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For those of a certain age, the Encyclopaedia Britannica was the Google of our childhood -- a vast resource of information that could save the day for school projects or simply expanding our minds. But now, in a true sign of the times, the publisher is closing the books (pun intended) on the print edition.
The New York Times is reporting that Encyclopaedia Britannica is going out of print after 244 years, ending a once-mighty era of reference books often sold door-to-door by salesmen to those wealthy enough to own them. The final print version is the 2010 edition, spanning 32 volumes.
“It’s a rite of passage in this new era,” said Jorge Cauz, president of Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc. “Some people will feel sad about it and nostalgic about it. But we have a better tool now. The Web site is continuously updated, it’s much more expansive and it has multimedia.”
What’s that? You didn’t know the Encyclopaedia Britannica had an online edition?Judging from the popularity of free sources like Wikipedia, it’s not surprising. But Cauz believes that Encyclopaedia Britannica has the upper hand, with “carefully edited entries” from “prestigious sources.”
“We have very different value propositions,” Cauz explains. “Britannica is going to be smaller. We cannot deal with every single cartoon character, we cannot deal with every love life of every celebrity. But we need to have an alternative where facts really matter. Britannica won’t be able to be as large, but it will always be factually correct.”
Described as “the oldest continuously published encyclopedia in the English language,” the final 2010 edition has sold only 8,000 sets to date at a price tag of $1,395 each. An additional 4,000 sets remain in a warehouse waiting for somewhere to call home. Meanwhile, the online version has close to 500,000 subscribers paying $70 per year -- a price families might have once paid for monthly installments just to own the dead tree edition.
Update: Fellow MacLifer Adrian Hoppel also notes that Britannica’s free iOS app offers unlimited access to the online encyclopedia for only $1.99 per month as an in-app purchase -- a much better value for mobile users at less than half the price. Britannica’s blog has also confirmed the discontinuation of the print version, noting that Britannica Online is being offered “entirely free for a full week beginning today.”
Follow this article’s author, J.R. Bookwalter on Twitter
(Image courtesy of The New York Times)