Encyclopaedia Britannica Kills its Print Edition

Encyclopaedia Brittanica.  Image credit: WikiMedia Commons

The first  Encyclopaedia Britannica was printed in 1768. And now, 244 years later, it has been printed for the last time. At least as a set of bound books.

Its publisher has announced that it will no longer be publishing the print version, and will stop selling it when current stock runs out. It will continue to publish a digital version, which can be accessed on its website and through its iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch apps. The digital option costs $70 a year, while the last printed version cost $1,400.

Britannica has printed a new version of the reference books every two years; the 2010 32-volume set will be the last.

"This is a decision we have been contemplating for a few years. We decided to break the news now as it was time to release a new printed version," Jorge Cauz, the president of Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc., told ABC News.

Over 7 million sets of the bound books have been sold since 1768. Twelve thousand copies of the last set were printed, although 4,000 still remain in inventory. Britannica expects those remaining books to sell quickly.

The end of the bound encyclopedias, which lined many bookshelves for years, is certainly a sign of the times. As services like Wikipedia gain steam, the idea of using a book to look up the history of, say, a presidential candidate seems rather quaint.

Still, Cauz said the Britannica brand is strong in the digital space, but the focus goes beyond encyclopedia content. "Eighty-five percent of our revenue comes from non-encyclopedia content - mostly from instructional and e-learning solutions," he said. The company works with schools to provide its learning tools.

But of course, Wikipedia has taken over a large chunk of the digital encyclopedia market. "We have a very different offering than Wikipedia; our content is mostly created by experts and editors," Cauz said. "I understand Wikipedia has won the popularity contest, and Google loves Wikipedia in regard to search. We need to do something so we can be more prominent."