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Encyclopaedia Britannica to end print edition


A small part of my childhood just died. Encyclopaedia Britannica is to cease publishing its print edition after more than 200 years, reports the Daily Telegraph. I used to spend hours browsing through our set. I learnt so much.

The publisher is ditching its weighty tomes to concentrate on an internet version, after recognising that knowledge was changing so quickly that the they were becoming obsolete as soon as they were issued.

Its handsomely-presented volumes have been in print since they were first published in Edinburgh in 1768. They will stop being available when the current stock of 2010 editions runs out, the Chicago-based company said. Executives said the end of the printed, 32-volume set had been foreseen for some time.

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Richard Davies

3 Responses to “Encyclopaedia Britannica to end print edition”

  1. I read about this yesterday and it cracked my heart a little. I still remember reading about the Titanic on my cousin’s Encyclopedia before we watched the movie… It’s where I learned that Titanic is the most unsinkable ship…

  2. Alexander Moralez March 14, 2012 at 4:04 pm

    I wrote up a letter and submitted it to anybody who will listen. With a little luck you folks will fall under that umbrella.

    To Whom it May Concern,

    On Tuesday March 13th it was announced that the Encyclopaedia Britannica (hereafter referred to as The EB) would discontinue its printed line in favor of developing its digital editions. While this move is being trumpeted as a natural evolution of an aging company and to the benefit of all parties involved, I urge you to realise what is being lost and to consider the possible remedies put forth here. Please withhold judgement until the end and do try not to dismiss me as a mad bibliophile or some sort of crotchety technophobe, I assure you I am neither.

    The move to digital is not without benefits. The EB has had the foresight to push this envelope since their digitalizing of the work in the middle seventies. This has made revisions less costly and more accurate. The modern digital version is truly a wonder and the importance of being able to search for specific terms in an instant can not be overstated. The amount of physical space saved coupled with the rapidly improving quality of the work has been a boon to this generation, as have all the wonders that this Internet age has brought with it. When Jorge Cauz says Britannica.com is substantially larger than they could ever reasonably print and more up to date, I believe him. This is the right move for them and I do not begrudge him for it.

    But consider for a moment, the American Civil war. The EB was published during the Civil War and the article was written by the men who lived through it, yet the current article is VASTLY more comprehensive and thorough and researched. The original article has been updated and revised so many times the only thing the original author wrote that still remains is the occasional pro-noun. you can’t, to my face, say that the new article is more important. What makes the EB unique is that its the summation of western knowledge at that EXACT moment, with all its inaccuracies and prejudices and blemishes.

    The 11th edition is a particularly notorious volume. It is a racist, bigoted, violent, short-sighted thing, full of contradictions and half-truths, yet it cannot be dismissed because it was true in the context of the time. At that very moment, written by Englishmen when England still ruled the world, it was the summation of all the knowledge of the western world. It was in no way a controversial book. As deplorable and miserable some of the things contained therein were, without that volume we would loose a key piece of the puzzle. The 11th EB stands not only as a snapshot, but a rationalization of all our beliefs in that era. It shows what we knew and how we came to the conclusions we did. It provides a much needed context to the ignorance of the time. It is one thing for us to say they did not know any better, but its an entirely different thing to hear it in their words what they actually did know.

    When you move to the constantly revised, better faster stronger world of the Internet, you over polish knowledge. You loose the blood, sweat, and tears. While the digital version will clearly be vastly superior to the moments previous version (in any instance from a strictly technical perspective), it is the voice of the people that will be irrevocably lost. We do not need print copies of the EB for reference purposes, that task has fallen to the digital realm for well over a decade now. We need the EB for the less tangible but ever so important cultural benefits. What makes it endearing is how wonderfully dated they become the moment they leave the shop, like a sort of embarrassing high school photo of knowledge. It is the charm of the authors, not the subject matter that I fear lost.

    I will caution the esteemed editors of The EB with the two following points of advice. The first is to steel yourselves against the deluge of Internet contributors. While the world is filled with fine and great minds in every nook and cranny, the Internet has an impeccable ability to rally the most mundane amongst us to the causes of stupidity. They will take a casual analogy and deem it an infallible truth. They will take the most sound facts and turn them to mere heresy. Surround your work with a wall of editors and guard it like the treasure it is.

    The second is to embrace the revisions and never hide nor shy away from your past. Wikipedia (I am loath to mention them in the same breath as the EB and I ask you to forgive any comparison) is wise enough to archive and present every revision made to every page ever. I implore you take this further. Archive annually the current state of the site in a specific Read-Only section, to be celebrated much as the print copies are. Do not hide hide it behind sub-menus or other such barriers. Present it as what we were at that specific moment, blemishes and all, along side its younger, more accurate, and less prejudice sibling.

    I thank you for your time and I hope this finds you well.

    Alexander Robert Moralez
    14th of March, 2012

    P.S. I would be remiss not to give credit to Avram Davidson for convincing me that no home is complete without an EB. With the loss of Avram, it appears the sad, solemn duty of fighting for the voice of history falls ever more on the shoulders of us common fellows. So be it.

    Its something I care deeply about.

  3. Although it is sad that there will no longer be a print edition, it does make much more sense to be electronic in this day and age. It is better for the environment not to mention just a better way to achieve the goal of making general knowledge accessible to everyone.