Encyclopedia Britannica ends print, goes digital

NEW YORK Wed Mar 14, 2012 11:38am EDT

A 32 volume set of the Encyclopaedia Britannica is shown in this undated publicity photograph released to Reuters on March 13, 2012. REUTERS/Courtesy of Encyclopaedia Britannica/Handout

A 32 volume set of the Encyclopaedia Britannica is shown in this undated publicity photograph released to Reuters on March 13, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Courtesy of Encyclopaedia Britannica/Handout

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - In yet another sign of the growing dominance of the digital publishing market, the oldest English-language encyclopedia still in print is moving solely into the digital age.

The Encyclopedia Britannica, which has been in continuous print since it was first published in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1768, said Tuesday it will end publication of its printed editions and continue with digital versions available online.

The flagship, 32-volume printed edition, available every two years, was sold for $1400. An online subscription costs around $70 per year and the company recently launched a set of apps ranging between $1.99 and $4.99 per month.

The company said it will keep selling print editions until the current stock of around 4000 sets ran out.

It is the latest move Encyclopedia Britannica has made to expand its Internet reference services and move farther into educational products. It first flirted with digital publishing in the 1970s, published a version for computers in 1981 for LexisNexis subscribers and first posted to the Internet in 1994.

"The print edition became more difficult to maintain and wasn't the best physical element to deliver the quality of our database and the quality of our editorial," Jorge Cauz, president of Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., told Reuters.

Yet even as publishing industry has created more digital products, it has struggled with financial losses, and Cauz admitted to a "long road to profitability" for many publishers.

"Britannica was one of the first companies to really feel the full impact of technology, maybe 20 years ago, and we have been adapting to it, though it is very difficult at times," he said.

While Encyclopedia Britannica has continued to operate, he expected "many trade publishers will not survive -- and any content development company will have to be thinking about how they are going to fill the gap."

As to whether print editions of books will be viable products in the future, Cauz predicted, "print may not completely vanish from the market, but I think it is going to be increasingly less important. Many publications will never have a print analog and will only be printed on digital formats."

With its scholarly, reliable reputation, Encyclopedia Britannica had not been affected by the popularity of free website Wikipedia, he said.

(Reporting By Christine Kearney; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

(This has been corrected to fix typos in headline and eighth paragraph, day in para 2)

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Comments (7)
BrendaTNYC wrote:
Certainly this is not good news for the employees of Encyclopedia Britannica. But for the rest of us? Access to mountains of information is one of the great hallmarks of technology. Source materials are now available to us regular folk. That is progress, and sometimes, progress is progressive. I think I might actually miss those heavy, impressive burgundy books the way I miss my 45s (see: mode of transmitting music, one song at a time.)

Mar 14, 2012 8:55am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Will be the best $70 I spend this year. What a deal!

Mar 14, 2012 12:45pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
RynoM wrote:
I know this was inevitable but I still lament the passing of the hard copy. I spent many childhood hours reading through our family’s World Book Encyclopedia. Just seeing a huge lineup of written material is exciting and inviting. For pure research, probably nothing beats the online world right now (except for all the opinion out there masquerading as fact). But the printed addition invites one to read through fropm A to Z, start to finish. (I admit that I usually skipped some subject and focused more on others.) And it continue to function in places where there is no internet connection.

Mar 14, 2012 1:30pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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