Kelvinwright's Blog

postmodern thoughts

Encyclopaedia Britannica ends its famous print edition

Encyclopaedia Britannica has announced that it is to stop publishing its mammoth 32-volume, 240 year old print edition, and will focus instead on digital expansion.

This article on the BBC website explains the motives: falling sales of the printed encyclopaedia and rising competition from online rivals:

Should we embrace technology at the expense of tradition? Or should we seek to preserve something of the present? My first reaction was one of sadness at the loss of what is an institution, as much as a hefty book. But then I thought to my own experience: I don’t own an Encyclopaedia Britannica, or any encyclopaedia for that matter. When was the last time that any of us used an encyclopaedia for our research? A click online is easier and more convenient. If we always sought preservation over progress, the horse and cart would still be the principal method of transport, the Wright brothers would never have flown, Neil Armstrong would not have taken one small step, and we would be writing on cave walls or at best with feather quills.

On the other hand, when was the last time that a printed encyclopaedia gave us incorrect information? When was the last time we doubted the information given to us by an encyclopaedia? This happens with online searches, and sadly too frequently. While the view of reference book publishers will be that their volumes are out of date the minute they are printed, is this any worse than relying on unreliable data for potentially valuable research?

While traditionalists amongst us like the feel of paper beneath our fingertips, the trend is quickly moving towards the feel of tablet PCs, smartphones, and e-books. The consumer demands available now and available anywhere information. And what about the future of the paperback and hardback novel? Will the printed book disappear altogether like the papyrus, the scroll and numerous other formats before it? Will the paper book disappear, only to make a cult comeback, like the vinyl record?

For now, I will continue fervently buying my paperback novel, happy when I open the book and see printed word on paper page.


March 24, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized |

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