Is this the end for reliable sources of information?

Is this the end for reliable sources of information?

The 244-year-old Encyclopaedia Britannica will be going out of print this year. It was the company’s tradition to print a new set once in every two years, but they have decided that the 2010 edition will be the last one to be printed. The encyclopedia will be published only online from now on.

On their website, Encyclopaedia Britannica announced the decision with these words: “[Our] print version (1768–2012), the oldest and longest continually published English-language general print encyclopedia, will be retired in 2012 in favor of its electronic versions.” They also add that: “Since the 1960s, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., has been actively involved in international publishing, with localized print versions of the Encyclopaedia Britannica available in nine languages other than English: Japanese, Korean, traditional and simplified Chinese, French, Greek, Turkish, Hungarian, and Polish.

In 2012 Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., decided to discontinue publication of the English-language print version of the Encyclopaedia Britannica and focus its editorial and marketing energies on the already popular digital versions of the encyclopedia for online, tablet, and mobile users around the world. [The Britannica was the first encyclopedia available on the Internet, in 1994.] As of 2012, 7.1 million print sets of the Britannica had been sold in more than 130 countries.”

Naturally many news outlets claimed that this heralds the end of print and the end of reliable information sources. Many had headlines saying that Wikipedia had won. I am sorry to say but Wikipedia didn’t win anything. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. itself didn’t go under as a result of competition from its online peers. Sales of printed sets of the encyclopedia only account for less than one percent of the company’s revenue. Around 14 percent comes from online subscriptions, and the other 85 percent comes from the company’s sales of educational products, such as its online learning tools. Therefore it is safe to say that reliable information sources will never be out of business as long as they innovate.

Going online is more economically feasible from the customers’ point of view as well. The last 4,000 copies of the Encyclopaedia Britannica will be sold for $1,400 each, whereas the online version is available at a subscription price of $70 per year (there’s also a mobile app version that will put you out only $2 per month). It is also more democratic, because more people can access the encyclopedia online thanks to the low cost of ownership and ease of access.

Unfortunately these arguments and Encyclopaedia Britannica’s radical decision aren’t enough to put a complete end to print either. I would be very happy if it was so, because I really hate to see rain forests being butchered for paper when the same function can be covered by online publishing. The printing industry is having a hard time, but there is still too great a demand for books and newspapers in print.

It could seem paradoxical, since you are probably reading this column in print, but I hope that the new generation will be more adapted to the virtual world so that printing will be very limited. It is definitely more satisfying to read from paper, but I would rather live in a world that still has its forests than feel more comfortable while reading.