Encyclopedia Britannica Stops Printing Encyclopedias

If you came of age in the 1980s or early 1990s, your internet was called the encyclopedia. You probably haven’t touched one in decades, and apparently neither has anyone else because they pretty much no longer exist in their old form. Encyclopedia Britannica drove a long-overdue stake into the heart of the outmoded medium by announcing it won’t print a 2012 edition, making the 2010 version of its biennial set its last.

CNNMoney reports the company will focus on its digital editions, as well as other educational efforts. Killing off the print editions is a mere formality, because they accounted for less than 1 percent of the company’s sales.

With Wikipedia — not to mention just about every notable history website in the world — offering its wares for free, Britannica faces a struggle to convince people it’s got a digital product worth paying for.

Britannica stops presses and goes digital [CNNMoney]


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  1. phil says:

    Well, my parents still have the old encyclopedia set I remember as a kid (sorry, Britannica – it was Collier’s). But I don’t have one – and don’t know of anyone who has bought them in years…

    • Cat says:

      We had a set of Colliers growing up, they served us well from the late 60’s until the yearbooks stopped coming – sometime in the 80’s I guess.

      I was just thinking about them the other day, because they came with a set of about a dozen colorful books called, I believe, “The Young Folk’s Bookshelf”. Classic literature and all the fairy tales, I was thinking how great they would be for my kids.

      • phil says:

        Cat –

        What do you know: My parents still have that set “The Junior Classics” books – I didn’t know that it came with the encyclopedia. Yes, I’ve read to my kids from those books when we’ve visited their grandparent’s house.

        Looks like sets of the books are available on eBay for not-unreasonable money…

        • phil says:

          If anyone’s curious… A sample of the books (and the vintage I remember) can be seen in this current eBay auction: 170800580931

    • wjstone says:

      We had World Book encyclopedias when I was growing up. I always enjoyed looking through them as a kid.

      • George4478 says:

        We had a set of World Book also — a long row of brown books. I was/am a big reader, so I often grabbed one of the volumes for pleasure reading.

        I have some topic specific encyclopedias (history and science) that I use when homeschooling one of my sons. I still enjoy flipping through those.

      • Yorick says:

        Did you use them as a resource? the World Book set my parents owned when I was a kid was published the year I was born. It was pretty much useless by the time I was in high school.

        • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

          Mine were always outdated too but they were still a pretty decent resource, at the very least for a starting out point for elementary and Jr High-level research.

          Abe Lincoln was still the 16th President and the heart was still part of the circulatory system, even when I learned about both in 1979, from a 1963 World Book.

        • George4478 says:

          Certain parts, yeah. But the Revolutionary War didn’t change much between 1963 and 1975. The information printed in 1963 that was wrong and not changed in the annual update volumes by 1975 was minimal.

  2. Dallas_shopper says:

    Bummer. But seriously…this is a medium whose time has come and gone, unfortunately.

  3. clippy2.0 says:

    I still have a set, as does my father. They look great on my mahogany book shelf!

  4. nbs2 says:

    I don’t think the medium’s time is gone. I think charging $1400 for a set of books that are outdated before they get onto your shelf is a concept whose time has come and gone.

    • humphrmi says:

      Most Encyclopedias tried to deal (unsuccessfully) with outdating issues by issuing an annual “year book” with updated sections. The practical upshot of this was, you had to read the original encyclopedia edition on a topic, and then look up the same topic in every year book since then to get the most up to date information. Also, of course it was an opportunity for them to charge you an annual fee, the door-to-door encyclopedia salesmen would make a big deal about how the $1400 books they were about to sell you would be out of date when you received them, and if you didn’t accept their annual update subscription, you would be dooming your bright child to a future of doltery.

      And that was their business plan. Surprised it didn’t work out for them.

      • j2.718ff says:

        In the pre-internet world, it sounds like a perfectly valid business plan. It worked in its time. But it’s time has come to an end.

      • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

        Wow, I totally forgot about our old World Book: Yearbooks. Yes, they definitely were a pain.

  5. Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

    As a kid, I used to love going through our old World Books, page-by-page. They were really outdated at the time (1963 ed.) but still pretty cool during the late 1970’s. Having a set of encyclopedias prominently displayed in a living room seemed like a major status marker back then.

    • lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

      I had the same set – World Book – and my parents still have them on the book case in the living room. These are from the early 70’s, and we got the Year Books as updates until 1980. Very handsome books with gold finish.

