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Encyclopaedia Britannica Ditches Paper For Digital

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The oldest English-language encyclopaedia in production will now depend on Internet and Apps

After 244 years in print, the historic Encyclopaedia Britannica will cease publication of the 32-volume edition to become completely digital, it was announced today.

Encyclopaedia Britannica is written and continuously updated by about 100 full-time editors and more than 4,000 expert contributors, which include many scholars, Nobel prize laureates and world leaders, such as Bill Clinton, Desmond Tutu, Ian Rankin, Francisco Jose Ayala, Jody Williams, Chris Evert and Tony Hawk.

General knowledge

It is famous for being one of the most scholarly of encyclopaedias in the world, with about 40 million words written on half a million topics, and a goal to systematise all human knowledge. Encyclopaedia Britannica was first published in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1768.

The most recent, 32-volume printed edition is sold for $1400 (£890). The digital versions of the encyclopaedia serve more than 100 million people worldwide and an online subscription costs around $70 (£45) per year. A host of new apps that deliver the whole of its content to the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch were recently launched, with prices ranging between $1.99 (£1.27) and $4.99 (£3.20) per month.

Encyclopaedia Britannica has always been on the cutting edge of the technological progress. It first flirted with digital publishing in the 1970s, developed a computer version for LexisNexis subscribers in 1981 and first posted to the Internet in 1994.

“The end of the print set is something we’ve foreseen for some time,” said Jorge Cauz, president of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “It’s the latest step in our evolution from the print publisher we were, to the creator of digital learning products we are today.”

Britannica has used its acquired expertise in online education to move beyond reference and into the $10 billion school curriculum and digital-learning markets.

As to whether print editions of books will remain on the shelves in the future, Cauz predicted that “print may not completely vanish from the market, but I think it is going to be increasingly less important. Many publications will never have a print analog and will only be printed on digital formats.”

To mark the retirement of the print edition, the entire contents of the Encyclopaedia Britannica website will be available free for one week beginning today.

There are still several thousand complete print editions available on the website, but these are expected to sell out within days, if not hours. At the time of this article going to print, the UK website was slow and unresponsive, possibly overwhelmed by large demand.

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