Britannica Goes Digital

The world’s best-known encyclopedia will stop publishing books

Mar 14, 2012 | By Katy Steinmetz for TIME with additional reporting by Stephanie Kraus
AP

The earth’s best-known encyclopedia announced today that it would no longer publish print editions. Like so many newspapers and publishing houses, Encyclopedia Britannica is going completely digital—after 244 years of providing some of the finest page-flipping man has ever seen.

Jorge Cauz is the President of Encyclopedia Britannica. He says the company is now focused on digital learning. “We’re digital, we’re mobile, and we’re social,” said Cauz in a press release. “We’re a very different company from 20 or 30 years ago.”

Britannica’s History

In the mid-1900s, salesmen would go door-to-door to sell the encyclopedias.
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In the mid-1900s, salesmen would go door-to-door to sell the encyclopedias.

Britannica encyclopedias were first published in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1768. Americans started buying them at the turn of the 20th century. In the mid-1900s, salesmen would go door-to-door to sell the books. The company’s first digital reference was created in 1981. CD-ROMs came out in 1989 and Britannica went to the Web in 1994. The final hardcover encyclopedia set is for sale on Britannica's website for $1,395.

But Britannica didn’t take the electronic world very seriously during the last 20 years. Because people turned to the Internet with questions, the company’s sales went down. Britannica’s decision to stop the presses will save the company money in the long run.

Trustworthy Source

What hasn’t changed is the way Britannica creates its material. The company has thousands of expert writers and more than 100 editors. They fact-check the information to make sure it is accurate, reliable and up-to-date. Contributors include many scholars, Nobel laureates and world leaders, such as Bill Clinton and Desmond Tutu.

Britannica’s website also provides educational tools. At Britannica Online School Edition PreK-12, teachers share lesson plans. Britannica Online allows readers to make revisions directly to the encyclopedia. Experts review the changes before they are posted to make sure they are accurate.

Online versions of the encyclopedia serve more than 100 million people around the world. A new app delivers the whole encyclopedia to mobile devices, such as the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch.

The company plans to mark the end of the print version by making the contents of its website available free for one week starting today, March 14.