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Augmented reality, which bridges the divide between virtual and physical worlds, has crossed into a new frontier: print media.

Penguin Books recently unveiled a surprising partnership with Zappar App, an augmented reality entertainment channel, to bring four novels from the English Library to life. Augmented reality, known as “AR,”  is type of virtual reality that overlays objects and scenes in the real world with digital information.

To access the content, just download the free Zappar mobile app, available on Android and iOS, and select a Penguin novel on the drop-down menu. Point your smartphone camera at the cover of popular titles such as Moby Dick and Great Expectations to unlock an interactive and highly visual experience. Hover over the Moby Dick cover page, and a whale swims across your phone screen, as you’re prompted to “like” Penguin Books on Facebook.

Publishers have been experimenting with integrating AR for years (in 2010, GQ ran a series of enhanced Calvin Klein underwear ads), but this futuristic technology has not yet been incorporated into classic novels until now.

“Gimmicks are easy, compelling value-adds in transmedia are hard,” said Marshall Kirkpatrick, chief executive of Plexus Engine, on the topic of the AR-enhanced Penguin novels.

The jury’s still out on whether AR can help print publishers attract a younger generation of ADD-riddled readers.

Nicola Hill, marketing director for Penguin Press, is optimistic about the opportunity to turn static print into an interactive experience. Hill describes this partnership as an “inventive” and a “fresh publishing idea.”

But managing director for Zappar, Caspar Thykier, said augmented reality is in its nascent stage. According to Thykier, publishers should take AR with a pinch of salt. “We are taking a measured approach to this,” he said. “It would be crazy to say that we are revolutionizing publishing.”

Still, Thykier said there are limitless possibilities for AR. “It’s a bit of magic isn’t it?” he said. “It’s about exciting and surprising people with additional layers of content.”

Underwear ads are one thing, but there’s something unnatural about waving a smartphone over a classic work of fiction.

Experts say we’ll see a series of magnificent experiments over the next few years. “Most will fail,” said Chris Grayson, Director of Digital, humble.tv. “The hint of what we’re seeing on mobile today is a tease of what is to come.”

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