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The Fall of Encyclopaedia Britannica

| March 14, 2012 | 0 Comments

I read the news about Encyclopaedia Britannica going out of print today, and my first thought was: Did they still publish it?

I mean, the last time I thought about the published set was probably a few weeks back when I was browsing through Wikipedia for academic reasons, and I appreciated the website for what it was and the organization for what it stood for. There was no way anyone could still be reading print editions of encyclopaedia, when news change every other minute, and it is far easier to find information through a Google search than by flipping pages.

The main reason behind this is quite simple: changing market conditions, and the fact that consumers of information have evolved in how they search for and digest information. When I was a student, I would rather go on Google Books and read through small snippets here and there, than go into the Library, find the book, check it out, take it home, find the relevant pages, then start retyping them out in a way I understand.

I guess in a way, this is quite similar to the newspaper industry, in that they are placing a higher emphasis on online publications, than they did previously. More people read news online than in newspapers as of 2010, based on a survey conducted by Pew Project for Excellence Journalism. However, that has not necessarily translated into additional revenue, as for every $1 gained in digital revenue, about $7 is lost in print revenue.

However, Britannica claim they are still profitable with their online content and DVDs (sorry… who still buys reference DVDs?), and if they do, then it is a significant achievement, especially given the fact that most companies that make a transition from print to online publications make losses. They charge students and universities for content, and even though they only have about 120,000 articles compared to Wikipedia’s 3million, theirs are supposedly of higher quality as they go through an editorial process. Browsing through their articles, I felt: This is what Wikipedia would look like if they had ads. But I understand the strategy, they need to make money one way, and they cannot automatically become a charity and start asking for donations.

It would be interesting to see how things play out eventually. Theories in corporate strategy attest to the fact that companies should always act in line with changing market conditions, or act as the drivers of change in their respective markets. So Britannica has been responsive to this change (eventually), and been able to profitably change strategies.

It is in their best interest to ensure they stay relevant tomorrow though.

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