Encyclopedia Britannica stops print editions

New York:Encyclopedia Britannica, a reference book in homes and libraries worldwide, will stop publishing the print edition for the first time in 244 years and shift focus to digital versions. The book-form of the encyclopedia first hit the print in Scotland in 1768 and will stop being available after the current stocks run out, the Chicago based company announced.

The last edition of the 32-volume encyclopedia will be the 2010 one and the company said it will keep selling print editions until the current stock of around 4000 sets runs out. "The announcement that we will no longer print the 32-volume encyclopedia is of great significance, not for what it says about our past, but for what it projects about our vibrant present and future as a digital provider of general knowledge and instructional services," the company`s president Jorge Cauz said in a blog post titled `Looking Ahead`.

But whatever be the fate of printed Encyclopedia Britannica, it has already made history with thousands of contributors including Nobel laureates and world leaders like President Bill Clinton. The end of the printed version was foreseen and the printers said they were seeking to keep its relevance in a digital market place that is increasingly dominated by e-books and tablets. For Encyclopedia Britannica, the sales worldwide climaxed in 1990 when over 120,000 sets were sold, but sales fell to just 40,000 six years later. The final hardcover version on the shelf is priced at USD 1395.

Admitting that the sales had plunged, Cauz said, "We knew this was coming, so we shifted to exploring digital publishing by the 90`s." Though competition from online search engines like Google and Wikipedia was seen as a big factor for the company to shed its over 200 years tradition, the company`s President Jorge Cauz said, "this has nothing to do with Wikipedia or Google. We want Britannica to sell our digital products."

He said for some the end of the Britannica print set may be perceived as an "unwelcomed goodbye" to a reliable source but it will live on in bigger, more numerous and vibrant digital forms. By concentrating the company`s efforts on e-learning solutions and digital properties, "we can continuously update our content and further expand the number of topics and the depth with which they are treated without the space constraints of the print set." In explaining its decision, the company said its digital database is much larger than what it can fit in the print set and the information can be updated and revised several times in a day, something which was not possible with the print editions.

"In spite of our long history with print, I would like to point out that no single medium, neither books nor bits, is at the core of our mission. That mission is to be a reliable, up-to-date, and scholarly source of knowledge and learning for the general public," Cauz added. Encyclopaedia Britannica will focus primarily on its online encyclopedias and educational curriculum for schools. Through its digital format, it will be able to provide expanded coverage as the "space constraints of print no longer limit the amount of coverage we can offer electronically. " The new format will also help the company revise and update data on a continuous basis as well as provide links to external sites on the internet.