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After 244 Years, the End For the Dead Tree Encyclopedia Britannica 373

Posted by Soulskill
from the your-encyclopedia-needn't-outweigh-you dept.
Rick Zeman writes "According to the New York Times, it's the end of the road for the printed Encyclopedia Brittanica, saying, '...in recent years, print reference books have been almost completely wiped out by the Internet and its vast spread of resources, particularly Wikipedia, which in 11 years has helped replace the authority of experts with the wisdom of the crowds.' The last print edition will be the 32-volume 2010 edition."
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After 244 Years, the End For the Dead Tree Encyclopedia Britannica

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  • by casings (257363) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @08:02PM (#39346233)

    That actually sounds like a really "cool" thing to own.

    • by jhoegl (638955) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @08:08PM (#39346291)
      Just wait until we live in the post energy Mad Max era of lack of knowledge.
      Why, if you owned those, you would be... GOD! Or a washed up singer in charge of some sort of barter town.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @08:14PM (#39346353)

        "The Way Things Work" would be a more concise, possibly helpful resource -- albeit I only have an much older edition, which may in fact be more useful as it's mostly related to physical everyday things which could mostly be made using relatively primitive tools.

      • by bmo (77928) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @08:26PM (#39346485)

        More useful in the Mad Max era would be Machinery's Handbook (one of the earlier editions without CNC) and maybe a set of Foxfire books.

        Those, a slide rule, and a set of log trig tables, and you'd be all set.

        It would be more portable too.

        --
        BMO

        • by decsnake (6658)
          I have my father's 1938 edition of Machinery's Handbook and the original Foxfire book. If I looked hard I could probably find a slide rule around here somewhere, not that I remember how to use it.
        • by Scoldog (875927) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @11:03PM (#39348035)
          Really? I would have thought a couple of copies of Dean's Electronics and the Big Book of Science would be handy to have stored somewhere safe. Everyone should buy as many copies as they can lay their hands on, and leave them scattered around your home towns to maximise the amount of books that will survive.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Is anyone else just a little bit sad about this news?

    • Bad Joke (Score:5, Funny)

      by Kaenneth (82978) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @08:14PM (#39346355) Homepage Journal

      How did the hipster burn his mouth?

      He ate pizza before it was cool.

    • by Sniper98G (1078397) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @08:36PM (#39346575)

      $1,400 cool?

      http://store.britannica.com/products/ecm001en0 [britannica.com]

      This is not the death of the encyclopedia, just the ending of an inefficient costly format. Who goes to their site and ops for the $1,400 print version over the $30 disc version?

      • by billybob2001 (234675) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @09:34PM (#39347123)

        C'mon everyone, it's Britannica, let's spell it Encyclopaedia

        • by rtb61 (674572)

          I thought it was spelled Wikipedia, they won't admit it of course but Wikipedia providing an introduction to practically any imaginable and then links to quality quotable sources, pretty much killed printed encyclopaedias.

      • by Sez Zero (586611) on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @07:41AM (#39350799) Journal

        $1,400 cool?

        This is not the death of the encyclopedia, just the ending of an inefficient costly format. Who goes to their site and ops for the $1,400 print version over the $30 disc version?

        They also have an app for $1.99 a month. I could get the app for more than 58 years if I wanted to spend that much money. Plus I'd also get updated information and spread the cost out over 58 years.

        The dead tree edition makes no sense. Still, why do I feel like I want to go out and spend $1400?

    • by errandum (2014454) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @08:58PM (#39346775)

      I own one set and it's not nearly as cool as it sounds. Unless I'm doing serious research work on some even/someone (which I haven't done since I enrolled in college), you're not using it. And even those have been replaced by Encarta and things like that.

      There are way better mediums than paper and some are actually done by the so called experts. They spelled their own death by not adapting to the times and wanting the times to adapt to them. Now they have an on-line presence and CD/DVD's, but they are years too late.

      • by tom17 (659054) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @09:15PM (#39346935) Homepage

        My mum used to sell them back in the 90's. I remember that they came out with a CD-ROM version at some point in that timeframe. I do seem to recall though that it was badly implemented, but they were not 'too late'. They just mucked up the implementation.

