"We'd like to think our tradition is not to print, but to bring scholarly knowledge to the people," said Jorge Cauz, president of Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Britannica has printed the encyclopedia, which now runs to 32 volumes in length, since 1768. The 2010 edition was the last edition the company published. It has decided not to print what would be the 2012 edition, which would have been out by the end of the year. The company has about 4,000 sets of the 2010 edition still available for sale. Overall about 2 million sets have been printed through the entire run of the encyclopedia.
Britannica's move to stop printing encyclopedias is a telling moment in this point in history, when print is being superseded by websites and network-connected applications.
Over the past few years, the print edition accounted for less than 1 percent of Britannica's revenue. "The market is not there," Cauz said. The amount of material the company has amassed online has dwarfed the print edition. The effort it takes to pack the most relevant of that information into book form is considerable for the company. Even pricing-wise, the online edition makes better sense -- at least for consumers: The basic subscription to the online version runs US$17 a year, or $1.99 a month, while the print set costs $1,400.
Even though the print edition hasn't been a significant form of revenue for the company for some time, Cauz admitted that the volumes are iconic for the company. The volumes, lined up authoritatively across a bookshelf, imparted a sense of gravitas about the material they contained and the mission of the company that published them. As a student, "the encyclopedia for me was the shortest time between doing homework and starting to play," Cauz said.