March 13, 2012

Wikipedia wins.

Britannica folds.


edutcher said...

Too bad.

The "people's encyclopaedia" often showed it was written by "the people", instead of people who knew the subject.

chickenlittle said...

We were a Collier's Encyclopedia family which sounds more blue collar.

Joan said...

Fortunately, Britannica's business model doesn't rely on them selling the hard copies any more. I have a subscription to their online encyclopedia that is indispensable for my kids' research projects, and I love their video resources for my own classroom.

However, this: Wikipedia has been gradually accepted as a largely accurate source, even by scholars and academics
is demonstrably NOT true. Wikipedia is a great place to start serious research, but no one with two brain cells thinks citing Wikipedia as a reliable source is a good idea.

Hagar said...

But wikipedia is instantly available and will do for most of my purposes, and, you know, I have never even seen an actaul Brittanica.

Beldar said...

Their business model on the net sucks. I'd submit to some (revenue-generating) banner ads in exchange for access to their content -- which is indeed premium quality -- but nooooooo, they want my credit card, they want a subscription fee. Thus go the dinosaurs.

Tibore said...

People shouldn't conflate Wikipedia with Britannica, regardless of the fact they're both touted as "encyclopedias". One's a crowdsourced repository of knowledge, the other rests on authoritatively vetted content. People need to understand that there's a difference between the two. There's always going to be a necessary place for crowdsourced repositories, but there's a necessary place for non-crowd vetted material too. It's true that an authoritatively vetted source of information can fail, but it's also too true that a crowdsourced one can too. Both are necessary.

William said...

The marketing was wrong. It should not have been marketed as a book, but rather as a bookshelf accessory. The volumes were handsomely bound and gave the bookshelf a distinguished, settled look. If they take out all those pages, the books would be much cheaper to produce, not to mention lighter and easier to dust and move around.....I wonder how much longer Bartlett has left.

EDH said...

A kindly older gentleman used to be the face of Britannica to many, from near and far, manning his display every day at the old Harvard "Coop" . I can't find any articles announcing his retirement, a more sentimental passage at the time to me because he always put a proud person in front of the product and the tradition.

Rule Britannica
The Harvard Crimson
October 14, 1993

Tucked in a corner on the first floor of the Coop's book building, Joseph Connors and his Encyclopaedia Britannica display await fact-grubbing customers. The former history teacher has been inviting curious onlookers to sit down and talk reference books for more than thirteen years.

"I like it very much," Connors says of his job. He says he takes pride in running the nation's only permanent Encyclopaedia Britannica display in a bookstore. On the job, Connors gets the opportunity to meet celebrities, business leaders and heads of state--and sell them encyclopedia sets.

"Whoopi Goldberg bought a set," recalls Connors. After coming to Harvard to receive the Hasty Pudding Club's Woman of the Year award, Goldberg stopped by the Coop and noticed the display. "She said, `Oh, Britannica! I wanted to get one for a long time,'" and Connors made the sale.

Among Connors' other famous customers is the late Samuel Doe, once dictator of Liberia who has since been overthrown and killed. During the Gulf War, the brother of the king of Saudi Arabia stayed at the Charles Hotel and visited the Coop dressed in his regal Arabian robes. "He asked if I [could] have a set shipped to him by Friday," says Connors. Normally, shipment would take two to three weeks but the Saudi prince needed it for his granddaughter's birthday. "I said, 'Yes, Your Highness, if you'll pay for the freight." And he did.

A basic Britannica set runs for $1,500, but most people buy the leather bound edition, which is $100 more. Britannica also markets hand-tooled leather editions that run as high as $10,000. "I've only sold a few of those," concedes Connors.

Foreigners are responsible for many of the Britannica sales at the Coop. The encyclopedia is world-famous, but is less accessible in other parts of the world. This year, Connors says he has sold 12 sets to German tourists and shipped sets to Turkey, Bangladesh and Mexico. He averages four to five sales per week and works strictly on commission.

Connors plans to stay at the Coop for at least another five years. He has converted his corner display into a working office complete with his own private phone line. After 13 years, Connors has grown used to the Coop and vice versa. Sitting up in his chair, Connors says, "When people think of Britannica, they think of me at the Harvard Coop."

rcocean said...

This actually isn't a good thing. Wikipedia is a biased, superficial, and often wrong source of data on a lot of topics.

But most people don't care anyway. As long as someone can tell them where Bolivia is, they're happy.

BTW, go read the 1911 Britannica, its a model of objective scholarship and good writing.

john said...

"First Published in 1768 by a Society of Gentlemen in Scotland"

Dedicated by Permission
To the Heads of Two English-Speaking Peoples
President of the United States of America

Kind of stuck up, them, expecting us to know that she was the Queen of Great Britan without having to state it.

We grew up with the Britannica. My interest started young and mostly of Volume 1 "A - Anstey", and that grainy b/w picture of topless African girls, which had to do for this boy (since mom wouldn't allow National Geographics in the house). But eventually all the volumes became an indespensible study aid, through grade and high school; as well as being gripping historical diversions, from the great photos of them building the Aswan High Dam, to, especially, Shakleton's voyage.

In my 20's I bought the 14th Edition, on credit, and continued buying the yearbooks for several more years. I thought I'd eventually get married and have kids, and wanted this home resource to be there for them as it was for me. Which happened, we had them, and they then graced the only decent bookcase we owned... where they have sat for more than 20 years.

Until this evening.

C R Krieger said...

Like Chickenlittle, we had Collier's Encyclopedia and it was an important object lesson to us boys that knowledge was important.  All three of us went to college (well, as my Middle Brother points out, I went to a trade school, the Air Force Academy), whereas our Father did not and our Mother was a two year RN, back in the day.  I love Wikipedia and dismiss those who see it as "just" crowd sourced, but I am sorry to see Britannica gone.

Regards  —  Cliff

David said...


Crumples is more like it.

David said...

We had World Book when I was growing up. It was a very serious purchase by my parents, and quite costly. It was a great investment. My brother and I would browse it, finding topics we did not even know existed. It really stimulated curiosity.

In that sense it was like the internet, except without all the crap and diversions. Also World Book had no porn.

shiloh said...

"I have a subscription to their online encyclopedia that is indispensable for my kids' research projects, and I love their video resources for my own classroom."

Hopefully, it will help college/universities go the way of the dinosaur, as internet college degrees continue to grow. Indeed, no need for useless overhead and overpriced professors that only help students go into deep debt, while they learn nothing after partying all night.

Damn, I just made college affordable to everyone. :-P


Oh yea, my dad bought Encyclopedia Britannica c. 1966. I enjoyed the world atlas, both globe and book form and the Catholic Bible, which my mom still has. And (10) years of the year book.

btw, it was sold door to door by traveling salesmen, much like Avon. I listened to my dad and the sales agent negotiate the deal. My dad was in the automobile business most of his life. If you can't sell 'em, confuse 'em er if you can't dazzle them w/brilliance ...

Time ~ marches on!

The Surge said...

There are many encyclopedias available... Britannica folded because they wanted to depend on the printed matter too much. At NYU 10 years ago, I took a business class (my major was Math) which dealt with why Britannica was spiraling down. Come on, who buys a CD-ROM for $1,000?