Encyclopaedia Britannica Stops Publishing Dead Tree Version; If You're Unfamiliar, You Can Read About It On Wikipedia

from the end-of-an-era-that-actually-ended-years-ago dept

There is something symbolic about the news that the Encyclopaedia Britannica is finally giving up on its printed product — a product that was once more or less “required” for middle class families. Of course, if you’d asked me last week if Britannica actually still printed its books, I might have guessed they’d already stopped. Britannica had lost an awful lot of relevance even before Wikipedia came along, and its efforts to embrace the web have always come across as too little, too late in an era dominated by Wikipedia. While the ending of the print publication is a milestone, it seems unlikely to be an indication of fortunes turning around for Britannica.

Filed Under: ,
Companies: encyclopaedia britannica, wikipedia

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Encyclopaedia Britannica Stops Publishing Dead Tree Version; If You're Unfamiliar, You Can Read About It On Wikipedia”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Quinn Wilde (user link) says:


Britannica wordcount on Wikipedia: ~1400

Wikipedia wordcount on Britannica: ~7500

Which one sounds more comprehensive to you?

(It could just be that there’s more to say about Brittanica than wikipedia… but both Brittanica and Wikipedia have self-referencing articles of similar length (wikipedia 10k, brittanica 12.5k)

:Lobo Santo (profile) says:

Re: Re: Telling....

yes, provided your audience has the ability to read and comprehend… if one is forced to use many small words because medium-sized words with specific definitions confuse the audience then the whole word-count thing becomes…

Never mind, you’re exactly right.

Clarity and succinctness and complete lack of ambiguity.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Telling....

Wikipedia is great either for general references or as a reference to someone who already spent a long time studying a technical subject and just wants a quick reference to something they learned a long time ago but mostly forgot.

You couldn’t really use wikipedia to study a technical matter for the first time, you would need to either take a class or buy a textbook designed to teach the subject to you.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Telling....

You are correct. simple.wikipedia.org is, however, good for a few laughs.

It’s not because of it’s accuracy or anything. It’s because I find funny the way they try to explain complex topics in the same language a parent would try to explain them to a 3-year-old child 🙂

This doesn’t mean that I don’t applaud their effort, tough. I am sure that it useful and important to have.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Telling....

Lets see.

How Differential Gear works (BEST Tutorial) from the 30’s explaining how a differential works to a 5 year old.

Comparing that to the modern version.

How a Differential Works and Types of Differentials from 2011 explanation.

Well, dunno but I’m going with the 5 year old explanation here, it explains how it works it shows you and helps you understand what it does and how it does it, the other one is prettier but it doesn’t explain that well just says what the whole mechanism does and never bother to explain how they actually work you don’t get to understand why the gears turn the way they turn it just says “trust me” it will do this, when it is not clear to everyone how the gears work really, that is why the 30’s video is great it shows why the gears act the way they act and people have an easier time acquiring the knowledge of what they do.

With that said I agree simple language does not guarantee greater clarity for that the people doing the explaining need to be knowledgeable on what they are explaining so they can find the best approximation and means to explain something but simple language means common language that is accessible to a bigger group of people and with the ever growing need to share knowledge with other fields that is going to become a problem that every engineer/professional out there will have to learn something about it, you don’t want doctors and programmers talking different languages there needs to be a common one that can be used for both of them to pass knowledge to each other it is becoming increasingly unacceptable to create terms that are only used in one area and not to others because it makes it difficult to work in large groups.

e.g.: Get a doctor to explain how a heart works and then get a mechanical engineer to explain how a pump works and then get an physicist to explain how a pump works all those terms used in different areas makes no sense to people outside, but they all explain the exact same thing and that can be explained in simple terms.

The myocardial muscle will contract pushing blood away.
The Tension ball will contract pushing blood away.

Today two groups of people need a third one to serve as a translation interface between everybody else, Steve Jobs although a tremendous jerk was a brilliant interface, he knew just enough engineering to understand what they were talking about and was able to be simple minded enough to understand the needs of other people, that is no easy task. That has other names some people call that managers, some call it coordinator, some call it GUI.

