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Encyclopaedia Britannica nukes print edition, goes digital-only

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Encyclopaedia Britannica is ending its hefty 32-volume print run after 244 years as it shifts its business entirely over to the digital publishing market.

Sales of the world's oldest English-language encyclopaedia will continue until the company's remaining stock of 4,000 sets is depleted. A new edition of the collection is published by Encyclopedia Britannica every two years. The first print run was put together in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1768.

The company already generates 85 per cent of its revenue from online sales, so the decision to axe its printed edition is not a surprising one.

"The sales of printed encyclopaedias have been negligible for several years," president of Encyclopaedia Britannica Jorge Cauz told the BBC. "We knew this was going to come."

El Reg could now add a throwaway comment about Jimbo Wales here, but we'd rather leave it to the great man's website Wikipedia instead, which notes without a hint of irony:

The Britannica has had difficulty remaining profitable. Some articles in earlier editions have been criticised for inaccuracy, bias, or unqualified contributors. The accuracy in parts of the present edition has likewise been questioned, although criticisms have been challenged by Britannica's management.

It also repeatedly suggests, with little in the way of citation, natch, that Wikipedia is a serious rival to Encyclopaedia Britannica.

That's apples and oranges according to the company's MD Ian Grant, speaking in 2009.

"I think the comparison is a non-debate, because we offer something very different. Wikipedia is a fun site to use and has a lot of interesting entries on there, but their approach wouldn't work for Encyclopaedia Britannica," he told Econsultancy.

"My job is to create more awareness of our very different approaches to publishing in the public mind. They're a chisel, we're a drill, and you need to have the correct tool for the job."

Ouch. ®

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