Encyclopedia Britannica done with books


After 2.5 centuries, Encyclopedia Britannica has stopped printing encyclopedias. Seems time, as the dead tree books now represent less than 1% of Britannica's sales. From CNN:

"Everyone will want to call this the end of an era, and I understand that," (Britannica president Jorge) Cauz says. "But there's no sad moment for us. I think outsiders are more nostalgic about the books than I am."

"The print set is an icon. But it's an icon that doesn't do justice to how much we've changed over the years," Cauz says...

The online version of the encyclopedia, which was first published in 1994, represents only 15% of Britannica's revenue. The other 85% is sales of education products: online learning tools, curriculum products and more.

"Encyclopedia Britannica to stop printing books"


    1.  Actually, I think they’re doing quite well.

      On a tangential note, I love how “look it up” once warranted quotes.

      1. I was exaggerating of course, as I’m sure they’ve sufficiently branched out away from books. And to be fair, the Britannica online  encyclopaedia isn’t all that bad, apart from it’s layout looking a bit dated and the site not being user friendly, as opposed to WikiPedia.

  1. And this is Twilight Sparkle’s reaction to this ad: http://fc07.deviantart.net/fs70/f/2011/172/2/7/twilight_vector__so_cute_by_project_hedgecat-d3jhbvl.png

  2. We used to have the Funk & Wagnells Encyclopedia, which we bought one volume a week at the supermarket I think. As Dan Rowan used to say – “Look that up in your Funk & Wagnells.”

    Overall, I got more from the “Whole Earth Catalog.”

    Some of the old handyman encyclopedias would be especially handy if we were ever rebuilding civilization without the internet. They certainly give us a look at a somewhat simpler era of 50 years ago, when a guy was likely to weld together his own backyard grill rather than buying one of 30 models from Lowes.

    1.  +1 for the Dan Rowan quote! I still try and work that one into conversation now and then. Jeez, I’m old.

      1. I still like to use “Kneel before Zod!” which is much more apropos for kicking someone in the nuts. 

    2. I agree with the old handyman books.  Occasionally I’ll find them in the free section of the local used book stores and take them home.  I’ve got a couple that make you realize how dependant people are on others to fix things that really aren’t that hard or time consuming to do.  Of course I’ve got one that pretty much shows you how to rebuild a house from the foundation to the roof by yourself if need be…(not exactly weekend warrior kind of stuff).

      1. They have lots of useful stuff, like electric motor repair.  And it shows the sort of old hardware that one is likely to salvage and recondition. 

  3. I like how they’ve adjusted with the times. 85% of their revenue coming from sources outside of the encyclopedia is great. 

  4. The Flintstones age actually came after the Jetson’s.

    They were a “modern” stone age family.

    After the sprocket/cog corporate wars. The earth was left in ruins. No more flying cars, no more high rise apartments.

    All Digital Media was lost..music, books, education texts. What remained was hard copy print films, books and LPs. Forgotten in the vaults of ground based libraries.

    Using that media which did not require specialized players the ground dwellers rebuilt a society based on the 50’s and 60’s decades of America. LP/Film Movies/and hard copy books were the template to imitate cultures and styles.

    Appliances were simulated using escaped bio engineered animals—and trained to preform specific tasks.

    This is how that started: “I got a Kindle”

    1. So the  Slate Rock and Gravel Company is just a cover to get at the buried caches of microfiches and jet fighters?

  5. It’s a marketing gimmick, like Death of Superman.

    Next year they’ll be back on the market, with six different versions readers can vote on.

  6. I recall an episode of Max Headroom where some you kid asks his elder 
    “What’s this?”
    “It’s a book.”
    “What’s a book?”
    “It’s non-labile storage media.”

  7. This should be the proudest moment for every encyclopedic.

    The whole point of an encyclopedia is to make knowledge available. Today, it is no longer needed because all the knowledge a printed encyclopedia could possibly contain (without renaming a library into “encyclopedia”) isn’t merely available, but in fact ubiquitous.

    We haven’t merely fulfilled the dreams of the 17th century but surpassed it far beyond anything people could have imagined.

  8. Count me among the sad and somewhat bothered by the demise of printed encyclopedias.

    Perhaps iPads and other reading devices truly will take the place of encyclopedias, but I don’t believe they can really match some of the qualities that they had and reading and learning experience they offered.  I grew up with the full World Book Encyclopedia (1960 edition that was purchased when my Mom was pregnant with me).  As a small child I’d often pluck a volume down from the shelf and sit in the big chair in the dining room next to the furnace and read and read and read.

