Wikipedia is barely a decade old. That may be an eternity in internet years, but most people on Earth do remember a day when Wikipedia did not exist. Of course, most people on Earth don't have access to Wikipedia today, but that's another issue. Back in the day, the source of encyclopedic knowledge was, well, encyclopedias.
Now, one of the oldest and most respected, Encyclopaedia Britannica, has announced that it has stopped printing the book edition of the encyclopedia. While the 32 volumes are still available for sale, once the existing copies are sold out, no new ones will be printed.
But this is hardly the end for the company, instead it's looking at the future and at its website and the specialized products it's still offering.
"At Encyclopaedia Britannica we believe that the announcement that we will no longer print the 32-volume encyclopedia is of great significance, not for what it says about our past, but for what it projects about our vibrant present and future as a digital provider of general knowledge and instructional services," Jorge Cauz, president of Encyclopaedia Britannica, wrote.
There is a sense of nostalgia about this, it is the end of an era. But the fact is, the change is for the better. There is now more information available to more people almost free of charge.
Most other businesses that find themselves overtaken by a modern competitor or technology would do all in their power to stop progress. Encyclopaedia Britannica is embracing it.
What's more, not only is the move a very obvious example of a century-old business adapting to the new conditions even if it means abandoning its core "asset," in this case the printed books, but it's also a great example that you can compete with "free."
Wikipedia is free in most senses of the word, provided you have internet access, and it's also larger than Encyclopaedia Britannica could ever be. However, Encyclopaedia Britannica is banking on the things it can do better than Wikipedia, an important one being quality.
While most Wikipedia articles are not flat out wrong, errors do creep in, as they do in Encyclopaedia Britannica of course. But Wikipedia doesn't have the type of experienced editors and experts working for it that Encyclopaedia Britannica does.
"In spite of our long history with print, I would like to point out that no single medium, neither books nor bits, is at the core of our mission," Cauz wrote.
"That mission is to be a reliable, up-to-date, and scholarly source of knowledge and learning for the general public, and I believe that 200 years from now, this mission will continue to be vital and relevant and that the people of the future who are committed to it will use the best available technology to fulfill it," he added.