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Encyclopaedia Britannica… End of an era.


After 244 Years, Encyclopaedia Britannica Stops the Presses

It is an end of an era of offline reference books. These coolly authoritative, leather bound, gold lettered books on the shelf of the school library make me very nostalgic. Referencing these books, about an obscure topic for a project, or a competition was part of my school life. We had the 15th edition in our school, about 30 volumes and it is a sad moment to learn that the 15th edition is going to be the last edition that is ever going to see the print.

244 years after it was first published in 1768, Britannica Encyclopaedia in 2012 would see the last of the printing press. It is a digital age where my two year old loves to be read stories from the IPad than a book, the printed Encyclopaedia had been on the death bed for some time and it was time for it to go in peace. The 1500$ edition for a set of 32 books on a special book rack in the house could not have competed with the freedom of a free encyclopedia that could fit into a phone in the pocket. It is interesting that while the books have a long way to go before they are laid to rest in their silver coffin; it is end for the reference books. People have a special relationship with a novel. It is way different than a reference book. I still have all the Famous five books from my childhood stacked away in a corner, but I do not even have a single reference book from my yesteryear.

While the digital edition of the Britannica is going to continue with a 70$ annual subscription, curtains have finally began to draw on the print edition. The Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc., a company based in Chicago which publishes the Encyclopaedia has reported that it is going to stop reprinting of the 2010 version of the 15edition. Only 8,000 sets of the 2010 edition have been sold, and the remaining 4,000 have been stored in a warehouse until they dwindle away into the corners of book shelves.

“Britannica was one of the first companies to really feel the full impact of technology, maybe 20 years ago, and we have been adapting to it, though it is very difficult at times,”
J
orge Cauz, president of Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc

“The end of the print set is something we’ve foreseen for some time,” Jorge Cauz, president of Chicago-based Encyclopaedia Britannica, said in the statement. “It’s the latest step in our evolution from the print publisher we were, to the creator of digital learning products we are today.”
Jorge Cauz, president of Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc

Well I guess it is us bibliophile who are more nostalgic about these books than the publishers itself. Over the years the company has diversified itself into digital media. Britannica was the first companies to create digital encyclopedias. It was way before Wikipedia or the erstwhile Microsoft Encarta. The print editions contributed less than 1% of the total turnover for the company. (Source: Bloomberg Business Week) So they were planned and ready to move to the next age. But for me I would miss picking the big book from the shelf and turning the leafy pages, a book that was once considered a composite of human knowledge and preceded the Internet, television, radio and even India as we know it.

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