Encyclopedia Britannica will switch to an all-digital format, bringing its 244-year printing history to a close, as reported on USENET newsgroups.
It’s time to concentrate on expanding coverage for digital consumers rather than continuing to print the heavy, relatively expensive volumes, said the Chicago-based company that makes the reference books.
Founded in Edinburgh in 1768, the Encyclopaedia Britannica has since published some 3.7 trillion words en route to becoming the gold standard of reference works anywhere English is spoken. Sales peaked at 120,000 sets in 1990, but the onset of the internet – and a little thing called Wikipedia – led to a protracted decline in sales, which bottomed out at 8,000 copies of the 2010 edition, the last to be printed. Part of the problem was the cost – at $1,400 a series, cheaper alternatives stole some of the encyclopedia’s market. As such, for $70, anyone can purchase access to the encyclopedia’s full online edition.
The final print edition is the 2010 volume. The 32-volume set weighs 129 pounds and goes for $1,395.
Encyclopedia Britannica has been dealing with a decline in revenue from its published volumes and now relies mostly on its educational line of products. It also earns on its website subscribers, which pay each $70 per year for total access to its database and mobile apps.
With so much content available for free online, mainly from its encyclopedic rival Wikipedia, Encyclopedia Britannica has to persuade its customers that its information is error-free and more trustworthy.