Encyclopaedia Britannica Going Out Of Print

Posted on 3/21/2012 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

After 244 years, the Encyclopaedia Britannica (EB) is going out of print. Sales peaked for Britannica in 1990 with 120,000 copies sold. In 2010 – the last edition – only 8,000 copies of the 32-volume set were printed and 4,000 of those still sit in a warehouse unsold.
At $1,395 per set the print encyclopedia has become a luxury item frequently bought by embassies, libraries and research institutions in addition to a few well-educated, upscale consumers. Fortunately for Britannica, less than 1% of its gross revenue comes from the print version of its encyclopedia.
About 85 percent of the company’s revenue comes from selling curriculum products in subjects like math, science and the English language. Fifteen percent comes from Web subscription products. About half a million households pay a $70 annual fee for the online subscription, which includes access to the full database of articles, videos, original documents and to the company’s mobile applications. Among EB’s online products is Britannica Image Quest, a database of over 2 million images that school systems subscribe to and make available for individual student use.

Traditionally the print encyclopedia offered articles written by the world’s best scholars in the subject of each article. Making sure that all the articles were factually correct has always been of prime importance to EB. But, as Gary Marchionini, the dean of the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill points out, ”you’re still getting just one point of view. Anything worth discussing in life is worth getting more than one point of view.”

Since it was started 11 years ago, Wikipedia has moved a long way toward replacing the authority of experts with the wisdom of the crowds. That site is written and edited by tens of thousands of unpaid contributors around the world. It has been gradually accepted, even by many scholars and academics, as a largely accurate and comprehensive source.

One widely publicized study, published in 2005 by the respected scientific publication Nature, called into question Britannica’s presumed accuracy advantage over Wikipedia. The study said that out of 42 competing entries, Wikipedia made an average of four errors in each article, and Britannica three. Britannica responded with a lengthy rebuttal saying the study was error-laden and “completely without merit.”

Nevertheless, goodbye EB and welcome Wikipedia. Wikipedia regularly meets the 21st-century mandate of providing instantly updated material. It has nearly four million articles in English, including some on pop culture topics that would be considered unworthy of a mention in the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

In the 1980s and early 1990s encyclopedias that wanted to keep the images in their books current were a major source of revenue for many photographers. In future, those who write articles for Wikipedia will likely use their own images or look for free images since nothing has been budgeted to pay them for their contribution. Goodbye another market for photographers.

Copyright © 2012 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of www.selling-stock.com, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to: http://www.jimpickerell.com/Curriculum-Vitae.aspx.  


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