Sunday, March 18, 2012

Britannica's new look

Most of you have probably heard by now about Encyclopaedia Britannica ending its 244-year print run. Many sites and blogs have wondered about the implications of Encyclopaedia Britannica closing its presses, but I find myself surprisingly okay with the new model. To be perfectly honest, I think they're doing the right thing.

The fact is that print encyclopedias are mostly obsolete. Today, when I turn to my personal set of Encyclopaedia Britannic (a 1966 set I inherited from my aunt), I find myself more often than not failing to find what I was originally looking for. The same goes for when I browse through my family's 1986 set. When I need to know something, it's easier to search for it online. Yes, there's the added struggle of ensuring that I'm accessing a reliable source, but it doesn't take long to adjust.

But what I truly admire about this story is how the Encyclopaedia Britannica has come to terms with the modern age. Instead of simply fading away into obscurity, they have turned their focus to the online Britannica.com. Instead of simply forgetting their original mission statement, the Encyclopaedia Britannica has seen the face of the future and has decided to embrace it.

Is this an indicator that all print publishing will one day go digital? I've said it before and I'll say it again: no. Twenty-six volumes of a print encyclopedia (of which the vast majority will never be read) is a notable waste of paper. It provides users with a clumsy interface and is outdated the moment it's published. Literature (fiction, non-fiction, regardless) is of an inherently different nature. Yes, publishers should embrace the digital age similar to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, but that does not mean that all print publishing is on its way out. It just means that it's time for a change.

In the meantime, I will keep my handsome 1966 set. With entries on countries that no longer exist, mysteries humanity has long since solved, and contemporary observations on what I've studied in history class, the volumes provide me with more information than I could ever find online about how the world was in 1966. This, at least, Britannica.com will never be able to emulate.

1 comment:

  1. I have an emotional fondness for encyclopedias..but yes, they are impractical now, in the age of instant information. Sad in a way...

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