Its legacy winds back through centuries and across continents, past the birth of America to the waning days of the Enlightenment. It is a record of humanity’s achievements in war and peace, art and science, exploration and discovery. It has been taken to represent the sum of all human knowledge.
And now it’s going out of print.
The Encyclopedia Britannica has announced that after 244 years, dozens of editions and more than 7m sets sold, no new editions will be put to paper. The 32 volumes of the 2010 installment, it turns out, were the last. Future editions will live exclusively online.
For some readers the news will provoke malaise at the wayward course of this misguided age. Others will wonder, in the era of Wikipedia, what took the dinosaur so long to die. Neither view quite captures the company or the crossroads.
“The company has changed from a reference provider to an instructional solutions provider,” Cauz said. He projects that only 15% of the company’s revenue this year will come from its namesake publication, mostly through subscriptions and app purchases. “The vast majority” of the remaining 85% of revenue is expected to come from educational products and services, said Cauz, who declined to provide dollar amounts but said the company was profitable.
“The transition has not been that difficult,” he said. “Everyone understands we needed to change. As opposed to newspapers, we felt the impact of digital many years ago – we had a lot of time for reflection. Everyone is very invigorated.
“We are the only company that I know of, so far, that made the transition from traditional media to the digital sphere, and managed to be profitable and to grow.”
“I understand that for some the end of the Britannica print set may be perceived as an unwelcome goodbye to a dear, reliable and trustworthy friend that brought them the joy of discovery in the quest for knowledge,” Cauz wrote in a company announcement. The product will improve, however, when it finally leaves the space constraints and black-and-white finality of print behind, he said.