There is no doubt, in the last three to five years, printed media has been ravaged by the relentless advance of the internet with many print titles either being consolidated or shut down as they fail to compete with the 'here and now' instant media.
The last two years especially, has witnessed a steeper decline with traditional media and publishing losing ground due to the major advanced in digital (especially mobile) media.
Traditional media companies are challenged with stemming the fall in subscribers and revenues, but there is little they can do to make printed media a more appealing medium - today's generations are attached in some way to the latest mobile media and they are demanding that technology provides for them.
Here's a short list of print/digital advantages and disadvantages.
Printed media advantages
Portability - easily stored and carried and difficult to damage - can be read anywhere without injuring the feelings of anyone in the reader's immediate space.
Longevity - in its physical sense, paper, if cared for and handled correctly can be stored away indefinably.
Tactile - Gives the reader a feeling of ownership.
Pleasure - for example, sitting under a tree on holiday relaxing.
Printed media disadvantages
Isolation - each printed work is isolated from the previous or next in a set; its cover is its boundary and it cannot be linked to a previous or future publication.
Quickly outdated - once printed and distributed, a piece of paper is out of date. This is not too much of a problem in the case of fiction but it is an issue in respect of facts, history, biographies, news etc - once distributed - there is not the opportunity to correct mistakes or update the publication unless it goes to reprint.
Archiving - Unless print is sold as a volume set, maintaining an index is impossible.
Reference - once a book, paper or magazine is published, there is no way to reference and article, phrase, information or quote against its originating source.
If for example, an author is writing a biography and wanted to introduce the reader to a person or event within their book, they would have to write a paragraph or several pages to bring the reader up to speed on detail - it's both a time consuming and expensive way of keeping a reader abreast of everything.
Cost - Labour, paper, distribution, office and infrastructure maintenance creates a high costs to the production of printed media.
Instant - News and information can be published to a website, mobile hand-held device or feed, immediately.
Relevant - due to the ability to update, add or correct content, digital media can remain relevant.
Viral - if the publisher sends an important article to the internet it can be transmitted by others immediately to their peers; thus increasing its readership ad extending audience reach.
Portability - small hand-held media devices can be taken anywhere.
Indexing and referencing - ability to create and index ad infinitum and reference any other digital page, photo or video on the internet or private network.
Digital media disadvantages
Cost to user - hardware and monthly/yearly software/contracts
Potential damage - Hardware can be lost, stolen or damaged.
Many more printed media titles are adding web links into text. However, these are just printed words meaning that a reader must type a web address into their PC or hand-held device to access a web page.
This is OK if you are talking about one or two pages but if a publisher wishes to add tens or even hundreds of hyperlinks to a page or whole publication, the reader will find the experience off-putting and will not complete the task that the publisher has set.
For printed media to overcome this physical boundary it must first make printed paper interactive. Of course this is a major challenge because paper, once printed, is inert by nature.
The greatest challenge for a publisher is to make GRcodes or barcodes passive and invisible and reside behind the words or photographs that have been printed on the page.
The mock-up image I've created shows for example how text might be overlaid over GRcode or barcode so that the hyperlink doesn't become a distraction to the reader but the reader is aware that the anchor text wording (probably emboldened or having a symbol attached to identify them as links) is a hyperlink.
By simply scanning the embedded code with a smart phone or desktop reader/scanner, the reader can be immediately ported to the required page and of course, once within the digital section of a site - whether that is otherwise publicly available or a private membership area - the reader can be engaged to read further articles, click links to indexes or category sections of advertising or affiliate links.
My preference would be to adapt scanners/readers to read a small and unobtrusive symbol next to the intended hyperlink or maybe even develop an embossed link embedded with microchip technology.
The most important bit is to create an easy route out of the magazine but without losing the engagement of the reader.
In the case of websites; the reader has an option to follow embedded links to further content; the matrix or indexable content can be expanded ad infinitum.
Paper publications are isolated and cannot be expanded upon in the same way as digital: once paper is printed, it's tough if there is a mistake and items cannot be updated at any time at a later date.
In today's fast and furious world, digital centric generations carry the latest mobile smart phones to keep abreast of the latest news; stay in touch with friends and colleagues and share information.
Software and hardware companies are combining their skills to bring powerful functionality to smart phones and mobile applications.
GRCodes are one such way that information can be shared via print - T shirts, vehicle sign writing, shop window displays...in fact, if it can be printed on then a code can be generated and displayed on it.
Linear barcodes - here is just one example - have existed for a very long time and are used extensively on a daily basis; from recording the price of goods for checking out at the till or by tracking a part in an inventory and they are easy to generate and install
The latest mobile phones come with reader/scanners built within the the camera lenses of the phone; they can quickly convert GRCodes or bar codes into clickable links and take the reader directly onto a website where further information can be displayed.
The downside is that these codes can be space consuming and look untidy if embedded within a page.
Embedding a live hyperlink within the page of printed text.
What if a publisher could embed a clickable but passive or hidden link within a printed page - imagine the endless options it gives to the publisher?
In days gone by, if a publisher wanted to refer back to an article that had been written in the past, they would have to rely on the consumer having an old copy to refer to: this method is hit-and-miss and is certainly not a one that a publisher could call reliable.
mobile readers for turning www.webpage.com into a clickable link
The technology for creating bar codes or GRcodes into clickable hyperlinks has existed for a long time. For example, I had a parcel delivered recently and the deliveryman had a GRcode printed on the ticket: the GRcode was a link to information about the delivery but also linked to other services such as internet tracking.
Taking GRcodes or barcodes one step further
What publishers have not tried - and I believe it to be fairly simple - is using an embedded code within printed media to send a reader to another relevant or unrelated page.
A relevant page may be described as an index, a category or another article: it may be used to sell advertising by taking the reader to the advertiser's website.
The permutations of embedding a clickable hyperlink into a printed page are endless. For example, a magazine could upload every single piece of archived material and as long as it is saved somewhere in digital format, it can become a page on the internet and increase the Google juice for the site - what is also significant about making a the publisher losing out on the potential for advertising revenues.
One of the major advantages of creating a digital back-end to printed media is not only the potential to create a vast dataset and archive of articles but there is a physical link created between two - previously parallel and separate - linking the two mediums together.
A publisher can easily reduce the size of the magazine but at the same time, by creating hyperlinks to online articles, heighten the experience for traditional magazine readers.
A scanner/reader could also be plugged into desktop computers for home and office use.
I believe that embedded links will be a compelling and strong unique selling point for printed media publishing.