Encyclopaedia Britannica have announced what we all thought had already happened and that it will cease production of its printed 32-volume Encyclopaedia. Encyclopaedia Britannica remains the oldest English-language encyclopaedia being first published in Edinburgh 244 years ago, between 1768 and 1771. The original three volume set grew in size and reputation and became the first encyclopaedia to adopt "continuous revision", where every article updated on a schedule.
The migration from print to digital was an obvious early route for heavy reference works such as encyclopaedias. After all users wanted up to the minute information not material that was often out of date the minute it went to press. The writing was on the wall after the successes of Compton's Multimedia Encyclopaedia in 1989 and The New Grolier Multimedia Encyclopaedia in 1992 both being quickly followed by Microsoft’s Encarta in 1993. Microsoft cut corners by purchasing non-exclusive rights to the Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopaedia and incorporating the material into its first edition. Encarta changed encyclopaedias and by 2008, the, Encarta Premium, consisted of more than 62,000 articles, numerous photos and illustrations, music clips, videos, interactive contents, timelines, maps and atlas, and homework tools, and was available by yearly subscription or by purchase on DVD or multiple CDs. In March 2009, Microsoft announced it was discontinuing the Encarta disc and online versions. The MSN Encarta site closed on December 31, 2009.Microsoft continued to operate the Encarta online dictionary at dictionary.msn.com until 2011.
Wikipedia changed the market again when it was launched in January 2001 by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger by creating a free, collaborative, multilingual Internet encyclopedia supported by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation. It now has 21 million articles, written collaboratively by 100,000 regularly active contributors the world and edited by anyone with access. It is now the largest and most popular general reference work on the Internet and has an estimated 365 million readers worldwide with some2.7 billion monthly pageviews from the United States alone.
Then there was Google the definitive and de facto search engine.
Britannica today only derives some 1% of it revenues from the printed encyclopaedia rendition and its online version, which was first published in 1994, represents only 15% of Britannica's revenue. Britannica now generates some 84% of sales from education materials and is planning to relaunch it encyclopaedia site to add more social connections and interactivity.
So in a period of less than two decades the face of reference publishing has changed dramatically not just with respect to the finished, or living form, but how it is managed, edited, developed, marketed and the price paid for it.
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