        Gonna be picking up my an old second hand set soon. Not as a serious reference but if there is one thing my mother instilled into me, it was an appreciation of books. A nicely bound set of EB is a nice thing to have on a bookshelf if you have the space. I reckon this set i'll be getitng is just the basic binding though...

  • by djnanite (1979686) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @08:05PM (#39346265) Homepage
    This is quite sad. I obviously prefer my source of knowledge to be up-to-date, and easily accessible, so online encyclopedias make sense. But...I find it quite charming flicking through copies of encyclopedias that are more than 20 years old, seeing a snapshot of our knowledge at the time, and seeing how we've moved on since then. And what library was complete without a complete set of these on their shelves?
    • by Sponge Bath (413667) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @08:08PM (#39346289)

      ...flicking through copies of encyclopedias that are more than 20 years old, seeing a snapshot of our knowledge at the time

      This [archive.org] should help your nostalgia in the future.

    • by neorush (1103917)
      I know its not quit the same but... http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Physics&dir=prev&action=history [wikipedia.org]
    • by JoshuaZ (1134087)
      You can get snapshots still- Wikipedia articles have history and it wouldn't take that much effort to go make a bot that ran through a few articles and collected their versions at some time and date. Moreover, Britannica itself while continually updating will also be keeping their old versions (although I don't know if there's going to be any easy access to them). Some other similar projects are still in print, such as the World Book mentioned in the article (although that's really more for a young children
    • by LordLucless (582312) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @08:12PM (#39346333)

      It's all a question of how much that nostalgia was worth to you. And apparently, it wasn't worth $1500 a year to many people at all.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @08:19PM (#39346413)

      Which begs the question : Why didn't the EB take the lead as the premiere on line reference resource? They had the pole position, they had the background process of collecting and cataloging the information, it would have been trivial to create an on line presence. Yet, they didn't. 244 years of diligence, flushed in a single decade. Wow. I guess it's true - having information isn't good enough, you have to know how to use it as well.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @08:31PM (#39346529)

        The "free world" standard for the 19th and 20th centuries, up to the transformation of social philosophy in the '80s, was truth.

        The "free world" standard today is verifiability: the more people tell a lie, the more it accepted. Many nations have had this standard in the past, but some countries (notably the UK and the US) have bravely held it back.

        Wikipedia's standard is one of verifiability, not truth, so its win over Britannica was inevitable.

      • by Junta (36770)

        'begging the question' aside, the reason is pretty straightforward and plagues most all established institutions. An institution knows its place and its place is good given a reality they are used to. Seeing a new paradigm starting to emerge is generally something to be feared and avoid risk of accelerating it. This generally means said institution is outmanuevered by some upstart with nothing to lose while the established organization fights tooth and nail to keep the market they demonstrably know how t

        • by Darinbob (1142669) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @09:08PM (#39346861)

          Pets.com?

    • by evilviper (135110) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @08:20PM (#39346431) Journal

      You can go download a copy of wikipedia right now. Stick it on a dvd, throw it in some dark corner, and come back in 10 years.

    • by Daniel Phillips (238627) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @08:36PM (#39346569)

      This is quite sad.

      The passing of illuminated scrolls was also quite sad.

    • I loved having a set as a kid. Not so much to look up information, but to randomly peruse and get a general idea of what is important in the world. Wikipedia has a "random" feature, but I feel more likely to get some Manga cartoon reference than the article on Hadrian's wall. Now that I have kids, I wanted them to enjoy them as well, without burning out their eyes on computer/TV screens any more than they already do.

      Then I saw that a new set is something like a thousand dollars, and even 10 year old use

  • by PRMan (959735)
    Is this, like, someone trying to print Wikipedia or something?
  • Not going to miss the obnoxious 80's commercial though [youtube.com].

