"The Encyclopaedia Britannica", the world's most famous print encyclopedia, has announced that after 244 years in print, it is no longer going to make new physical copies of its flagship publication. The 32-volume, $1,395 edition that the Chicago-based company put out in 2010 was its last; future versions will live entirely online.
This is an announcement that had been coming - according to the Financial Times, only 8,500 copies of the most recent edition were printed. The first edition appeared in 1768, in Scotland.
Media Decoder, the New York Times blog, broke the story this afternoon, quoting Jorge Cauz, president of the Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc., as saying “Some people will feel sad about it and nostalgic about it. But we have a better tool now. The website is continuously updated, it’s much more expansive and it has multimedia.”
The Guardian states that individuals can now pay $70 per year for access to its constantly updated digital edition, while universities can sign up for about $1 per student. It quotes Cauz as saying, in a company announcement, that "Today our digital database is much larger than what we can fit in the print set. And it is up to date because we can revise it within minutes anytime we need to, and we do it many times each day."
Author A.J. Jacobs, who spent a year reading the entire Britannica for his book "The Know-It-All", told the Financial Times, "I am a bit heartbroken. There was something so wonderfully concrete about the print version, and I loved the idea that all the world’s knowledge could be contained in those pages.”
The article also cited the fact that Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton apparently took a volume of the encyclopedia with him on an expedition, and burned it to keep warm. "You can't do that to the internet," said Jacobs.
However, the Encyclopedia Britannica faces increased competition from the free, online encyclopedia Wikipedia, which has more than 3.7 million articles compared to Britannica's approximate 100,000. As for which is more reliable… there's a Wikipedia article about that.