Encyclopedia Britannica
© Unknown
Encyclopedia Britannica is the longest-running manufacturer of printed encyclopedias, with its first edition printed in Scotland in 1768
As the march of the iPad and Kindle continues unabated, the oldest manufacturer of encyclopedias has become one of the first major book publishing casualties of the digital age by cutting out its entire print operation.

The Encyclopedia Britannica, which has been in continuous print since it was first published in Edinburgh in 1768, said today that it will continue with digital versions currently available online.

The final set of the 32-volume printed edition remains available for sale on the company's website for £890 ($1,400).

Encyclopedia Britannica2
© Encyclopedia Brittanica
Britannica will continue with digital versions available online

Volumes by Numbers:
  • Total copies of Britannica sold: 7million
  • 1990: 120,000 encyclopedias sold
  • 1996: 40,000 sold
  • Just 8,500 2010 editions shipped
  • Visitors to Britannica's websites (including Merriam-Webster dictionaries) in 2011: 450million users
Jorge Cauz, Encyclopedia Britannica's president, said the top year for the printed encyclopedia was 1990, when 120,000 sets were sold. By 1996, that number had fallen to just 40,000.

An online subscription costs around £45 ($70) per year and the company recently launched a set of apps ranging between £1.20 ($1.99) and £3 ($4.99) per month.

The company said it will keep selling print editions until the current stock of around 4,000 sets runs out.

Mr Cauz added: 'The print edition became more difficult to maintain and wasn't the best physical element to deliver the quality of our database and the quality of our editorial'.

Britannica is one of many traditional publishers which has embraced the digital age with a range of online products but it has struggled with financial losses.

Mr Cauz admitted to a 'long road to profitability' for many publishers.

'Britannica was one of the first companies to really feel the full impact of technology, maybe 20 years ago, and we have been adapting to it, though it is very difficult at times,' he said.

While Encyclopedia Britannica has continued to operate, he expected 'many trade publishers will not survive - and any content development company will have to be thinking about how they are going to fill the gap.'

Wiki as a threat to Brittanica?

Although Britannica's president, Jorge Cauz, does not see Wikipedia as a threat, the statistics make interesting reading.

Total visitors to Britannica's websites last year numbered 450million.

Daily traffic to Wikipedia is around 100million hits, which equates to more than 36 BILLION hits a year.

And as the snapshot survey (see below) reveals, 45% of youngsters polled have never used a print encyclopedia - yet more than three-quarters have used Wikipedia.

In Britannica's favour is the fact that, unlike Wikipedia, it is not an open source tool that can be edited by anyone.

So, if it's accuracy people want (and there are plenty examples of wiki text being amended inaccurately), Mr Cauz clearly hopes those with a thirst for knowledge will head for his company's websites.

As to whether print editions of books will be viable products in the future, Mr Cauz predicted, 'print may not completely vanish from the market, but I think it is going to be increasingly less important'.

With its scholarly, reliable reputation, Mr Cauz said Encyclopedia Britannica had not been affected by the popularity of Wikipedia.

Last year, the company unveiled its own iPhone and iPad apps.

Mr Cauz told CNN: 'The print set is an icon. But it's an icon that doesn't do justice to how much we've changed over the years'.

The death of the print edition of Britannica echoes the rise of the techno-savvy consumer.

In terms of space-saving, practicality and cost, there is much to be said for e-books - something independent bookstores would dispute, as they are fast becoming endangered species.

Although digital books have been around for more than two decades, it is only in recent times that the long-predicted explosion in electronic reading has come to take hold.

In 2010, e-books accounted for 6 per cent of all books sold in the UK, with sales more than doubling every year.

And in the US, Amazon now sells more e-books than hardbacks and paperbacks combined.

'An encyclopedia? It's something you cook with': Rise of the digital generation...

A quarter of children do not know what an encyclopaedia is, with one in ten thinking it is something you cook with, travel on, use to catch a ball or to perform an operation.

The research findings, from Birmingham Science City, give an insight into the growing use of digital resources compared to print counterparts.

Below is a snapshot of the results of the survey of 500 six to 15-year-olds across the UK:
  • Almost half (45%) have never used a print encyclopaedia, yet more than three quarters (76%) have used Wikipedia.
  • The majority (54%) of six to 15-year-olds admit Google is their first point of call when they have a question.
  • Nearly a fifth (19%) have never used a print dictionary.
  • The majority (91%) of children use Google, with almost half (47%) 'Googling' at least five times a day and a fifth (18%) using the search engine ten times or more daily.
  • When Google is not able to help, a fifth of children would then look to Wikipedia for answers.
  • The results show that while youngsters are clued up on how to search the net, few are as comfortable with more traditional sources of information.
When Brittanica ruled: a history of the Encyclopedia
Encyclopedia Britannica3
© Herald Library
A rare first edition of Encyclopedia Britannica, from 1768
Mid-1700s: Edinburgh was a cradle of learning - home to novelist Sir Walter Scott, poet Robert Burns and diarist James Boswell.

To chronicle this age of Scottish enlightenment, printer Colin Macfarquhar and engraver Andrew Bell decided to publish a reference work, bringing on board 28-year-old scholar William Smellie to act as editor.

Their volumes would be sorted alphabetically and 'compiled upon a new plan in which the different Sciences and Arts are digested into distinct Treatises or Systems' - and its hallmark would be, in the words of its editor, 'utility'.

Britannica's first edition was published in 'fascicles' - one section at a time - over three years, from 1768.

It was finished three years later and sold out.

Building on this success, another edition - this time in ten volumes - was brought out between 1777 and 1784.

1790: It did not take long for news of the encyclopedia to reach America. A pirated version was printed in Philadelphia by Thomas Dobson. Dropping the name Britannica, parts were rewritten to serve its US audience - and other tweaks included omitting the dedication to King George III.

1797: A third edition of 18 volumes was produced. For the first time, articles from outside contributors were also featured. A fourth edition in 1809 contained 20 volumes.

Eminent 19th century scholars continued to add their contributions - with fascinating treatises on subjects such as the Rosetta Stone and Egyptian hieroglyphics.

1875-89: The ninth edition - known as the 'scholar's edition' - was published.It outlined many scientific discoveries: a study of Darwin's theory of evolution; a critique on biblical literature; and other topics of discussion included John Keats, anarchism and taboo.

1910-11: An 11th edition was published in association with Cambridge University. By this point, two Americans had taken over ownership of Britannica - Horace Hooper and Walter Jackson.

Contributors to the 12th (1921-22) and 13th (1926) editions included such luminaries as Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Leon Trotsky and Harry Houdini.

1929: The company had almost completely shifted its operation to the States - and a permanent editorial team was established in Chicago. Under the leadership of William Benton, who later became a senator, the company expanded by purchasing Compton's Encyclopedia, the dictionary publisher G. & C. Merriam (later Merriam-Webster, Inc.) and others.

1981: The first digital version of the the encyclopedia was produced - and also made the first multimedia CD-ROM encyclopedia, Compton's MultiMedia Encyclopedia, in 1989.

By the 1990s, Britannica had produced or was at work on encyclopedias and other educational materials in Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan, Italy, France, Spain, Latin America, Turkey, Hungary, Poland, and elsewhere.

1994: The company developed Britannica Online, the first encyclopedia for the Internet, making the entire text available worldwide. That year, the first version of the Britannica on CD-ROM was also published.