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article imageEncyclopedia Britannica's days in print draw to a close

By Abigail Prendergast     Mar 14, 2012 in Business
Encyclopedia Britannica, the standard for reference for over 200 years, has decided to bring production of its printed 32-volume sets to an end. This decision is due to rapidly declining sales and competition with online services such as Wikipedia.
While 2012 may not bring a destructive end to life as we know it, the famous 32-volume set of reference material known as Encyclopaedia Britannica has had its days numbered - at least in physically printed form.
According to BBC News, after highly successful 244 year run of the popular (and heavy) set of printed books, Britannica decided to bring production to a halt in favor of reading materials' digital counterpart in order to better compete with online Encyclopedia services such as Wikipedia.
The company went from delivering the books door-to-door way back when to getting 85 percent of its revenue from online sales today. Encyclopedia Britannica got its start in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1768 and will officially call it a day with physical copies once one last set of stock runs out says Fox News via Associated Press.
Now based in Chicago, the firm has since printed and sold over 7 million sets of the reference material, and they served as a bulky lifesaver to students the intellectually curious for nearly two and a half centuries.
"We just decided that it was better for the brand to focus on what really the future is all about," said president Jorge Cauz to the Chicago Tribune. "Our database is very large now, much larger than can fit in the printed edition. Our print set version is an abridged version of what we have online."
In 1990, Britannica sold over 100,000 sets of its Encyclopedia collection and netted $650 million dollars making that year its most profitable. However, just a few years afterward, sales began a sharp decline as consumers started to prefer digital CD-ROM bundles such as Microsoft's Encarta over the $1,500 leather-bound books.
The last copies to be published were printed in 2010, and are based off of 1974's 15th edition; with 4,000 sets left to be sold, the clock has started ticking toward the end of an era. But not all is dismal in soon-to-be-obsolete world of printed Encyclopedia Britannica as Cauz pointed out.
"This is probably going to be a collector's item," he said. "This is going to be as rare as the first edition, because the last print run of our last copyright was one of the smallest print runs."
Librarian Lynne Kobayashi also pointed out the group of people who find printed material more reliable than that which is found online.
"Sometimes subject knowledge and familiarity with standard resources may get faster results than keying in a search and sifting through results," she said. "If the search is broader, searching across several online sources may yield more options."
Unlike Wikipedia, where anybody can write a piece, Encyclopedia Britannica's staff of highly knowledgeable writers ranges from Bill Clinton to Desmond Tutu.
"While Wikipedia has become ubiquitous, the Britannica remains a consistently more reliable source," Kobayashi pointed out.
What is ultimately the most important aspect of Encyclopedia Britannica is that it remains honest, accurate and up-to-date. As Cauz indicated, as long as "Britannica is relevant and vibrant because it brings scholarly knowledge to an editorial process to as many knowledge seekers as possible."
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