The word came yesterday that Encyclopaedia Britannica will no longer print the multivolume editions that have graced the shelves of libraries, classrooms and homes since 1768. In making the announcement, the company said it will make Britannica Online free for a week. Check it out here.
The company said it’s not a sad day but merely a reflection of the times. Peak production was reached in 1990, when the company sold 120,000 print sets. In 2010, the company printed 12,000 sets, and it still has 3,500 left unsold. Each 32-volume set cost about $1,500.
“We just decided that it was better for the brand to focus on what really the future is all about,” said Jorge Cauz, 50, Encyclopaedia Britannica’s president. “Our database is very large now, much larger than can fit in the printed edition. Our print set version is an abridged version of what we have online.” Cauz says his company continues to be profitable; it makes 85 percent of its revenue through sales of instructional programs and electronic books in math, science and the humanities for the K-12 curriculum and beyond.
In this digital age, Wikipedia has far outpaced Encyclopaedia Britannica. Wikipedia appears as the No. 1 result in Google for 56% of searches, according to a 2012 study by Intelligent Positioning Ltd., a U.K.-based agency that helps businesses increase their online traffic. Moreover, Encyclopaedia Britannica’s database is significantly smaller than that of Wikipedia’s, Cauz said. Between 1.2 and 1.5 billion search engine queries per month ask for content available in Encyclopaedia Britannica’s online pages, but less than 0.5% of those searchers end up on Britannica’s sites, he said.
It’s interesting that Encyclopaedia Britannica has adopted the Wikipedia model of letting readers revise content online. Revisions are reviewed by editors and published when the new content is verified.
My first reaction was that something will be missing by not having a print version available. There are those of us who enjoy grabbing a volume at random to read an article about something new to us. The truth is, though, that as long as you have access to the Internet, you can go to Wikipedia, click on the random article link in the left-hand column, and enjoy the same search for knowledge for the sake of knowledge.