  • by Mindragon (627249) * on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @08:13PM (#39346345) Journal
    They will still have their website, software and other products still around. They are just discontinuing the book series and blaming Wikipedia (not modern progress) for this change.
    • Correct. IPad-ica Britannica should be much better, since the paper ones people could only buy once or twice a lifetime, and could never stay up to date.
  • Obligatory XKCD (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @08:17PM (#39346399)

    http://xkcd.com/978/

  • best investment (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pinguwin (807635) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @08:28PM (#39346509)
    I think the best investment my parents ever made in us kids was buying an encyclopedia. I can't tell you how many hours I sat in our library (a room filled with books on two walls and a giant map on the third) reading about all sort of subjects under the sun and subjects far beyond the sun. Lots and lots of time. I would just pick up a volume and open it at random and start reading. So it's kind of sad that the printed version is going away. Once in sixth grade, in response to some knowledge I gleaned from my encyclopedias, said, "Do you just sit around and read encyclopedias!?" I replied, "Yes, I do."
    • by mvdw (613057)
      Me too! One of my childhood rainy-day activities was to start at a random article in our World Book Encyclopedia (1973 edition FTW!), read it, then go on to the "see also"'s, etc etc. It would end with about a dozen volumes laying open all over the floor as I was too lazy to replace them as I'd read them... Even though the 1973 edition then in the mid-late 1980's was probably out of date for modern-day things, it still was useful for history etc.
    • The Wikipedia "random" [wikipedia.org] button tries to mimic that, I think. Unfortunately it usually comes up with garbage--stubs, pages on obscure locations or even more obscure people. It would be nice if there was a Featured Article-only random button....

    • by resonance (106398)

      Absolutely. At some point in my very early education, my reading level was not where it should have been. My mom made me realize that the answers to all of my questions about the world were right there in the encyclopedia (at least the kid-size questions!) - all I had to do was pick it up and read. I consequently spent an entire summer devouring those books, and skipped about three grades ahead in reading ability, learning a ton in the process.

      It became frustrating, however, when my understanding and need f

  • by nickmalthus (972450) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @08:33PM (#39346547)
    I hope they don't stop printing the "Great Books of the Western World" series too. I plan to buy the series in the next few years. Of course that collection is timeless and will not change like contemporary topics do.
  • by slasher999 (513533) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @08:34PM (#39346555)

    Growing up in the 70s and 80s I always thought I would have my own Brittanica on a shelf in my office/library/den one day. I'm in my 40s now and never got around to it, although I've been tempted in recent years but the problem with keeping the information current always made me decide against it. Knowing this may be my last chance, I might just have to finally splurge.

  • When my teachers started prohibiting use of encyclopedias for reports since the articles were considered to be too terse. Never looked at one since. OT, that reminds me that I tried reading them from A-Z as a kid, only got to C though.

  • by c (8461)

    ...but how will Luddites teach their children?!?

  • by ZorinLynx (31751) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @08:45PM (#39346647) Homepage

    "Scientists have been wondering why historical records mysteriously ended sometime around the year 2012. It's as if humanity decided to just stop writing things down, and left everything to oral tradition. It's sad that we will never know what happened between then and the eventua downfall of one of the greatest ancient civilizations that ever lived."

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @09:54PM (#39347321)

      Scientists have been wondering why historical records mysteriously ended sometime around the year 2012. It's as if humanity decided to just stop writing things down, and left everything to oral tradition.

      Too bad they'll never know the truth...all our knowledge disappeared because we put it in the cloud.

    • by Kjella (173770)

      If we go back 100 years, the best record you got of people is maybe a few photographs and a diary. Today you can store a ridiculous amount of detail including full HD video, but you're also dependent on modern technology to sustain that. If I had to leave my computer equipment for 10 years in a vault I figure my USB sticks and SSDs will have discharged and I wouldn't trust a HDD or a backup HDD to spin up again. Yes, maybe DVDs but they're too small and tapes are too expensive and rare. Or even if I could t

  • by 517714 (762276) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @08:54PM (#39346723)
    Lacking written records certainly facilitates revisionist history. I just read online that Encyclopedia Britannica stopped putting out printed editions over 25 years ago. So how is this news? ;-)
    • by zill (1690130)
      The latest version of the 15th edition was introduced in 2010.
    • by ornil (33732) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @09:55PM (#39347337)

      In 1953, when Stalin died, the Great Soviet Encyclopedia was in the middle of being published. In the reshuffle the chief of State Security, Lavrentiy Beria, was declared a spy, but his article was in the B volume which was already published. As a result, an update was sent to all libraries in the form of a page be glued on top of his article, and the encyclopedia has an unexpectedly long article on the Bering Sea.

