After 244 Years, Encyclopaedia Britannica Drops Print and Goes Digital Only

After 244 years reference book firm Encyclopaedia Britannica has decided to stop publishing its famous 32-volume print edition.

It will now focus on digital expansion trying to amid rising competition from websites such as Wikipedia. Photo: Es.mond/Flickr

During 244 years more than 7 million sets of Encyclopaedia Britannica were printed and sold, an indispensable home reference library lining bookshelves, fueling dreams and salvaging homework assignments everywhere.

The company has printed the encyclopedia, which now runs to 32 volumes in length, since 1768. The 2010 edition was the last published edition. It has decided not to print what would be the 2012 edition, which would have been out by the end of the year. The company has about 4,000 sets of the 2010 edition still available for sale, says PC Advisor.

Now you can find the encyclopaedia online. The company based in Chicago is to transform its printed edition into Web-based version, marking the end of one of longest chapters in publishing history. It’s a technological evolution, a cultural benchmark and, certainly, a moment in history.

“We just decided that it was better for the brand to focus on what really the future is all about,” said Jorge Zauz, 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.”

The Encyclopaedia Britannica began exploring digital publishing in the 1970s, and created its first digital version for LexisNexis users in 1981. That lengthy history of online information may come as a surprise to many, writes Fox News.

“Many people know us as the publisher of those big multivolume encyclopedias that have been a source of joy and learning since 1768. Today that encyclopedia is chiefly to be found in a multitude of digital forms that are updated daily,” the company says.

“We reach a lot more people now online than we ever did before.” Jorge Zauz  promised that despite the end of print, some traditions will continue.

“The real tradition is not whether or not we print but that we bring scholarly knowledge to as many knowledge seekers as we can,” Zauz told reporters. “That tradition we’re very happy to continue.”

Well, having refused of publishing its edition, the company faces new forms of competition, Wikipedia, the community-driven online encyclopedia that many have come to rely upon. Zauz acknowledged that site’s prominence but cautioned that its quality might not be on a par.

“We are a very different type of knowledge base, one that is by the nature of what we do, significantly smaller than Wikipedia – but much more reliable,” he explained.

“Right now everyone knows Google loves Wikipedia. 96 percent of the time its in the top five [search results]. It’s a pity that Britannica can’t take that position too.”

“I think that most people given the choice would prefer Britannica to any other alternative.” The president added that the entire site will be available for free until March 21.

“There’s a place for well-written documents, where facts really matter, where we strive for balance,” Zauz said. “And the alternative is just …. different.”

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