There is no question that the value in reading online (and this is everything from long editorial pieces to Blog postings and Twitter) is the links (or hyperlinks as we used to call them), but things may be changing.
The more you link out and the more others link in to you, the more reputable you become and the higher you will rank (on certain keywords) in the search engines. This is critically important as more and more online marketing professionals are getting smarter and wiser when it comes to ensuring that their clients rank at the top of the major search engines. It's not only serious business, but it is (very much) a game. Things can change in both an organic way and in how the search engines tweak and optimize their algorithms as they constantly explore more ways to serve more relevant search results.
Many pundits (myself included) claim that the major newspaper publishers still don't value the concept of linking people out to content that might be more valuable to them. Their online attitude is - generally - "keep them in our space at all costs." They'll pump up the pageviews to drive more advertising revenue and then complain that those ad sales are not equivalent to (or surpassing) what they are accustomed to in their print editions. Jeff Jarvis (Blogger over at BuzzMachine and author of What Would Google Do?) spends his days (and nights) begging the industry to embrace the notion of the link economy. The value of the content is in how people link to it and share it, or "he who has the most links, wins."
How sustainable and scalable is the notion of the link economy?
The more people that are creating content, the harder this will be to manage, optimize and monetize. It's a fact. From a personal perspective, I link out from this Blog, Twitter and Facebook frequently. Often with different types of contents (and variations - on Twitter, most people are using some kind of URL shortening service). There are other places where I do other types of linking (just a little less frequently) like Delicious, LinkedIn, Flickr, Google Reader and more. On top of that, links are no longer just searchable pieces of text - they can be videos, images and audio (all of this is nearly impossible for the search engines to index unless they are properly tagged).
So, if content is not as easy to index (we're seeing more and more audio, images and video), and URL shortening services acts as a re-route for the more traditional links, and fewer and fewer people are as interested as they once were in longer text-based pieces of content online, just how viable and profitable can the link economy be?