End of the Encyclopedia Britannica era

Encyclopaedia Britannica to end print edition
By Robert Channick
Chicago Tribune
CHICAGO – After 244 years, Encyclopaedia Britannica is shelving its venerable printed edition in favor of its Web-based version, completing a digital transition and marking the end of one of longest chapters in publishing history.
“We just decided that it was better for the brand to focus on what really the future is all about,” Jorge Cauz, 50, president of the Chicago-based company since 2004, said Tuesday. “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 the dark days before the Internet, before television, before radio, before the United States was even a country, there was the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Neatly bound and brimming with facts, figures and illustrations, it was the go-to authority on just about everything – a repository of all human knowledge distilled into alphabetized volumes and tucked on a shelf.
Founded in 1768 in Scotland and headquartered in Chicago since 1935, Encyclopaedia Britannica was marketed door-to-door for generations, a robust business that employed thousands and sold more than 100,000 sets as recently as 1990, its best year ever, when it generated $650 million in revenue.
Within a few years, print sales began to tumble, as consumers opted for home computers bundled with CD-ROM encyclopedias instead of the $1,500 leather-bound sets. More recently, the rise of high-speed Internet and Wikipedia shifted reference libraries online, with only a few thousand copies of the printed version trickling out each year to libraries, schools and a handful of neo-Luddite homeowners, according to Cauz.
The last run in 2010 produced about 12,000 sets of a new 32-volume copyright based on the 15th edition, a version which first rolled off the presses in 1974. There are about 4,000 sets left, selling for $1,395 each on the Britannica website. After they are gone, the iconic publication will be relegated to history.
“This is probably going to be a collector’s item,” Cauz 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.”

(c)2012 the Chicago Tribune