      I used to sit and just page through them, and I read quite a bit. It was a great way to learn new things without having to go to the library and get shushed by the librarian in the reference room.

    • chemmy says:

      I used to do the same thing with our World Books from the 60’s. Somehow, printing Wikipedia and browsing that just won’t be the same.

  6. caradrake says:

    How will this affect schools? When we did reports, we had to use encyclopedias as a primary source of research (and Wikipedia did not count and would even result in an automatic F in some classes). Are classes changing to allow Wikipedia? Or will they just require a lot of alternate sources?

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      I’m amazed your schools allowed you to cite an encyclopedia.

      When I was in school (pre-internet era), we were never allowed to cite them. We could use them as a starting out point for research but were never allowed to use them for an actual citation. Even in elementary school, using an encyclopedia virtually guaranteed getting docked a grade.

      • caradrake says:

        Huh! My teachers required something like 60-75% of all references, come from encyclopedias. I remember it being extremely tough because our library only had two sets (one Collier, one Britannica), one of them missing the “R-S-T” volume, and the other only having like a half-page entry on tigers.

        I’d be really curious to sit in on a day of classes, just to see how much has changed in the last decade.

        • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

          I’m guessing things have changed a lot, very quickly.

          I imagine it’s most apparent in college & grad school. It used to be a pain to search the stacks for journals and then actually read through a giant pile of articles. It was always awful to find a great sounding reference and then find out your library didn’t carry the journal or that specific edition. Today, it’s insanely easy to search periodicals, download the pdf, and search for keywords to see what comes up.

          Encyclopedias were looked down upon for actual research (I’m guessing our teachers were getting us ready for college), all the way from elementary school, to Jr. High, to High School. I went to a very crappy school district (Pittsburgh) but they definitely took the whole no-encyclopedia things seriously. I always assumed it was because you never really know who wrote the particular section or how dated the information was.

          • Excuse My Ambition Deficit Disorder says:

            I think it was more of the teacher not want to go through the encyclopedias to verify the cited works were correct. To me, that would be huge P.I.T.A.

            • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

              Wouldn’t that still be easier than going through a dozen books and articles?

        • dpeters11 says:

          The RST volume has the naughty bits.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      Britannica isn’t going away – it’s going with digital encyclopedias. So you can still do reports with a real encyclopedia; it just won’t be a paper one.

    • vorpalette says:

      I thought most students learned how to get around the Wikipedia thing? All you have to do is click the cited sources at the bottom of the entry and to get a “real” source. Always worked for me.

    • Rachacha says:

      My son is in fifth grade and is therefore starting “research” projects. He was instructed that he could use Wikipedia as a starting point, but that he needed to cite the primary source (aka the links at the bottom).

      Watching him however, I think he was overwhelmed by the size and format of Wikipedia. He fount it much easier to conduct a google search for the facts that he was trying to verify. “What is the height of the Himalaya mountains” “what countries are the Himalaya mountains” etc. he looked at a couple of the search results to verify the fact.

  7. HowardRoarksTSquare says:

    This is a shame. Any two-bit hack can write something on Wikipedia and I’m not sure I’d want to use it as a primary source.

    Do youths today even know what a library is?

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      Kids know what a library is. It’s the place where you have to step over homeless people to get inside, in order to “rent” free DVDs, and download porn.

      To be fair, lots of kids still know what a library is for and use them for books. Some of my fondest memories as a kid were taking the bus to the Carnegie Library and spending an entire Saturday or Sunday there.

      • Agent Hooter Enjoys Enhanced Patdowns says:

        I stop in the Carnegie library almost any time I’m meeting someone in the area and I still see it being full of adults and kids reading. It’s not a dead medium altogether.

        • HogwartsProfessor says:

          We have an actual Carnegie library here in our downtown. It’s a neat early twentieth century building. I see people at the reading tables all the time, and they’re not all homeless people. I love going to that one because the old building somehow feels more like a library than the modern ones elsewhere in town.

          Although there is a neat one on the north side that used to be a furniture store, and has a travel theme with a little “road” through the carpet that is fun to walk on. I don’t care what people think of me; whenever I go there I have to walk on the “road” to get to the non-fiction books. :)

    • Blueskylaw says:

      My Mom used to drop us kids off at the library when we were young so that she could do her day’s errands for a few hours then pick us up. It is where I learned my love of knowledge and reading. Nowadays she would probably be charged with child endangerment.

