Why Encyclopedia Britannica mattered

Author: James CNN

The following is an excerpt from a CNN article written by Jim O’Rourke, professor of management and the Arthur F. and Mary J. O'Neil Director of the Fanning Center for Business Communication, discussing Encyclopedia Britannica stopping production of encyclopedias. To read the entire article visit: Why Encyclopedia Britannica mattered.


The world received word yesterday that the publishers of Encyclopedia Britannica would stop producing hardbound, paper copies of their venerable reference.

Actually, they stopped in 2010 but didn't tell anyone. Now they've disclosed they've been able to sell just 8,000 copies of the collection. The rest are in a warehouse in Chicago, looking for someone who needs historically accurate, out-of-date information.

According to the company, they'll continue publishing online and will sell their services to individuals, schools and libraries. In some respects, that's good. The Web is much more easily updated, more interactive, and can deliver motion, sound, and color simultaneously. In other respects, that's not good, particularly for young readers, older folks, immigrants, and technophobes who'd rather read a book.

Britannica's decision is, in so many ways, simply a mile marker along the way to the new world of the 21st century. In mid-20th century America, a set of Britannicas on the shelf was a status symbol: a sign that the family had money, taste, some pretense to intellect, or at least a very strong desire to be seen that way.

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