The Encyclopedia Britannica print edition lived a long life — 244 years — but that life is officially over. According to The New York Times, “the last print version is the 32-volume 20120 edition, which weighs 129 pounds and includes new entries on global warming and the Human Genome Project.”
The death of the Encyclopedia Britannica print edition is simply a sign of the times. The printed books have become instantly outdated in a world where anyone can access current information about any topic online in a matter of seconds.
While it’s true that user-generated online encyclopedias and information sites like Wikipedia are far from perfect, they have become the go-to source for anyone who is not writing a research paper. In other words, Wikipedia is “good enough” for most people. Serious research takes a bit longer online, but plenty of trustworthy and authoritative content is available for free for patient and determined fact-checkers. The fact that the Encyclopedia Britannica print edition just added entries about global warming in the 2010 edition is a perfect example of just how outdated the books can be.
Furthermore, The New York Times cites a 2005 study published in Nature that showed Encyclopedia Britannica is only slightly more accurate than Wikipedia. With a $1,395 price tag, it’s not surprising that only 4,000 of 8,000 sets of the final printed 2010 edition have been sold. For $70 per year, you could get an online subscription to Encyclopedia Britannica, so it’s also not surprising that printed sets are primarily purchased by libraries, research institutions, and similar organizations.
For those of us who remember trips to the library with a pocketful of change to copy pages out of the Encylopedia Britannica for a school paper only to get there and see someone else using the volume you need or the line at the copier is five people deep, the death of the print version marks the end of an era. To those of you reading this who have never had to experience the scenario I just described, consider yourself very fortunate.
Will you mourn the death of the Encyclopedia Britannica print version? Did you know it was still being printed? If this news makes you sad or nostalgic, don’t worry. The World Book Encyclopedia set is still being printed each year.
Image: David McLeish