It rains emotions here at #SxSW. Collectively, we buried Gowalla earlier this week. Mashable is on the verge of being taken over by aliens, and now, the mother of all wisdom, the notorious, always correct, all-knowing Encyclopedia Britannica throws in the towel. The costly, stately, heavy and brainy brown leather-covered books will be no more. Done. Over. Killed by the raging machine called the internet. Overlord just quietly murdered the library.
Encyclopedia Britannica has been in continuous print since it was first published in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1768. 1768. That is way before Napster and Netscape! But yesterday its management announced that it will pull the plug on the publication of its printed editions. It will, however, continue with digital versions online, available through subscription.
The book lover in me is sad that the 32 volumes of knowledge, more than 37 kilograms of wisdom, will never rest on my bookshelves. But at 1400 Euro ($1,500), the gargantuan print edition did not exactly come cheap. And, truth be told: by the time Encyclopedia Britannica was printed, each edition was by definition outdated.
The silent retreat of Encyclopedia Britannica is clearly another sign of the steady and unstoppable dominance of the digital content era.
I’ll pull a Bruce Sterling on this, and show you the future. Encyclopedia Britannica will not survive, not even on the internet superhighway. Knowledge is just a click away, and internauts hate to pay for content and knowledge that is freely available elsewhere.
Oh, I can hear some die-hards and anglo-nostalgics say that Encyclopedia Britannica was more than books: it was peer reviewed, correct, irreproachable. Only, it was not. Every single test over the last couple of years between the iconic book series and online crowd-sourced info sites (like Wikipedia) has proved disastrous for the paper queen of wisdom.
Yes, some people will subscribe. Yes, money will be generated through some cool-looking apps. But the era of Encyclopedia Britannica is done; it has lived out both its use and its purpose. It went from the emergency room into palliative care.