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Encyclopedia Britannica ceases to exist -- in print

March 14, 2012|By Rene Lynch
  • Encyclopedia Britannica, which has been around 244 years, is the oldest English-language encyclopedia in existence.
Encyclopedia Britannica, which has been around 244 years, is the oldest… (Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles…)

Encyclopedia Britannica is closing the book on its print edition. The move may be the single most powerful symbol to date of our rapidly changing media world, a world in which hard copies of books could become a quaint thing of the past.

Today, we clutch iPads and Kindles and Nooks, bragging about how they lighten our load and encourage us to read more. When we want to "look something up," we're far more likely to reach for our laptops than walk across the room to thumb through a reference book.

And that unquenchable desire for convenience makes for a world in which a set of the Encyclopedia Britannica -- the oldest English-language encyclopedia in existence -- no longer has a home.

"Change: It's Okay. Really." That's the headline Encyclopedia Britannica's blog, Facts Matter, uses in discussing the encyclopedia's transition to a digital-only product.

Yes, it's sad that we're bidding farewell to 244 years of history, the blog says. That's how long the thick reference volumes have lined shelves around the globe, providing a "source of enlightenment" to all that rifled through them. But fear not, the blog says reassuringly: "...in a larger sense this is just another historical data point in the evolution of human knowledge."

The encyclopedia will live on, "in bigger, more numerous, and more vibrant digital forms," the company promises.

And for starters, it will be cheaper.

The flagship 32-volume printed edition costs $1,400, according to Reuters, and will be available only until current inventory is sold out. An online subscription will set you back about $70 a year. One superior digital advantage: The online edition is updated constantly with new data, in keeping with the rapidly changing world around us.

Reaction at the encyclopedia website ran the gamut.

"Printed books have been around for more than 600 years; e-books have been around for only a tiny fraction of that time. Isn't it too soon to put all your eggs in the digital basket?" asked one commenter at the blog.

"Thank god," said another, "tired of searching for 3+ minutes for my answer in an encyclopedia when I can google it in 3 seconds. Best change ever."

And then there was this comment:

"We have the set of Britannica that my mother-in-law bought for my husband and his sister. I told the kids that they are a love letter from Grandma to Daddy. It says 'I want you to grow-up, learn everything you can, succeed, and be happy.' You just need to sell the idea that the subscription is the same kind of love letter. I hope you'll make it available on Nook Color!"

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