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This 1985 Ad Shows Why Encyclopedia Britannica Will Stop Printing Books After 244 Years

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Slade Sohmer

By Slade Sohmer on March 13, 2012

After 244 years and more than 7 million sets sold, Encyclopedia Britannica is discontinuing the printed edition of its revered reference books. All future editions will be served online.

So why the change in course? This 1985 ad for the product explains it all:

How far do your kids have to go when they need information in a hurry?
“I better get to the library before it closes!”
If he only had the new Encyclopedia Britannica at home, he wouldn’t have to go through all this.

Hey hey, my my, how far we’ve come in a few decades. WTF is a library? WTF is a book?!

The most interesting statistic uncovered by this decision is that the actual product you envision when someone says “Encyclopedia Britannica” only makes up 15 percent of Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc’s revenue. The rest is expected to come in via the company’s educational products and services.

The Guardian has more on the story and the competition from Wikipedia:

Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc, is owned by the Swiss banking magnate Jacqui Safra. The company’s websites, which include Merriam-Webster dictionaries, attracted more than 450 million users over the course of 2011, according to internal numbers.

If the company’s move over the last decade into the education market is an impressive example of corporate versatility, the competitive difficulties the encyclopedia faces are easy to grasp.

Wikipedia English has 3.9m articles. The comprehensive Britannica has about 120,000. Wikipedia is free. The DVD Britannica, which includes two dictionaries and a thesaurus, costs $30 on Amazon. Individuals will also be able to sign up for an annual $70 subscription (universities will be charged about $1 per student).

[Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. President Jorge] Cauz said the product is worth the price.

“We may not be as big as Wikipedia. but we have a scholarly voice, an editorial process, and fact-based, well-written articles,” Cauz said. “All of these things we believe are very, very important, and provide an alternative that we want to offer to as many people as possible. We believe that there are 1.2 to 1.5bn inquiries for which we have the best answer.”

And in a related story, it appears as if those lovable Encyclopedia Brown books aren’t going away.

Click Page 2 below for more Encyclopedia Britannica ads from back in the day …



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