So, farewell then Encyclopaedia Britannia

Encyclopaedia Britannia is to cease publishing as a paper based product. This announcement has been twenty years coming for me. Almost the first commercial organisation to have its future questioned by the rise of the internet was the Britannia, a vast unwieldy publishing monolith from a previous age. It seemed obvious, even on day one of the web, that something that took dozens of years to produce a new edition and which had to be printed and shipped on thousands of tons of paper was vulnerable to this new knowledge distribution system.

And the problem with the EB used to split commentators on the subject. Some looked forward to a day when all knowledge was in the ether and instantly updated, others bemoaned the loss of scholarship and history that such a move would entail. To tell the truth, back in those days none of us knew what we were talking about.

So it has finally come to pass. In a world rapidly moving to a new phase of digital publishing the inevitable has occured. No more paper volumes. No more door to door salespeople maybe. But not the end of the Encyclopaedia Britannia. Not yet, anyway. Now it just has to compete with everything else published digitally, including its baby brother, Wikipedia (which even dropped the glorious and mediaeval ‘aedia’).

The king is dead, long live the king.

One Comment

  1. I assume that, once this last printing is gone, they’ll still try to keep the online edition going. But I suspect that won’t be able to compete with Wikipedia and its kin. Free almost always trumps paid, particularly when free is more complete and up-to-date.

    That’s why it’d be great if some digital billionaire would buy up the rights to all the Britannia editions, post them online and allow linking to those articles from sites such as Wikipedia. Going to the latter wouldn’t just get the you latest, multiple-redacted entry from gosh-knows-who, it’d also give you links to multiple editions of EB. That’d allow allow us to see how scholarly opinion on a topic has changed over the years.

    And it’d be fixed and unchanging, offering a good balance to the fluid nature of Wikipedia. We’d have the best of both worlds.

Leave a Reply