Simple language: The more simple you can communicate something a larger group of people you can reach and more benefits can be draw from it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Telling....

“Britannica wordcount on Wikipedia: ~1400
Wikipedia wordcount on Britannica: ~7500
Which one sounds more comprehensive to you?”

Word count is irrelevant.
What counts is the intelligence and integrity of the writers and editors.
Britannica wins over Wikipedia hands-down.

Wikipedia,because of it’s open-source nature invites self-serving or deliberately-inaccurate entries composed by those who wish to misdirect or present biased information.
How many times have articles about politicians or other public figures been modified to deliberately contain what could politely be called “inaccuracies”?

HATS says:

Re: Re: Re: Telling....

This. Wikipedia is good for what it is; it is not a replacement for a fully vetted encyclopedia. As you say, it is best used as the starting point for further research.

It has been interesting, as a university student for the past 7 years, to see the faculty position on Wikipedia gradually change from “It’s rubbish and written by god knows who, and you should avoid it like the plague”, to “Sure, use it to get a basic overview – just make sure that you confirm anything you’re relying on with an external source.”

Ima Fish (profile) says:

I might have guessed they’d already stopped.

I would have assumed they stopped back in the 90s. First CD-ROM encyclopedias killed any reason to buy a set of books. Then the internet killed any reason to buy a CD-ROM. I’m assuming only libraries were buying them.

When I grew up in the 70s we had an old set from the 50s. It was hilarious to read because any speculation about a future event, e.g., landing on the moon, were hilariously wrong. One article stated that to get to the moon we’d have to build an orbiting space station and then launch a craft from there. Good stuff.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re:

One article stated that to get to the moon we’d have to build an orbiting space station and then launch a craft from there. Good stuff.

Given the state of rockets in the 1950’s, that would have been a true statement. It wasn’t until we figured out how to build multistage rockets and launch them without them blowing up on the pad that we had enough speed to break orbit. Firing a rocket from a space station would require less fuel than from the ground, since you are further out of the well.

Encyclopedias are always out of date before they are even printed. Wikipedia catches up some because of the ease of editing.

Steve R. (profile) says:

Re: Will the Encyclopedia Itself Sruvive

You raise a very fundamental question. When a company seeks to explore new business areas; can that be considered “code” speak for eventually abandoning the encyclopedia itself.

Companies have been known to take a high quality product that customers like and cheapen the product to jack-up the profit margin. When the customers stop buying the product; it simply “dies”. Will that be the future for Britannica?

Steve R. (profile) says:

Another Failure to Adapt

This is another instance of an industry leader that has failed to adapt to changing technology. One thing that made an me an instant convert to Wikipedia was its ability to have “small” stories concerning new content that Britannica would never bother with. (For example newly released movies).

The encyclopedia purest police have lambasted Wikipedia concerning quality control. Yes that is an issue, but I have also been able to find in Wikipedia analysis on obscure historical events that seem to be missing from Britannica. I will even suggest that Britannica is “censoring” history by limiting their articles to only “approved” pundits. And who is to say that the “approved” pundits are unbiased anyway.

aldestrawk says:

I use Wikipedia nearly everyday mostly as a first step in researching technical stuff related to computers and the internet. One of my gripes about the quality of the articles that I usually read is that they have been “dumbed down” over the past few years. This is an intentional trend by Wikipedia to make all their articles more encyclopedic. However, by making those articles more accessible to the general public but less useful to me personally. The links and references in the articles are very useful though. I see a niche for on-line encyclopedia(s) that are narrow in scope but more detailed and more technical than Wikipedia for science and technical subjects. I cannot compare the Encyclopedia Britannica though as my set is the 1926 edition. (No, I am not THAT OLD!)

whocares says:

yes, well ..

Wikipedia is for 5-year-olds and Americans.

Any electronic resource, be it Wikipedia OR Britannica, is ok for general quick reference, but as a research tool it is totally useless.

A serious researcher must cite reliable and consistent sources. How can you cite a source that doesn’t remain static? If the article is different today compared to yesterday, then it’s not the same article, and I cannot cite it in my work because that means nobody else can refer to it.


Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...