Sic transit gloria mundi

The first edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica was published in 1768 in Edinburgh, Scotland. In the Preface to the Encyclopaedia, William Smellie, the 28-year-old editor (and author of many of the entries), expressed his hope that this new kind of encyclopaedia or dictionary, containing not just short definitions but also lengthy essays and systematic treatment of all arts and sciences, would benefit a great number of people: “We will … venture to affirm, that any man of ordinary parts, may, if he chuses, learn the principles of Agriculture, of Astronomy, of Botany, of Chemistry, etc., etc., from the Encyclopaedia Britannica.” 

244 years later, any man of ordinary parts can not only learn but also create encyclopedia entries.

The New York Times on Encyclopaedia Britannica discontinuing its print edition: “…in recent years, print reference books have been almost completely wiped out by the Internet and its vast spread of resources, particularly Wikipedia, which in 11 years has helped replace the authority of experts with the wisdom of the crowds…

The oldest continuously published encyclopedia in the English language, the Encyclopaedia Britannica has become a luxury item with a $1,395 price tag… Only 8,000 sets of the 2010 edition have been sold, and the remaining 4,000 have been stored in a warehouse until they can be purchased…

Sales of Encyclopaedia Britannica peaked in 1990, when 120,000 sets were sold in the United States. But now print encyclopedias account for less than 1 percent of Encyclopaedia Britannica’s revenues. About 85 percent of revenues come from selling curriculum products in subjects like math, science and the English language; the remainder comes from subscriptions to the Web site, the company said…

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