I have to admit, when I first read this story last night (on my smartphone, I might add) about Encyclopaedia Britannica announcing its decision to cease printing and focus instead on its online efforts, I was not only shocked, but also felt a twinge of sadness. For me, the story unearthed nostalgic memories of sitting at a child-sized table with my elementary school librarian, looking up facts about animals and places that interested me within the dozens of volumes of information. But considering that I left elementary school in 1995 and that those are my most recent memories of interacting with the Encyclopaedia Britannica, it seems obvious why the company would move in a digital direction.
Obviously, the Internet, with websites such as Wikipedia, has taken quite a chunk out of the readership of print encyclopedias, including the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Users can now pay $70 a year to access the information provided in the Encyclopaedia Britannica online, the story says. (Or throw down nearly $1,400 for the latest edition of the 32 leather-bound volumes.)
In the Chicago Tribune article about the company’s digital move, Matthew Kirschenbaum, an associate professor of English at the University of Maryland, says that while there is an obvious economic advantage for both the user and the publisher to move solely online, there is something that may be lost by moving from print to online. For example, he says, there will be no more serendipitous discoveries made by flipping through the pages of the print encyclopedia.
There is an obvious connection here to the growing use of digital textbooks in K-12 classrooms. Take a look at some of our past coverage about digital textbooks to get a better idea of how this evolving field is shifting.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.