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After 244 years, Encyclopaedia Britannica is History
By: Shawn Paul Wood
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Did you know that more than seven million copies of Encyclopaedia Britannica have been sold? No, really. Wanna know how I know that? I found the information...online

This has been an ongoing problem for the information purveyor. In fact, the story broke Wednesday that the 244-year-old collection of books will no longer be printed. And such is life for the once-familiar door-to-door schlep who tried so hard to convince your parents to purchase a $1,500 set of 32 books that will be "just timeless for your family." Never mind that they will be outdated once the apple drops in New York, but I'm sure the salesman's talking points covered that later. 

And speaking of talking points, meet Jorge Cauz, president of the beleagured book sets. Jorge, tell us why you are no longer printing the books:

"This has nothing to do with Wikipedia or Google," Cauz said to the AP. "This has to do with the fact that now Britannica sells its digital products to a large number of people." 

Uh-huh. Well, let's look at three big issues with this carefully crafted statement, shall we? 

1. Nothing to do with Wikipedia or Google. Let's see: Buy a book set worth $1,500, put it on the shelf as a lovely dust collector, find information on a spastic colon, and eventually lose your appetite... OR turn on your computer and look it up for free. (But not on Google Images... yeech!) Is he serious? It has everything to do with those two websites, namely considering you use the latter to get to the former just about every time. 
2. Britannica sells its digital products to a large number of people. The operative word there is "sell." Do they seriously think people are still going to buy these things when we can just log on to Google...ah, we already talked about that. Next! 
3. It's the end of an era. Another bigwig with Britannica actually said that in Management Today. Ian Grant, chief executive of Britannica, said "It's the end of an era because it's responding to what people want and the way people want to receive their information." 

Indeed. Whether I'll find the "I Have a Dream" speech on Wikipedia was issued by noted chronic sleeptalker Rip Van Winkle or not, I will always consult my local laptop before I pull a 10-pound book on my lap and pilfer through its pages to do the same thing. Sure the information may be sketchy online, but it's not about accuracy to most people; it's about speed. In today's world of drive-thrus, microwaves, and spray-on tans, we want it all now. No one likes to work for anything these days. 

Moreover, folks are cheap. And the fact that Brittanica has a $4.99 app isn't helping their cause much either. 

Maybe these once-hallowed sets of Mensa preparations and plagiarism enhancers will become collectors' items. I know the set my parents were conned into... eh, decided to buy still rest on their bookshelf. I may be online most of the day, but if I want some information from the mid-1980s, I know right where I'm going. 

Thanks for the memories, Encyclopaedia Britannica. Some of us knew you well.

   

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About the Author
Shawn Paul Wood is a hack-turned-flack with more than 20 years of collective journalism, copywriting and marketing communications experience. Shawn Paul is founder of Woodworks Communications in Dallas, Texas. If you need him, ping him here or follow him on Twitter @ShawnPaulWood
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