      • CubeRat says:

        My parents would read encyclopedias for fun, page by page. They could answer any Jeopardy! or Trivial Pursuit question without hesitation.

        I used to live in Portland OR, and would love to wander through the stacks in the Central Library. I discovered so many writers and books, it was wonderful.

        I still use Libraries and if I’m not after a specific book, I’ll wander through a section and choose something. I walked into the gardening section last week and found a book about creating a perfect English garden; it was published in the 1940s. I offered to buy it from the library, but they said no. I may have to ‘lose it’ and pay them for it.

        I’ll miss the Britannica, Collier’s, and World Books, books are all so much better than digital.

        • delicatedisarray says:

          Oh please don’t do that! The books in circulation are there for everyone to use. When someone “loses” a book and pays for it a library is assured a new copy of it. Many books are out of print and purchasing another copy for the collection can be extremely expensive or impossible. The library I work at doesn’t charge cover prices for books for this very reason, we charge what it would cost us to purchase a new copy. So lose a copy of Twilight by Stephenie Meyer and you get off with a cheap fine, lose a copy of 25 Cats Named Sam and One Blue Pussy By Andy Warhol and it adds up.

    • delicatedisarray says:

      Being a library specialist I can’t control myself when seeing these posts.

      Yep, they do. I work at a University library we see thousands of students daily. This week is Spring Break and I’m posting this from work because we stay open, all week, for the students that need to use our resources. The “good ol’ day” and “my generation” conversations that come up in reference to using libraries is silly. Libraries are heavily used.

      • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

        I have no doubt that university libraries, especially dedicated research libraries are just as busy as ever but I haven’t seen a municipal library in years that was ever as busy as the ones from when I was a kid.

        Even then, they weren’t nearly as important as they were to my grandparents. My grandparents learned to speak English, saw doctors, got clean water from, took showers, learned to swim, and even saw numerous concerts at our public library.

        Fifty years later, I also learned to read and even went swimming at the same library in Pittsburgh. It was located right across the bridge from where I lived. When my dad worked at the mill, I would kill time at the library and we’d walk home together. We lived in Hazelwood and the mill & library were in Homestead.

        It was a pretty cool place and as far as I know, is still there.

  8. Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

    It brought a tear to my eye when Ricky bought Trinity a $5,000 set of encyclopedias and had to kiss Lahey’s ass as a result of it.

  9. Blueskylaw says:

    Encyclopedia Britannica Stops Printing Encyclopedias or Encyclopædia Britannica Stops Printing Encyclopædias?

    You decide.

  10. Bagels says:

    always will be remembered for their classic commercial:

  11. Dr. Ned - This underwear is Sofa King Comfortable! says:

    From the Encyclopaedia Britannica Website:
    Encyclopaedia Britannica – The Final Print Edition
    $1,395.00 USD

    I think I see the problem with the product.
    As a Jimmy McMillan meme would say:

    • Panzer1963 says:

      nowhere close to an accurate statement if you’ve ever used a set or owned one. Huge value for the money if you use them.

      • NOS says:

        That is a completely accurate statement!

        We live in the 10’s (that is weird‚Ķ The 10’s, my how time flies).

        In 2012 and for quite a few years before this, we have this thing called the internet. You are typing on it right now.

        On this magical “internet” there is a HUGE wealth of information‚Ķ. Comparing the amount of information that the internet contains to a set of encyclopedias is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard.

        Oh yeah… And to jump to the other point that was being made… Almost all of that information is free.

  12. AustinTXProgrammer says:

    I was given a new Encyclopedia Britannica set as a child and loved it. Now days as I am forced to declutter I find that the used book stores won’t even take them.

    • Conformist138 says:

      really? old copies must be cheap then… Sweet… I would love a complete good-condition set of nice encylopedias for my living room. Less functional, more “period art”.

    • Not Given says:

      We threw 2 sets away, one Britannica, 10+ years ago.

  13. Rick Sphinx says:

    I bought a set in the mid/late 80’s, I would just pick one up, and thumb through it, learned all kinds of crap (just kidding). I saw the internet coming up, and sold them at the right time.

  14. BelleSade says:

    Makes sense. I love to read actual books, but no one in their right mind would buy an expensive set of encyclopedias only so that they become outdated in a few months if not days. Not to mention the articles can be much more in depth and longer online.