    Over the years I’d return to many articles I’d previously read and would just as often discover some I’d not yet read.  Even as I began to read voraciously by the late 60s, I realized that our set was out of date and didn’t have the latest up-to-date information on space exploration and computers.  But so much of the knowledge in that encyclopedia was timeless.  The human body.  Geography, natural resources, places, famous historical people, languages and their origins, botany, ancient history and the evolution of civilization, and on and on.  And it was there – fixed – a resource I could return to again and again.

    I love Wikipedia and similarly spend hours reading it as well.  But it’s not the same experience.  I could probably say that the World Book Encyclopedia played as big a role in putting me on the path to who I am today than almost any other input in my early education.  I still believe they’re a valuable resource for children, for the same reasons.

    1. And, for all the hypertext etc. of Wikipedia, there is something special about the surreal joy of getting a printed encyclopaedia out to read an article on something and inevitably finding yourself sidetracked by the entries before and after which, thanks to strict alphabetical order, will be entirely unrelated to the piece you started with.

      1.  I use a lot of reference material in my job and it’s getting sort of unfortunate that the stuff is moving to electronic form.  Some of our material has installers that only work with Windows XP.  The paper stuff is gonna be what lasts.

  9. In the past, people would spend their lifetimes collecting information.  Carefully building up a library.  A set of encyclopedias provided a cornerstone to these personal collections of information.  Public libraries made these less important, and now the internet (with Wikipedia, etc) have made them less important still.

    My parents owned an Encyclopedia Britannica set, and I thought it was very cool back then. 

  10. Ever notice how people never said, “Britannica it?”  But they of course easily say, “Google it” or “Wiki it” or, occasionally, “Wikipedia it.”  People also never said, “World Book it.”  

    This noun -> verb thing has been around a long time, but not like now, apparently.

    They’ve been Boinged.

    1. Wikipedia scores roughly the same quality as Britannica.  

      At least that’s what I read on the internet. 

  11. Years ago, when I first started working in a library, I had a conversation with one of the librarians whose sister worked as a fact-checker for the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Her sister’s job was primarily to read letters from people who claimed they’d found errors, research them, and determine whether or not they were legitimate. And some of them were. Corrections, of course, had to wait for the next edition, which meant that erroneous information would sit on peoples’ shelves for years–or longer, since very few people tossed their old edition and bought the new one as soon as it came out. Not even all libraries went to that trouble.

    I realize the number of mistakes was extremely small and the chances of any real harm coming from them even smaller, but at the time the librarian and I discussed that I wondered aloud how the problem could be solved. She suggested that an electronic version of the Encyclopaedia could be updated more quickly and easily.

    About a year after that conversation the Britannica Online became available, and a few years after that the library where we work purchased it–making it one of the first web resources the library added to its collection.

    I had a feeling even then that the Britannica’s print days were numbered. The only thing that really surprises me is that it’s taken this long for it to end.

    1. Same here. My initial field of study was journalism, and I worked on campus in the library. We had dozens of sets of encyclopedias, many copies, for the very reason you mentioned; there’d be corrections. But there’d also be deletions, and the board felt it was best to err on the side of caution and keep the next older sets of some encyclopedias, namely World Book and Britannica. That was the very early 1980’s, and the most modern thing we had on campus was a PLATO terminal and a few Apple //’s.

  12. I find the note about inaccuracy interesting.  They’re indicating that they have a team of authors who are not error prone while the crowd-sourcing of wikipedia leads to inaccurate information.  However, the inverse also matters: wikipedia has thousands of people to quickly correct errors, while incorrect facts could much more easily slip by a very small number of authors and editors working on an article.

  13. I loved the EB – we had a late seventies edition. I remember the saleman coming to our house. Thanks Mom!
    On the lookout now for a edition to feed my voracious 7 year old if anyone in Chicagoland has a set to pass on?

  14. I would totally pay for e-book facsimiles of various editions of the EB, particularly the first edition, which was one of those things that amazed me at the county Reference Library.  No doubt it was a reprint itself, but the idea of the encyclopedia as a time capsule ignited my imagination,  in no small part due to the typography and engraved illustrations.

    I’ve long wanted a copy of the EB edition printed just before WWI,  a point in time before massive political and scientific change.   Just the maps from this edition would be amazing, in the same way that National Geographic issues from the late 1800s are fascinating.

    One could have the Best History Class ever if they had access to the contemporary magazine and newspaper articles from key portions of history; a magazine, newspaper, or encyclopedia provides a level of context you don’t get in a textbook, even if the magazine itself is biased or not factually correct.

Comments are closed.