As a brief follow-up to my previous post, looks like Encylopaedia Britannica is discontinuing their print version… after 244 years! The main reason, of course, is Wikipedia and the reality of free and portable vs. $1400 (ouch!) and 130lb (ugh!).
A few quick reactions to highlights from the NYTimes article:
“Encyclopaedia Britannica will focus primarily on its online encyclopedias and educational curriculum for schools”
I’m sure most online chatter will focus on the Wikipedia vs. “reliable information” debate but this is an important note. Apparently, as it stands already, LESS THAN 1% of their revenue comes from selling printed versions of the encyclopedia. Most of the revenue (around 85%) is through selling “curriculum products.” Seems like an important note as this implies the battle for the general population’s eyeballs ended many years ago as more folks jumped online. Convenience vs. Quality. And in this case, the quality is close enough that the drastically difference convenience-level creates a clear winner.
“In the 1950s, having the Encyclopaedia Britannica on the bookshelf was akin to a station wagon in the garage or a black-and-white Zenith in the den, a possession coveted for its usefulness and as a goalpost for an aspirational middle class. Buying a set was often a financial stretch, and many families had to pay for it in monthly installments.”
Classic imagery. What are today’s middle class aspirations? Still access to information/knowledge but through different mediums?
The other debate, which I will leave for another day, is around the quality of information presented in Encyclopaedia Britannica to begin with. Gary Marchionini, the dean of the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill says “The thing that you get from an encyclopedia is one of the best scholars in the world writing a description of that phenomenon or that object, but you’re still getting just one point of view. Anything worth discussing in life is worth getting more than one point of view.” Wikipedia does just that. Plenty of opinions and plenty of perspectives.
Photo Credit: Ángel Franco/The New York Times