Monday, December 26, 2005

britannica in decline

I quoted a study from Nature earlier which compared wikipedia with Britannica and found that wikipedia did quite well.

However, the decline of Britannica due to competition from digital sources, such as Encarta, started well before the success of wikipedia:

A particularly poignant example of the rapidity with which the digital revolution has undermined a hitherto financially and culturally valuable business is the story of the latest (and, possibly, the last) decade of Encyclopaedia Britannica (EB).

In 1991, the company sold about 400,000 printed sets, and in 1997 about 10,000. (Tellingly, my source for this information is a quotation from the Managing Director of EB International, only available to subscribers to a for-fee service, E-Commerce Today). The collapse was triggered by the success of Microsoft Encarta and other CD-ROM versions of lower-quality but approximately equivalent collections sold in a convenient and inexpensive form. Since then, web-based information services have mushroomed. Despite its brand reputation, and the apparent quality and presumed value of the content the company owned, and even after scrambling to survive, revenue has halved, losses have accumulated, the company has changed hands several times, and survival remains uncertain
- Roger Clarke. Freedom of Information? The Internet as Harbinger of the New Dark Ages


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