  • by soundguy (415780) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @09:27PM (#39347053) Homepage
    The alleged "authority of experts" is questionable marketing bravado. In the last century, a large percentage of their articles were gleaned from popular media sources of the day and the authors were newspaper and magazine contributors.

    I happen to have a set that I inherited from my grandfather. He was kind of a hustler and wore a lot of hats in his life, including drummer in a swing band, bootlegger, and minister. At one point he tried his hand at selling encyclopaedias. What I have is his demo set. It's dated 1929. Since the articles were written one or two years before the edition went to print, the article on the booming stock market and the forecast of endless prosperity is both chilling and hilarious. It's written by a financial editor from the Wall Street Journal. Equally amusing are the ones on being a proper and obedient wife and homemaker from an article in a women's magazine.
    • The alleged "authority of experts" is questionable marketing bravado. In the last century, a large percentage of their articles were gleaned from popular media sources of the day and the authors were newspaper and magazine contributors.

      We have a copy of the 11th edition, from 1915. It's not so great for recent history, but the list of contributors is impressive. A friend at work asked me to bring him the article on capillary action because he'd heard that it was written by J.Willard. Gibbs (if I remember correctly...). I had to tell him that the article wasn't actually by Gibbs -- he only edited it. It was originally written by some guy named James Clerk Maxwell.

  • by guttentag (313541) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @09:46PM (#39347247) Journal
    Wikipedia's Article on Britannica [wikipedia.org]
    60 paragraphs on Britannica's history, status, organization, awards, etc. 15 paragraphs on criticisms, bias, racism/sexism. Cites over 100 sources.

    Britannica's Article on Wikipedia [britannica.com]
    2 paragraphs on Origin and Growth (one of which is devoted to suggesting that Wikipedia is running out of steam or somehow failing in its mission), 4 paragraphs on "Issues and controversies," including a suggestion that Wikipedia was a haven for child pornography. Everything about the article says, "parents, keep your children away from this new-fangled, dangerous, unreliable Wikipedia thing!" Cites no sources. What is really amusing is that Britannica's stated slogan (at the top of every page) is "facts matter." I guess attribution does not. Their home page features an image of a 1st-gen iPad with the caption "looking ahead." If Britannica considers 2010 to be the future, that explains a lot.
    • by FrootLoops (1817694) on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @12:37AM (#39348739)

      "one of which is devoted to suggesting that Wikipedia is running out of steam or somehow failing in its mission" comes from

      However, while the encyclopaedia continued to expand at a rate of millions of words per month, the number of new articles created each year gradually decreased, from a peak of 665,000 in 2007 to 374,000 in 2010. In response to this slowdown, the Wikimedia Foundation began to focus its expansion efforts on the non-English versions of Wikipedia, which by 2011 numbered more than 250.

      "including a suggestion that Wikipedia was a haven for child pornography" comes from

      Additionally, in 2010 it was revealed that there was a cache of pornographic images, including illegal depictions of sexual acts involving children, on Wikimedia Commons, a site maintained by the Wikimedia Foundation that served as a repository of media files for use in all Wikimedia products. Although there were no such illegal images on Wikipedia itself, the ensuing scandal prompted Jimmy Wales, who personally deleted many of the Commons files, to encourage administrators to remove any prurient content from Wikimedia sites.

      "Everything about the article says, 'parents, keep your children away from this new-fangled, dangerous, unreliable Wikipedia thing!'" probably comes from

      [In opening.] Although some highly publicized problems have called attention to Wikipedia’s editorial process, they have done little to dampen public use of the resource, which is one of the most-visited sites on the Internet.

