RIP Printed Encyclopedia Britannica: 1768 - 2012

RIP Encyclopedia BritannicaEncyclopædia Britannica pulled the plug on its print edition Tuesday, ending a 244 year run as the oldest continuously-in-print encyclopedia in the world. The company said it will continue its online operations and its academic curriculum materials business, from whence it derived 99 percent of its revenue stream in the last year, but the print version will no longer be made.

If you don’t know what an encyclopedia (or encyclopædia) is, you can look it up on Wikipedia.

According to The New York Times, sales of the printed encyclopedia peaked in 1990, when 120,000 copies of the multi-volume set were sold in the U.S. alone. In comparison, only 12,000 sets of the 2010 edition were printed, and only 8,000 of those were actually sold—the remaining 4,000 sets have been placed in storage. That edition was a 32-volume set.

“It’s a rite of passage in this new era,” Jorge Cauz, president of Chicago-based Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc., told The Times. “Some people will feel sad about it and nostalgic about it. But we have a better tool now. The Web site is continuously updated, it’s much more expansive and it has multimedia.”

While the 2010 printed version was priced at US$1,395, the company currently claims some 500,000 subscribers who pay $70 per year to access the continuously-updated online edition of the encyclopedia. The mathematical reality of those economics make the company’s choice to kill the print version an obvious one.

The firm also offers the full Encyclopædia Britannica for iPhone and iPad. The app is a free download, but full access to all the content requires a $1.99 per month subscription.