End of an Era: Encyclopaedia Britannica to Discontinue Print Edition, Go Completely Digital

March 14, 2012 Updated Mar 14, 2012 at 1:06 PM EDT

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Credit: britannica.com

End of an Era: Encyclopaedia Britannica to Discontinue Print Edition, Go Completely Digital

March 14, 2012 Updated Mar 14, 2012 at 1:06 PM EDT

Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., announced Wednesday that it will cease publication of the 32-volume printed edition of its flagship encyclopedia, continuing with the digital versions that have become popular with knowledge seekers in recent decades.

According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica news release:

The Encyclopaedia Britannica, which has been primarily an online product for almost 20 years, will cease to be available in book form for the first time in 244 years when the current stock runs out. It was originally published in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1768 and has been in print continuously ever since.

The move is the latest in a series the company has made over many years in the direction of digital publishing and a wider range of educational products.

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

The company began exploring digital publishing in the 1970s and created the first digital version of the Britannica—likely the first digital encyclopedia ever—for LexisNexis users in 1981. It published the first multimedia encyclopedia on CD-ROM in 1989 and the first encyclopedia on the Internet in 1994.

As Britannica expanded and diversified its Internet reference services in the years since, it also used its acquired expertise in online education to move beyond reference and into the $10 billion school curriculum and digital-learning markets, developing instructional programs and e-books in math, science and the humanities now used in classrooms around the world.

In announcing plans to discontinue the iconic 32-volume set, Cauz emphasized that numerous digital versions of the encyclopedia—as well as other Britannica databases for all ages—are widely available, continuously updated and significantly larger than the content in the printed encyclopedia. The online versions serve more than 100 million people worldwide, and a new app that delivers the whole encyclopedia to the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch was recently launched.

The company is also moving vigorously in developing community features for its online users. At Britannica Online School Edition PreK-12, teachers share lesson plans. Britannica Online allows readers to make revisions directly to the encyclopedia, which are then published after editorial review and revision if necessary. Britannica language and dictionary subsidiary Merriam-Webster.com boasts community features in which visitors share thoughts on words and usage.

“We’re digital, we’re mobile, and we’re social,” said Cauz. “We’re a very different company from 20 or 30 years ago.”

What hasn’t changed, said Cauz, is the way Britannica products are created and maintained. The company has a worldwide network of thousands of expert contributors and a staff of more than 100 editors who edit, review and fact-check Britannica content to make sure it’s accurate, reliable and up-to-date. Contributors include many scholars, Nobel laureates and world leaders, such as Bill Clinton, Desmond Tutu, Ian Rankin, Francisco Jose̒ Ayala, Jody Williams, Chris Evert and Tony Hawk. The company works with and consults educators and instructional designers extensively in creating its classroom products.

To mark the retirement of the print set, the entire contents of the Britannica.com website will be available free for one week beginning today. More information is available at the Britannica blog: http://www.britannica.com/blogs/2012/03/change/.