Encyclopedia Britannica next “victim” to web content
The forests will benefit. But it was difficult not to feel a pang on hearing the news this week that Encyclopedia Britannica would no longer print the 32 volumes of its famous publication. Especially for those Gen Xers and older folks who used this famous reference piece for countless book reports, class presentations and the like when growing up.
First published 244 years ago in Edinburgh, the Encyclopedia has lined many a bookshelf over the years and used to be shorthand for where to go for information. But the fact that “I’ll Google it” has replaced “I’ll look it up in the Encyclopedia Britannica” is one reason why it will now only be published online.
Britannica, the US company which has published the Encyclopedia since 1902 and is owned by Jacqui Safra of the Swiss banking family, has been right to embrace modernity. Long gone are the days of 1771, when the Encyclopedia defined “woman” as “the female of man”. It claims it was the first encyclopedia to go online, launching on Lexis Nexis in 1981, on CD-ROM in 1989 and on the internet in 1994. And it is easy to see why shifting to online only is the logical next step. As a private company, Britannica’s numbers are hard to come by, so it is not clear how much revenue it is generating from online subscriptions and advertising. But the business rationale behind this week’s decision reflects swift-moving trends with which all publishers are grappling.
The rise of the iPad, and the declining prices of the Kindle and other ereaders, not to mention the relative cheapness of ebooks themselves have led to a surge in their sales. In May last year, Amazon said ebooks were outselling hardbacks and paperbacks for the first time. PwC, the consultancy, expects global spending on ebooks to grow at 35 per cent annually for the next three years, and that they will make up a tenth of all consumer and educational book sales by 2015, up from under 3 per cent in 2010. The trend is particularly marked in the US where, says the Association of American Publishers, ebook sales last December were a staggering 72 per cent higher than a year earlier.
Of course, the Encyclopedia Britannica is not just facing competition from ebooks, but also from other sources of information on the web. Wikipedia says it attracts 400m unique visitors a month. Britannica, whose online versions have 100m users, tries to compete with Wikipedia, as do other online encyclopedias, by allowing users to contribute images or videos and has recently launched an app.
But the struggle between all content providers on the web to attract readers, and thus revenue, appears to be moving decisively away from availability to quality. The fierce competition between information sellers on the web may, hopefully, only serve to encourage Encyclopedia Britannica’s traditional commitment to scholarly authoritativeness.
Even if it does result in an even better Encyclopedia in the future, though, a nostalgic tear still seems merited. In 1998 the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards suffered cracked ribs from a falling set of Encyclopedia Britannica. Well, it’s all over now.
|Print article||This entry was posted by jhaynes on May 14, 2012 at 10:06 AM, and is filed under Web Content Development And Trends. Follow any responses to this post through RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.|
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