Going On The Account: Losing the Rutter

Just got word that Encyclopedia Britannica is ending the run of its physical editions with the 2010 issue.

According to the article, they still have 4,000 copies of the last run available for sale, a third of the total print run, for $1,395.  According to their sales page, this offer is limited only to individuals and will not be made available to institutions, so if you’re a school or library, you’re SOL.

So where to begin on ending a long run on such a sour note…?

Yes, what they say in the death notices for the EB, what anyone who does research in any field today will say if asked, is indeed true:  Print is dead.   As a reference source, in a rapidly evolving world that changes on a dime, in a universe that has a “24-hour news cycle,” a reference work that is published once a year can be a liability if you need an answer for something important, say to interpret a news article properly or deliberate on a policy proposal.  Or hey, for something trivial as well, like whether where you’re going on vacation next month has something interesting to see.

(Mind you, if you’re planning on vacationing in Kandahar, you could be doing both…)

The writing was on the smartboard for physical encyclopedias,  though, as far back as 2005, when Nature did benchmark tests of Britannica versus Wikipedia, and found that both came out as accurate in terms of the information presented to readers.  Whatever authority Britannica had, and by extension the physical volumes they printed, was blown away by that, and the only justification they had for the old model versus the crowd-sourced upstarts was no longer there to keep them around.

The old, “But think of the children!” argument, where we see something we grew up with not being there for the next generation to experience, doesn’t really work here.  It’s well proven that kids are adapting to a digital environment just fine without books; having an iPad declared a cool children’s toy a few years ago is proof positive that the encyclopedia we all knew when we were younger…

…OK, that some of us knew when we were younger (happy?), has indeed ended up relegated to only one function out of the many it used to hold, as a great collector of the various bits if dust your bookshelf comes into contact with.  And there’s probably a good plug in for your smart phone that will collect the dust faster and give it a spectroscopic analysis that the encyclopedia never could…

So, one less resource to turn to, going beneath the horizon with little notice like a ship sailing from port bound out of our sight and minds.  Can’t say I have a lot of sighs for it, considering this leaves us with plenty around to take its place.  A little wistful remembrance perhaps for the 20+ books on the shelf on my part, but like sail giving way to steam, not much to say after so long.

Does anyone else feel this way, or not…?

1 Comment

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One response to “Going On The Account: Losing the Rutter

  1. As much as I hate to see hard copies of anything go out of print, I can certainly understand EB’s decision. Kids can get a larger variety of resources on-line than they could from one set of books that, like you say, is out of date before the end of the year in which they were published. 🙂

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