R.I.P. Encylopedia Brittanica: 1768-2012

My grandparents had them. They lined the den in their modest Indiana home. In the garage, outdated sets were stacked neatly in boxes. Every year, salesmen came to the doors of homes and schools peddling their wares. But all that is over.  Encyclopedia Brittanica has announced that they will no longer offer their product in print.

It’s rather a sad passage for some of us older folk.  There aren’t many businesses that can claim they were viable for over two hundred years. In 1768,  Encyclopedia Brittanica published its first set of volumes in Edinburgh, Scotland and has been in continuous publication until this year.

It’s not difficult to understand what finally put the venerable company under. Two words: Wikipedia and Google.  Publicly, the company claims that their online competition was not a deciding factor in killing their printed volumes but that seems difficult to believe. Not only is it much easier to access needed information quickly, it’s difficult to compete with “free.” A complete set of Encyclopedia Brittanicas runs some $1,395.

Space, too, is a consideration. A full set consists of thirty-two volumes and weights upwards of 129 pounds. A good flashdrive, by contrast, could conceivably contain every entry in Wikipedia (26,603,553 pages) and fit comfortably in your pocket, with room to spare.

While some champions of the old school encyclopedias decry Wikipedia for having factual errors, a study comparing errors in a sampling of Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Brittanica articles found that there were three errors in Brittanica entries and four in Wikipedia selections. And of course, factual errors are much easier to correct online than in print.

Encyclopedia Brittanica prides itself on having experts write their entries. For example, Arnold Palmer penned the article about the Master’s tournament. If you truly care about this sort of thing, you can still have access to Encyclopedia Brittanica online. But it will cost you $70 for an annual subscription.

Digital Lending Is Here!

For me, books are like crack. I will seriously consider buying less food if there is a new title out that I want to read.  And having a Kindle makes it all too easy to have instant gratification.

At first I thought I was safe. After all, Kindle allows you to “sample” any book you are thinking about purchasing before actually doing so. I typically do opt for the free portion before buying, but rarely do I not click “Download Now.” In under a minute, I have added another digital notch to my bookshelf.

However, roughly a third of the time I select a title, I have some buyer’s remorse. And as many Kindle owners know, those regrets can add up financially. That’s why I was pleased to learn that Kindle has added “library lending” to its services.

Just like a title you purchase, your library selections allow you to annotate, highlight, and use bookmarks. If you choose to buy it or check it out again, those notes will still be there.

Right now, 11,000 libraries around the country are participating in digital lending.

Here  is how it works:

  • Visit the website of a U.S. library that offers digital services from OverDrive.
  • Check out a Kindle book (using a valid library card).
  • Click on “Get for Kindle” and then sign in to your Amazon.com account to have the book delivered to your Kindle device or reading app.
  • Your book can be delivered to your device either directly or via USB.

Happy (free!) reading!!!