      For many observers of these controversies, a troubling difference between Wikipedia and other encyclopaedias lies in the absence of editors and authors who will accept responsibility for the accuracy and quality of their articles. These observers point out that identifiable individuals are far easier to hold accountable for mistakes, bias, and bad writing than is a community of anonymous volunteers, but other observers respond that it is not entirely clear if there is a substantial difference. ... Whether or not Wikipedia has managed to attain the authority level of traditional encyclopaedias, it has undoubtedly become a model of what the collaborative Internet community can and cannot do.

      and the fact that the majority of the article discusses controversies and problems.

      [I collected these to save others the trouble of hunting through the article for them as I did.]

  • by decora (1710862) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @09:54PM (#39347327) Journal

    as someone with 6000 wikipedia edits, i would hope in my dream of dreams that every single one of them was directly attributable to the writings of an expert.

    wikipedia is not the 'wisdom of crowds', rather it is the liberation of facts from the academic institutes , the translation of those facts into somewhat simple language, and their arrangement together for easy access. something libraries should have been doing a long time ago.

    also a good article will present the work of various experts, and indicate which expert holds which point of view.

    i do not always meet my goal on wikipedia, but basically, without experts, wikipedia would be a gigantic pile of worthless trash.

  • by Animats (122034) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @10:17PM (#39347583) Homepage

    It's sad. I used to have a house full of bookshelves, and I'd read all the books when I bought each one. When I moved several years ago, most of the books remained in boxes. I've been going through them, keeping a few, giving some to the local library, selling some to a used bookstore, sending some early technical books to museums, and dumping the rest into the recycling bin. I just dumped all the original Sun Java manuals, finance books like "Bankruptcy 1995" (the author was a CEO, and he thought the US would go bankrupt in the 1990s. Instead, his company did.), and some reasonably good paperback SF. There's just no point in having wall to wall bookshelves any more. I used to have three six-shelf bookcases of technical books in my home office. Now I have three shelves.

    I never owned a Brittanica, although I did have the Oxford English Dictionary, the one in tiny type with the magnifying glass.

    Borders is gone, Barnes and Noble is in trouble, and Amazon is moving to downloads. When Amazon goes download-only, it will be over for good.

  • by Starker_Kull (896770) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @10:56PM (#39347973)

    I used to spend hours randomly browsing through the articles. At some point, over many moves, they were given away. Now, I find I do the same thing, but on Wikipedia.

    It used to be that when you visited someone's home for the first time, you could learn a bit about them by seeing what books they had on their shelves... which ones were worn, how chaotic or organized the books were, how many they had, what they were about, how many were lying around in mid-read... and if there was a set of encyclopedias somewhere. And, of course, if there was not a single book in the house, there was something suspect about them.

    I suspect that in a decade or two, what I'll learn from seeing books in someone's house is that they are old. I'm sure I'll be included in that.

  • ... that I first saw the Encyclopedia Britannica on CD ROM at a newly set up retail kiosk in a nearby shopping mall. They were still actively advocating their bound book version back then, of course, and I would certainly have been interested in buying it, but for the price. The CD version looked intriguing, however... I thought that perhaps it would be more in line with what I could afford. Inquiring, the person I spoke to, who evidently worked directly for Encyclopedia Britannica, and was not simply employed as a kiosk sales agent in the mall, the price of the CD version was still upwards of a thousand dollars (I don't remember the exact price, but it was definitely 4 figures). For context, remember, this was in the first half of the 1990's.

    I remember I politely told the fellow I was speaking with at the kiosk that the price they were asking for was simply unjustifiable, given the cost to reproduce a CD was on the order of pennies, and the price was going to have to come down by about factor of 10 or even more before people would really start taking the CD version seriously. I offered the reasoning that if a person was going to spend that kind of money, they might as well spend what was, relatively speaking, just a bit more and get the attractively bound books.

    The guy at the kiosk told me quite flatly that would never happen... that they'd be more likely to simply stop selling the CD version.

    I shook my head, suggesting he was wrong... and left.

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