The End of an Encyclopedia’s Era

After more than 200 years of publishing, Encyclopedia Britannica will eliminate print

19 March 2012

As comments continue to come in to our Question of the Month, about whether printed textbooks were on their way out in favor of e-books, more news has come out to support that possibility. Encyclopedia Britannica announced it will cease production of its multivolume book sets. The 2010 32-volume print was its last.

For the past 244 years, the company has released its encyclopedias every two years, but it will now focus only on its digital version and other online educational resources. The company has published an online encyclopedia since 1994.

Being a rather digital reader myself (I have some subscriptions to digital magazines), I embrace the move. Still, I can’t help but feel a little sad that the iconic print encyclopedias will no longer adorn the bookshelves of so many households. As a kid, I was fascinated with animals—especially dinosaurs. I can remember checking out those sections of the encyclopedias on a regular basis. But kids will still be able to do the same now—just on a screen. And rather than only reading about a Diplodocus, they’ll also get to watch an animated video of one, thanks to the many features of digital content.

In an article on, Britannica president Jorge Cauz said the move to discontinue the print books was just part of the company’s evolution. “Everyone will want to call this the end of an era, and I understand that,” Cauz says. “But there's no sad moment for us. I think outsiders are more nostalgic about the books than I am.”

He added that it no longer made sense to publish reference books every two years, because “the younger generation consumes data differently now, and we want to be there.” Trade books senior analyst, Michael Norris, agreed and added that reference books have taken the worst financial hit with the increasing popularity of digital content, like e-books. The fact that many of us turn to Google or Wikipedia to find reference information has undoubtedly played a big role as well.

But Cauz said he felt consumers would be willing to pay for a digital subscription to Britannica—US $70 per year, or an app for $1.99 a month—because they want the comfort of accurate information, as opposed to the uncertainty of content found via an Internet search.

Would you be willing to pay for a subscription instead of using free online resources? How do you feel about Britannica’s discontinuation of its print encyclopedias?

Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

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