Encyclopædia Britannica print edition defeated by digital

After 244 years the Encyclopædia Britannica is no more when it comes to print form, becoming the latest victim of the digital revolution.

The encyclopaedia, which was written and continuously updated by around 100 full-time editors and more than 4,000 expert contributors, was regarded as one of the most scholarly of encyclopaedias.

Its sales peaked in 1990 when 120,000 sets were sold, but this number had dropped to 40,000 in 1996 - around the time that digital encyclopaedias such as Microsoft's Encarta (a CD-based digital multimedia encyclopaedia) was proving popular. 

The pressure on the Encyclopædia Britannica print edition has only intensified as the web has evolved and connected mobile devices have become more ubiquitous. EB did respond though - it has a range of DVD and CD editions, online portals and mobile apps.

"We've been noticing a downward trend in print sales for a while now but the majority of our operating profits already come from online and mobile products, so that's the natural next step in the company's transition," Eoghan Hughes, PR manager of Encyclopædia Britannica UK, told Pocket-lint.

Hughes said the decline in sales was a result of new consumer habits and not just the obvious competition from Wikipedia.

"I don't think that it's Wikipedia by itself," he said. "I think it's more of a general trend of how people are consuming information online; people expect information to be available anywhere, anytime and that's what we're concentrating on now with our digital editions and our mobile editions."

However, despite the death of the much-loved print editions, Hughes said the Britannica brand was strong enough to compete in the digital arena and that it provided a quality alternative to what's already online.

"What makes the brand is the ethos of rigorous fact-checking and high-quality editorial content and that's not changing at all," he told us.

"Wikipedia in what it does is a good thing. As a first port of call, it's a great thing. But I think that there's more than enough space for Britannica and Wikipedia to co-exist. Britannica is a very different proposition to Wikipedia; we are more academically focused, we take our contributions from experts, we're curated and I think there's more than enough space for both approaches."

Image credit - Joi Ito



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