Wikipedia and the Digital Age Brings an End to the Printed Encyclopaedia

By March 14, 2012 Uncategorized No Comments

I was drawn to this piece on Media Decoder that the Internet has killed 244 year old Encyclopaedia Britannica, with anticipation that the company will announce shortly that it is discontinuing its printed version. The image of large reference tomes filling mahogany bookshelves will now be relegated to the realm of nostalgia as it highlights the growth and reality of the digital age.


I see this announcement as no surprise. With the online dominance of Wikipedia, access to reputable sources and information which is updated by Wikipedia’s tens of thousands of contributors makes it a dynamic reference point matching the demands of the digital consumer. The 2010 edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica will be its last set with over 4,000 contributors ranging from Tony Hawk’s contribution to the entry on pro skateboarding and Arnold Palmer, the professional golfer who wrote the entry on the Masters Tournament. The 32 volume set has sold only an estimated 8,000 with 4,000 being stored in a warehouse for further purchase.

I want to draw attention to the quote:

“It’s a rite of passage in this new era,” Jorge Cauz, the president of Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc., a Chicago-based company, said in an interview. “Some people will feel sad about it and nostalgic about it. But we have a better tool now. The Web site is continuously updated, it’s much more expansive and it has multimedia.”

Not to sound cruel (as I grew up with Encyclopaedia Britannica and am quite fond of the memories of the smell of the pages the sheer weight of its volumes) I believe the new era had already arrived with the creation of Wikipedia. Why didn’t Britannica adapt to this new competitor? Yes they adopt a different marketing strategy where schools and educational institutions are the main consumer of their products. Where was the push for the Encyclopaedia Britannica website to become a viable source of information in the wake of Wikipedia? I would have liked to see them transfer their authority into the online realm. I feel their brand presence has diminished as they did not capitalise on the impending threat. They needed to bring the Encyclopaedia into the minds of the digital consumer, the contemporary consumer. Now instead their authority as an online source of information is in the shadow of the juggernaut which is Wikipedia, which heralds free dissemination of information.

I’m sorry, I guess I will miss the days of opening up my 5kg volume to learn about the prehistoric Neanderthal when researching my primary school project.

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