Free Britannica to cut off Encarta's air supply?

The old guard goes portal in bid for survival

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

Encyclopaedia Britannica, founded in 1768 by three Scottish printers, became free on the Web from yesterday, at www.britannica.co.uk It had previously made most of its revenue from sales of a $60 CD-ROM, and online access fees. Britannica.co.uk is a new company that may seek an IPO, and is run by Don Yannias, who was previously CEO of the publishing company. The print edition will continue to be sold for $1,200, but it will be slimmed down. The companies are privately held by Swiss investor Jacob Safra. The new Web site could become a significant portal, linking to current news in newspapers, wire services and some 70 magazines, including Science, Newsweek, and Fortune, as well as weather forecasts and the like. A link to Barnes and Noble so that Britannica articles can reference books that can then be ordered online is being discussed. Gateway is a sponsor, as is 1-800Flowers. An online store is also being developed, but ad revenue is planned to be the primary source of income. The latest management chewing-gum tome Blown to Bits by Philip Evans and Thomas Wurster of the Boston Consulting Group (Harvard Business School Press), gives an interesting account of how Britannica was knocked from its pedestal by Microsoft. In 1990, Britannica sales were $650 million, but the decline-and-fall story is one of riches to rags. With Encarta, Grolier, and Compton being mostly given away with PCs, it proved impossible for Britannica to continue its pricing model. The door-to-door sales teams were dropped three years ago, and Britannica had spurned an approach from Microsoft, so Microsoft did a deal with Funk & Wagnells and first produced Encarta in 1993. When the then-owners, the Benton family, finally decided to sell the company in May 1995 after an impossible battering from Encarta, Microsoft was no longer interested in buying it. Safra bought the company for less than half the book value. Microsoft meanwhile finds it cannot generate sufficient annual renewal sales of Encarta, which is edutainment adapted to cater for regional user prejudice, rather than scholarship. Until this move yesterday, it had been feared that Britannica would go to the wall, and with it the destruction of the serious encyclopaedia industry. Perhaps there is now hope. ®

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
Phones 4u slips into administration after EE cuts ties with Brit mobe retailer
More than 5,500 jobs could be axed if rescue mission fails
Driving with an Apple Watch could land you with a £100 FINE
Bad news for tech-addicted fanbois behind the wheel
Phones 4u website DIES as wounded mobe retailer struggles to stay above water
Founder blames 'ruthless network partners' for implosion
Radio hams can encrypt, in emergencies, says Ofcom
Consultation promises new spectrum and hints at relaxed licence conditions
Special pleading against mass surveillance won't help anyone
Protecting journalists alone won't protect their sources
Big Content Australia just blew a big hole in its credibility
AHEDA's research on average content prices did not expose methodology, so appears less than rigourous
Vodafone to buy 140 Phones 4u stores from stricken retailer
887 jobs 'preserved' in the process, says administrator PwC
prev story


Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.