After 244 years, Encyclopedia Britannica will cease production of its iconic multi-volume book sets. Britannica usually prints a new set every 2 years, but 2010’s 32-volume group will be its last. The culprit is the usual suspect – the Internet. Like some newspapers and magazines, Britannica is converting to a completely digital format. President Jorge Cauz said the move is necessary. “Everyone will want to call this the end of an era, and I understand that,” he noted. “But, there’s no sad moment for us. I think outsiders are more nostalgic about the books than I am.”
Those “outsiders,” of course, are people who remain locked in the printed paper age. I guess I could count myself as one of them, since I still love the feel of a good book in my hands. But, even I know this transition is necessary for Britannica to survive. The oldest English-language encyclopedia in the world, it’s still a preeminent source of information and research. It came long before Google and Wikipedia and is a much more reliable bastion of knowledge than either of those two put together.
Britannica entered the digital age in 1994, when the first online version of its encyclopedia appeared. The encyclopedia still represents only 15% of its total revenue; the other 85% comes from online learning tools, academic products and more. The print set formed less than 1% of the company’s total sales; therefore, it’s time to let it go.
With a strong online presence and its impeccable reputation for accuracy and ethics, Britannica can easily regain its status as the premier source of information. Other search engines seem susceptible to innuendo and rumor; that is, subject to the whims of a few self-appointed “experts.”
Britannica is taking on Wikipedia and others by re-launching its own site in 3 weeks with more social connections and other interactive features. Britannica threw itself a party today with a cake in the shape of a print set. “Is that morbid?” Cauz asked jokingly.
I don’t believe so. It’s just practical.