Encyclopaedia Britannica goes online-only

After 244 years, the Encyclopaedia Britannica will cease to publish its flagship line of reference books and will concentrate instead on its digital offerings.

"We'd like to think our tradition is not to print, but to bring scholarly knowledge to the people," said Jorge Cauz, the company's president.

Britannica has printed the encyclopedia since 1768. The 2010 edition, which was published as a 32-volume set, was the last one in print; there are still 4,000 sets of that edition for sale. Some 2 million sets have been printed through the entire run of the encyclopedia.

Over the past few years, the print edition has accounted for less than 1% of the company's revenue. "The market is not there," Cauz said.

The online edition costs a lot less, with a basic subscription running at $17 per year or $1.99 per month, compared to $1,395 for the 32-volume print version.

The company has been offering online editions of its encyclopedia for 20 years, with more than 65% of its online sales coming from educational institutions; the online edition is updated constantly.

The goal now, Cauz said, is to expand its appeal to consumers. With that move, Britannica is taking on Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia written entirely by volunteers.

"The value proposition in our case is to be a reliable source," Cauz said. "The print set can't bring that reliability because it gets obsolete so quickly and because it doesn't have all the material that is online."

This version of this story was originally published in Computerworld's print edition. It was adapted from an article that appeared earlier on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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