Encyclopedia Britannica: Out of Print

March 14th, 2012
in econ_news

Econintersect:  In 1768 the first volume of the first edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica was published in Edinburgh, Scotland.  Two more volumes britannicacompleted the first edition by 1771.  The world recognized “ultimate reference” grew with future editions to become a 39 volume compendium, plus a two-volume index and a separate outline volume.  According to Wikipedia, the 39 volumes contained roughly 40 million words and 24,000 images.

Today (March 13) the Encyclopedia Britannica announced that the 2010 print edition will be the last.  The Britannica will continue as an online reference.  That means the years spanned from the first volume of the first edition to the last printed edition is 242 years.

Follow up:

Producing the print editions was a huge expense and consumed materials that might better find other uses.  And the cessation of printing sounds like a no-brainer:  According to CNN Money, the hardcopy sales constituted less than 1% of revenue.  The online encyclopedia has been producing 15% of revenue for the company.  Sales of online educational materials such as learning tools and curriculum products for teachers provide the bulk of revenue (about 65%).

If you Google “Encyclopedia Britannica” the only sites identified on the first page for the publisher go to online content.  This was checked less than an hour after the news broke. The Econintersect crystal ball was not working earlier today or in prior days so we cannot tell you if the digital only encyclopedia could have been inferred in advance simply by using Google.

Wikipedia was right up to date, however.  That reference included the new information about digital-only availability within an hour of the announcement.

The Financial Times had a humorous comment about how much the world has lost with the end of the era:

“I am a bit heartbroken,” said AJ Jacobs, who read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica for his book, The Know-It-All. “There was something so wonderfully concrete about the print version, and I loved the idea that all the world’s knowledge could be contained in those pages.”

Explorer Ernest Shackleton took a volume on his doomed expedition to Antarctica, and is said to have burned it page by page to keep warm. “You can’t do that with the internet,” said Mr Jacobs.

Do you own a set of the Encyclopedia Britannica?  If you have a bookshelf that looks lie the one below, take good care of it.  It can only increase in value from here.


John Lounsbury


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1 comment

  1. Derryl Hermanutz says :

    Sad to see the end of the print edition, but kids don't use books for research anymore. I guess you can't really cut and paste encyclopedia pages and submit them as your own work!

    I have a beautiful 1978 edition of Britannica in perfect condition, and the rich feel of the books somehow makes the information I get from them feel more 'valuable'. And it's still quicker to find what I'm seeking in those books than online, though I admit they're best suited to information of a historical or background nature.

    The internet is a marvellous resource, but I'll never give up my books nor will I stop collecting more of them. Knowledge is only "real" when you can hold it in your hands and remember where it's kept in your library!

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