RIP Printed Encyclopedia Britannica: 1768 - 2012

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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.

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We bought our last hard copy edition sometime circa 1994/5 for our kids, only one of whom was even born at the time. In our subsequent travels, I’m not sure that they ever touched it, and my wife donated it a few years back.

I then switched to the DVD version in 2006, which the kids did use, though less often than I would have thought. The online option is a good investment for families with kids in school, assuming of course their kids use it. I suspect many, perhaps most, kids with access to both will opt for Wikipedia.



Is anyone else surprised that the print edition lasted that long???


Is anyone else surprised that the print edition lasted that long???

I suppose but it’s one of those things that’s ‘always been’ that I’ll miss now that it’s gone. I think of it like when they stopped making photo film. Sure I hadn’t used it in years but it’s sad to see it go.

The idea of an online encyclopedia that’s continuously updated is great, but, let’s be honest, 99%+ of the articles won’t be updated. We know all we’ll ever know about Aardvarks and there’s likely never going to be any reason to change a word of the entry. Secondly there is one aspect of an old encyclopedia that an on line version will never have. As a kid we had an old (1920s) Book of Knowledge. The thing I liked most was finding errors. Like the time I ran across an entry about how it was believed that Dinosaurs, or at least one kind of Dinosaur still lived in the deep jungles of The Belgian Congo. Or the speculation about oceans on Venus. Or the chart showing how long it would take to get to the planets by train. You won’t get that kind of thing in an always up to date digital on line resource. I learned critical reading skills from that.


What about the poor guys to tried to flog this door to door?

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