Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012



Can you imagine a world without encyclopedias?  That implausible reality might just happen.  Last week, ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA announced the 2010 Edition would be the last one ever printed.  Don't panic: You can still buy this last set!  The company still has plenty of the thirty-two, hard-cover, amazingly durable volumes left.  The entire set costs $1,395.00 and weighs in at a hefty 120 lbs.  Or...you can purchase the online edition.  It runs for $69.95 and is as light as feather!  Or, there's a convienent i-Phone app  for just $1.99 per month.  It's your choice.  Now do you see why the books are being discontinued?

OKAY...this being the DUNER BLOG...we simply must give some background on ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA.  It all began 244 years ago in Edinburgh, Scotland. A prominent publishing house was approached to translate the French Encyclop√©die by Denis Diderot into English.  Although recognized worldwide as a scientific masterpiece, many of the articles were in dispute...particularly those about freedom of thought.   Rather than translate heresy, it was instead decided to create an entirely new edition.  Three lengthy years later, the arduous work was completed.  The first editions were sold in 1768 for 12 pounds sterling.  The three volumes (A-B, C-L & M-Z) were an instant sensation and were sold around the world.

The second edition soon followed. It was larger and expanded into the subjects of history and art.  It included articles from such prominent people as THOMAS JEFFERSON, ALEXANDER POPE and VOLTAIRE.   It was considered a must for any self-respecting university, library or dignitary to own a set of the ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA.  In fact, upon his ascension to the throne in 1797, the Shaw of Persia was presented with a set.  He voraciously proceeded to read all ten books.   Afterward, he demanded that...in the third edition...the words: "Most Formidable Lord and Master of the Encyclopedia Britannica" be added to his official title.  Unfortunately, not everyone shared the Shah's love of the books.  KING GEORGE III was so disgusted with the drawings of women's pelvises in the childbirth section, he demanded these three pages be torn out of every edition. 

Read more here: http://www.bellinghamherald.com/2012/03/20/2445229/closing-the-book-on-britannica.html#storylink=cpy

Two hundred years and fifteen editions later, ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA hit its peak in the year 1990.  An information-starved public without an Internet purchased 120,000 copies of the 32 volume set...a record for one calendar year.  However, this figure has rapidly decreased in recent years to the paltry 8,000 set sold last year.  As we all know, the Internet has been the main reason for this decline in sales.  The launch of Wikipedia in 2001 is the most obvious factor.  With 25 million articles in 286 languages, it's used daily by 15% of all Internet users worldwide. 

While all of us at the DUNER BLOG realize these simple facts about information and technology, none of us were truly prepared for Thursday's press release.  Bob...a lower staff writer...summed it up best: "I feel like I've lost my best friend!"  It's true: Back in the day, when you had a Junior High School Social Science essay due, you'd ask yourself; "Who you gonna call?" Not GHOST BUSTERS!  Nope, you'd pay a call to the public library.  You'd rush inside to the reference section... find the correct volume.. heatedly flip through pages.. in hope of finding...YES! An entire page on ELI WHITNEY and the Cotton Gin.  Your grade was saved!  Long live the ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA!

No comments:

Post a Comment