It was probably inevitable, but on Tuesday, it became official: the Encyclopaedia Britannica is finally going out of print. The news was confirmed yesterday by Jorge Cauz, president of Chicago-based Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc., who told the New York Times
that his company has decided to completely abandon print operations, in favor of its online platform. The announcement marks the end of a remarkable 244-year run for Britannica and its leather-bound tomes, which at one point stood as a hallmark of middle class living rooms and libraries. In fact, it's been barely two decades since the company reached its high water mark, when it sold some 120,000 sets back in 1990. Once the internet came into full bloom, however, Britannica's sales soon plummeted. In 2010, the publisher sold just 8,000 sets, leaving an additional 4,000 unsold copies to gather dust in a warehouse.
Tuesday's announcement may mark the end of an era, but Cauz seems to have come to terms with Britannica's decision, calling it a "rite of passage." He's also eager to devote more time to his company's website, which will look to chip away at Wikipedia
's market hegemony. Cauz, however, believes the two platforms can (and must) co-exist, because they fill two different roles. "We cannot deal with every single cartoon character, we cannot deal with every love life of every celebrity," he explained. "But we need to have an alternative where facts really matter. Britannica won't be able to be as large, but it will always be factually correct."