  15. LetMeGetTheManager says:

    Please…these things never go out of date. Besides, I just planned my vacation to West Germany and Czechoslovakia with some of the info I learned about those countries!

    • Blueskylaw says:

      I see what you did there.

      I would suggest visiting the Federal Republic of Germany and the Czech Republic also.

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      French Indochina is also beautiful this time of year.

  16. QuantumCat says:

    While Britannica’s more accurate, Wikipedia isn’t that far behind–with a 4 digit difference in cost, it’s no wonder print encyclopedias aren’t doing so well.


    My teachers in K12 allowed citing encyclopedias, though I later learned they shouldn’t have because like Wikipedia, they’re not a primary source.

  17. Excuse My Ambition Deficit Disorder says:

    Wait till the intertubes stop working…then you will wish you had one of the 8,000 – 2010 copies…or not…

    • Cat says:

      The World Book Encyclopedia 2011 DVD – $39.95. No inter-tubes required. Well, except for that pesky registration and updates. Which. according to reviews, is not functioning.

      Considering the volume of information in an Encyclopedia, I find it amazing that there are NO Encyclopedias on Blu-ray.

  18. tungstencoil says:

    This makes me sad in a nostalgic kind of way. I used to love grabbing an encyclopedia and reading random articles.

  19. markvii says:

    Coming of age in the 80’s? Try the 60’s — the World Book was the encyclopedia of choice for school kids then. I remember getting assignments where we were required to have a certain number of references, and no more than one encyclopedia allowed.

    It was funny how many times some kid’s “report” on a subject was clearly lifted word for word from the World Book.

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      They were also nice looking books — Gray with gold trim. I loved our set as a kid and am still a bit irked that my mom gave them away back in the late 90’s.

  20. El_Fez says:

    Actually, this edition would be kind of cool: 1768 Replica Set . . . . well, if it didn’t cost 200 bucks for three books.

    But 1,400 bucks, PLUS 70 bucks shipping? No thanks.

  21. Fishnoise says:

    I’ve got a Thirteenth Edition from the 1920s I bought for $30 when I was in college — it was (like editions after the Tenth) written by academics in each article’s field.

    I love it. The writing is both enthusiastic and scholarly, and insanely obscure topics would often have long write-ups. Imagine Wikipedia written by way-smart, monomaniacal Britons with (egads!) first-hand knowledge and no “notability” police to take away the fun.

    Editions of the Brittanica current from my childhood and later have articles that can read as if they were written by a committee of dullards. Meh . . .

  22. centurion says:

    I had a summer job selling these things in the late ’70s, they were like $700-$800 back then. They even had a handy convenient payment plan. But since I was the low man on the sales force totem pole, most of my leads where in the ghetto. I didn’t make much money that summer.

  23. eezy-peezy says:

    Glad to see them go. I love the fact that when the internet first came out, the encyclopedia companies were all charging big bucks for their info – leading to the creation of WIkipedia, which is totally free and wound up having so much more info than any for-profit company. Power to the people!!!

  24. Major Tom Coming Home says:

    I would not mind having a nice set of Britannica’s, but they would have to come from a garage sale or flea market. The most I would be willing to part with is $100, and for that only if it is a minty copy of the final edition. They are really just a novelty these days, but if the internet and every computer on earth were fried by an electromagnetic blast caused by a nuclear war they might actually be useful.

  25. Panzer1963 says:

    Bought one of the last sets this morning. This is truly a sad day and a disgrace. eBooks and the internet should not be allowed to take the place (completely) of traditional media. Especially when it comes to researching. Kids should have to learn card catalogs, and how to cite from books and write reports from physical sources not just electrical ones.

    Whaddya gonna do when the lights go out for the final time when the economy finally collapses?

    • Major Tom Coming Home says:

      I kinda sorta agree with you. I view encyclopedias serve as a good “hard copy” backup of human knowledge in case of a disaster. Of course they can’t contain the entire extent of everything, but would be a good starting point when people start climbing out of the underground shelters. Assuming they can read or are able to learn.

  26. Paul @ The Frugal Toad says:

    I remember the Encyclopedia Britannica Salesman coming to our house as a kid and my parent’s buying a set. I used them many a time to write research papers in school. With the digital form available and the widespread availability of the internet, it doesn’t make sense to continue publishing something very few people will buy.