The oldest continuously published Encyclopedia Britannica (EB) will be offered online only from now on. The 32 volume 2010 edition with a price tag of $1,395 (€1070) and a weight of 129 pounds (58 kg) was the last version to be printed.
Jorge Cauz, president of Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc. commented that "it's a rite of passage in this new era. 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."
By focusing more on its online segment, EB hopes to gain market share from Wikipedia. In the past, these efforts were little successful. In 1993, Microsoft and EB cooperated on "Encarta", a PC based encyclopedia which was then abandoned in 2009. Yet, Cauz believes EB has some superior qualities that cannot be provided by Wikipedia.
Fighting Wikipedia online via accuracy
"We have very different value propositions. Britannica is going to be smaller. We cannot deal with every single cartoon character, we cannot deal with every love life of every celebrity. But we need to have an alternative where facts really matter. Britannica won't be able to be as large, but it will always be factually correct."
In 2005, Nature magazine published a study casting doubt on that proposition as well. A research showed that out of competing 42 entries, Wikipedia made 4 errors per article on average. With EB this rate was still at 3 errors per article. When confronted with this evidence, EB published a statement calling the research deeply flawed and "completely without merit".
A new entry on global warming in 2010
In any case, the print segment has been steadily declining in importance for EB. By now, print revenues take only a share of less than 1% of total revenues. The rest is divided into income from $70/year online subscriptions (15%) and curriculum products for English language, math and science subjects (85%).
Back in 1990, EB experienced more glorious times. Then, it was able to sell 120,000 editions only in the U.S. The 2010 version, however, was only sold 8,000 times out of a total print run of 12,000. It included new entries on global warming and the Human Genome Project.