, look up nutritional information, tracking inventory and much more. In fact, the uses of QR codes are evolving so fast that it is hard to keep track of them. For instance, realtors in the U.S. are using QR codes on real estate lawn signs to provide additional information about the property. Read "The 5 Best Ways to use QR Codes for Real Estate." QR codes are used in South Korean subways to make grocery shopping less painful for busy consumers. Read "Grocery Shopping via Smartphone on South Korean Subways." And Delta Airlines give passengers the option to download a QR code boarding pass to their smart phone. Read "Delta Electronic Boarding Pass = WIN." Also read the following articles for additional ways QR codes are now being used and suggestions on how they could be used.

• "How Companies Can Use QR Codes to Enhance The Customer Experience"

• "13 Creative Ways to Use QR Codes for Marketing"


Limitations of QR Codes
As with any technology there are limitations in using QR codes. QR codes main function is to connect print media to the internet. Thus, using a code on a website or blog is counterproductive because it is faster to just click on the link to connect to the site. Also,
1. even though QR codes can contain thousands of alpha-numeric characters, having too many may cause dropped characters and make the code unreadable. This especially true when the QR code is printed small.

2. QR codes that are printed small for business cards and on advertisements may not be readable by all smart devices. I tried to read a code from an advertisement with my iPad2 and it would not scan. Most likely the resolution of the iPad2 camera is not good enough to read small QR codes.

3. In certain locations (convention centers and underground subways) using QR codes is not effective because of poor or no signal to the smart device.

QR code Readers and Generators
There are many free and low cost QR code readers (scanners) available on the internet. I have used QRset (free from iTunes store), Scan (free from iTunes store), and QR Code Reader HD ( $0.99 from iTunes store) on my iPad2 and all worked fine when the QR code was printed large enough. I do not own a smart phone so I could not test QR code apps for it.

And for those of you that want to have a QR code that links to your website, blog or other social media sites, there are many internet sites that easily generate them at no cost but some are only for non-commercial use. As a test, I used to generate a QR code that links to my website (see the QR code graphic at the top of this article). Smart device users, scan the QR code and see that it works!

If you would like to add some pizazz to the look of a QR code, you can customize it.  And if it is done right, it will still link to a site.  Check out customize QR code examples on Google.  

QR Codes in Art Licensing
I am not too sure how useful QR codes are for marketing art in the licensing industry because marketing via websites, social media sites and e-mail is now more prevalent than with print media. Of course, all printed marketing material (business cards, flyers, tearsheets, postcards etc.) can have QR codes linking to the different artist sites or using QR codes in signage in trade show booths as reported by Country Business Magazine. Although, many trade shows do not allow smart phones on the show floor so using QR codes in a booth is not really feasible.

If you read the articles posted above, you will find that there are more effective ways in using QR codes than just linking to sites. Enhancing customer experience seems to be a good way to attract clients attention. But to do that in art licensing you need to be innovative and think out-of-the box. Any ideas and suggestions? If you do, please share them in the comments section to this post.

Make sure that you read in the comment section of this post: 
1.  Laurel Lane's comment on how she is using Microsoft Tags to enhance the customer experience in a children's cookbook.  
2. How Fiona Cartolina is using QR codes in her line of greeting cards.
3. How Brenda Boles is planning on using QR codes to advertize her art studio.

Future of QR Codes
Last March and April, there was a lot of hoopla when Google dropped the use of QR codes from their site and instead advocated the use of NFC (near field communication) chip technology in smart phones. Read "Google Kills Off Those Little Square Codes You Scan With Your Phone." Because Google is so powerful, does that mean the demise of QR codes? Not everyone thinks so! Read " QR Code Will Live on." And now Google is not abandoning QR codes after all. Read "Are QR Codes About to Hit the Mobile Mainstream?" Ah, the ever changing direction in technology. I guess we will just have to wait and see what happens to QR code usage.

I welcome any suggestions and comments. Please write them in the comment section below.


  1. Very smart, interesting article. I always wondered how those codes worked and what their applications might be, ever since seeing them on self-printed postage stamps. Thanks so much for doing all this research and making it available to us!

  2. Thanks for another great article, Joan,
    I'm working on a series of cookbooks for kid's and we're using MS Tags throughout. There are tags that go to the main website plus tags that go to cooking tips, live demos, recipes, all kinds of stuff! This is the first time myself and the people I'm working with have done this. Will post results when we get to testing!

  3. Thanks Joan! I have used QR codes a few times in the past and in general it seems that they are (1) still very new and evolving, (2) somewhat confusing due to having several different methodologies, and (3) have little consumer acceptance at this point. Because cell phones and smart phones have higher use outside of the US, it makes sense that they are catching on there faster. As far as artists using QR codes, if nothing else it makes you look current and potentially drives traffic to your website. Thanks again Joan - very interesting to watch this develop! Linda

  4. Hi Joan,
    I kept on coming across these quick response codes and wondered what they were -since I don't have a 'smart' device yet.

    Thank you for all this great information. I'll pass your link on.

  5. Hi Joan!
    We have been printing QR codes on the backs of all our greeting cards in the last year. When scanned, the code takes you to our iPhone app at iTunes where the mobile device user can then download the app directly to their phone (our app is a mobile greeting app.) Then, when you are using the app, you can click on a link where you can subsequently purchase a paper card.

    It's a full circle - from paper to electronic and back to paper!
    Quite effective!


  6. Good complete article Joan, as always! As an artist, I was thinking of putting one on my rear window encoded with the address of my studio. Under it would be my alongside a piece of my art, such as a flower or dove, etc. I love the funny sound it makes when the iPhone reads it.

  7. I just used one for the first time on my droid as my boarding pass with United Airlines... loved it! Never thought about uses as an artist... love the above suggestions... great ideas! Thanks Joan for sharing.

  8. Very useful article Joan.

    I think you will be interested in how we have used QR codes in a completely innovative way to protect the intellectual property of artists, designers and other creative people's work pre-commercialisation and also for commercialised works displayed online. (see

    The QR code travels with the images and therefore digital rights management becomes far easier to track and manage.

    We are seeking to take this system further forward particularly for exhibiting artists and designers where scanning QR codes will also send the scanners v-card to the artist in a two way feed and enable both parties via two clicks to join each others social networks; build profiles & and popularity and commission or sell or license work directly and pay through a micro payment system in the App so forth.

    It's an exciting time and QR codes will be the next paradigm shift to revolutionise the creative industries, marketing and advertising sectors.

  9. Maxine, I applaud your company Creative Barcode use of QR codes to track and attempt to protect intellectual property of artists. However, there would be resistance of manufacturers in the US to accept art that requires them to agree with your "trust charter." Most manufacturers in the US will not sign a non-disclosure agreement (similar to your trust agreement) because they may already have or are considering licensing art that might look like the art being submitted and do not want to take a chance in getting sued. Joan