Encyclopedia Britannica goes digital after 244 years

The Encyclopedia Britannica (Encyclopaedia Britannica in Latin), globally acknowledged as one of the most scholarly of encyclopedias, has finally moved into the digital age after 244 years, the best possible news that can greet researchers and knowledge seekers all around the planet.

According to international news agency “Reuters,” the development that the Encyclopedia Britannica will no longer publish its printed editions and instead focus on its online version from now onwards, was yet another sign of the growing dominance of the digital publishing market.

Some 32 hard-bound volumes of this oldest English-language encyclopedia are written and continuously updated by about 100 full-time editors and not fewer than 4,411 expert contributors.

The very recent New York Times (March 13, 2012 edition) said,” It was first published between 1768 and 1771 in Edinburgh Scotland as three volumes. The encyclopedia grew in size, and by its fourth edition (1801–1809) it had expanded to a well known 20-volume set. Its rising stature helped recruit eminent contributors, and the 9th edition (1875–1889) and the 11th edition (1911) are landmark encyclopedias for scholarship and literary style.”

The New York Times article "After 244 Years, Encyclopedia Britannica Stops the Presses," further stated: “Beginning with the 11th edition, the Britannica shortened and simplified articles to broaden its appeal in the North American market. In 1933, the Britannica became the first encyclopedia to adopt "continuous revision", in which the encyclopedia is continually reprinted and every article updated on a schedule.

'Reuters' had more to say on this magnificent development: “The Encyclopedia Britannica, which has been in continuous print since it was first published in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1768, said Tuesday it will end publication of its printed editions and continue with digital versions available online.

The flagship, 32-volume printed edition, available every two years, was sold for $1400.

An online subscription costs around $70 per year and the company recently launched a set of apps ranging between $1.99 and $4.99 per month.

The company said it will keep selling print editions until the current stock of around 4000 sets ran out.

It is the latest move Encyclopedia Britannica has made to expand its Internet reference services and move farther into educational products. It first flirted with digital publishing in the 1970s, published a version for computers in 1981 for LexisNexis subscribers and first posted to the Internet in 1994.”

Jorge Cauz, president of Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., had told Reuters: “The print edition became more difficult to maintain and wasn't the best physical element to deliver the quality of our database and the quality of our editorial."

He was further quoted as saying: “"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.”

According to BBC’s March 27, 2007 edition and the 14th edition (dated 1954) of the Encyclopedia Britannica itself: “ The ownership has changed many times, past owners including the Scottish publisher A & C Black, Horace Everett Hooper, Sears Roebuck and William Benton. The present owner of Encyclopedia Britannica Inc. is Jacqui Safra, a Swiss billionaire and actor. Recent advances in information technology and the rise of electronic encyclopedias such as Encarta and Wikipedia have reduced the demand for print encyclopedias. To remain competitive, Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. has stressed the reputation of the Britannica, reduced its price and production costs, and developed electronic versions on CD-ROM, DVD, and the World Wide Web. Since the early 1930s, the company has promoted spin-off reference works.”

Various Encyclopedia Britannica editions during the last half a century have stated that the Britannica was dedicated to the reigning British monarch from 1788 to 1901 and then, upon its sale to an American partnership, to the British monarch and the President of the United States. The 11th edition was dedicated to British King George the Fifth and to an ex-US President, William Howard Taft.

The 1954 version (14th edition) was dedicated to another former US President Dwight David Eisenhower and the still incumbent British Monarch, Queen Elizabeth the Second.

While the current 15th edition (2007 version) was dedicated to yet another former US President of the United States of America, George W. Bush and Queen Elizabeth II, the 2010 version of the current 15th edition (2010 version) was dedicated to the sitting American President, Barack Obama and Queen Elizabeth II.

It is pertinent to note that the peak year for the printed encyclopedia was 1990 when over 120,000 sets were sold, but this number had dropped to 40,000 in 1996.

The size of the Britannica has remained roughly constant over 70 years, with about 40 million words on half a million subjects.

Although this publication has been based in the United States since 1901, the Britannica has maintained British spelling.