Links are one of the biggest reasons that the print industry can’t compete with web content. This is not a new revelation, but after reading an interesting piece about the value of links by Scott Rosenberg, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it spelled out so crystal clear, and interestingly enough, it’s not really the point of his article.
Rosenberg says, "Links have become an essential part of how I write, and also part of how I read. Given a choice between reading something on paper and reading it online, I much prefer reading online: I can follow up on an article’s links to explore source material, gain a deeper understanding of a complex point, or just look up some term of art with which I’m unfamiliar."
With print, you can’t do these things. You can take the exact same article in a print publication and its online counterpart, add some links to the online version, and automatically increase the value of the piece exponentially (from the reader’s perspective). Believe it or not, readers like content that is useful to them.
Now, that’s not to say that automatically adding any links increases the value. They have to be useful links that do the things Rosenberg described. Linking to past happenings related to a story, giving background, increases value. Some will argue that the links are a distraction (this is more the point of Rosenberg’s article – he argues for links as opposed to no links in web content), just ask yourself how many times you’ve clicked on links within a web article to get more information.
The links provide a means for increasing the reader’s knowledge, and doing so in a way that doesn’t force the reader to read about a bunch of stuff they already know, if they’re familiar with the background of a story. Links save time in an era where time has never been more valuable.
Links are also one reason why app-based publications could replace print publications in many readers’ hands. While I still feel like the paywalls associated with such publications are a larger obstacle (considering so much free content is available just a click/tap away), the apps do have the capability of adding the interactive element for readers, which can make the reading experience more appealing, and the articles themselves more valuable.
I don’t think print will completely die, because there will always be people that simply like to "have" the publication physically. They want to hold a newspaper over breakfast or collect back issues of a magazine that they hold dear. Some like having their own personal libraries.
However, people like convenience and valuable content, and print just can’t deliver either in the way online content can, whether it be in app form or simply from the web.