Running out of Ink
The Encyclopaedia Britannica ceases publishing its printed version after 244 years

The Encyclopaedia Britannica (Latin for British Encyclopedia) is finally going to stop being printed. After the current stock of the 32-volume strong collection of knowledge runs out, it will be impossible to buy a new copy of the reference work of so many generations. It had been in print since 1768.

244 years is a long time. When the first edition was published in Scotland, it consisted of ‘only’ three volumes and did not contain an entry about Napoleon Bonaparte because he had not even been born. The world was a very different place and the need and reach for an encyclopedia was still limited to the elite few.

Ironically, this led to the encyclopedia becoming somewhat of an object of desire as a status symbol rather than as an actual reference for most families. This popularized Britannica’s offering greatly, but by being popular it did not necessarily mean it was being used more often. Even though it was practical to hold a wealth of information in your living room (where it can be seen clearly and thus admired by visitors), looking up information took painstakingly long and moving to related subjects usually meant getting up to grab another volume and start searching all over again.

Nowadays the control of information has been taken from the few and given to the many. The Britannica will still be offered as a paid-for service online (it is actually free for a week following the announcement of the demise of the printed version), however the appeal of a paid service is relatively limited when there is so much quality information available on the Internet. The bonus of using a source such as the Britannica is that the information is still collected and checked by professionals, but as long as you can look well enough you can find respected sources all over the world wide web.

But don’t despair! The information contained in the print volumes will still be accessible. In addition to being available online, Britannica offers the full encyclopedia on DVD at a relatively modest price. They also produce a wealth of educational apps for children, research tools and brain training games.

Did you know?
Even though the Britannica was originally a European publication it is now owned by a company in the US (+Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.) but still keeps its British English spelling.

Do you think we still need well-respected sources compiling information or should we learn how to find the information we need online?
Is there still a reason to pay for quality information in the Internet age?

Author: +Richard Muscat Azzopardi

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