Friday, March 16, 2012

Print Encyclopedia Goes All Digital

Encyclopedia Britannica announced this week that the 2010 edition of their print encyclopedia was their last. Whatever supply they have on hand is still available for sale, but no new edition will be printed. This is the end of an amazing run. The Encyclopedia Britannica was first published way back in 1768 and was key reference material for students of my generation and many before and after.

But things change.

Sounds like another casualty of the digital age, like failing newspapers, right? Is this the story of another company who couldn’t change with the times and watched their old distribution model slip away until no option existed? Nope. Encyclopedia Britannica has a much different story to tell.

Print edition represented only 1% of their revenue. Britannica had been evolving with the times over the last two decades.

This is not a desperation move. It’s good business. Britannica is and has been available as a paid subscription service on the web, it’s available as a smartphone app with a small monthly charge, and the content goes into a variety of revenue-generating educational material. The company has deftly navigated the rough waters that so many old media companies could not.

And the content is available for free online for the next week. Just to show you what you might want to pay to access at some point.

Things change. The smart people at Britannica showed us that they understand that. Hats off to them.

Fun experiment
As a comment on this blog or on my FaceBook or Google+ pages, tell me (1) when you last used hardcopy encyclopedia, and (2) when you or anyone you know last purchased a hardcopy book encyclopedia set.


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    1 comment:

    1. Great piece...been talking a lot about ice block salesmen in the age of refrigerators (or, say, Kodak). My parents actually had a set of encyclopedias when I was a kid and I wrote dozens of papers with them as a source and in eighth grade I read the whole thing from A-Z.

      Haven't touched a print one since college though - in the early 1980s.