Britannica.com Rediscovers its Roots

Three years ago, Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc. launched a full-scale
assault on the Internet. Determined to regain its lead in an age gone
digital, the venerable Chicago-based company (which incidentally is older
than the United States of America) poured its resources into various Web
efforts.

By the fall of 1999, Encyclopaedia Britannica created a free Britannica Web site to
complement its online encyclopedia, which
was first introduced in 1994. And, with pseudo-intellectual entreprenuers
and day-trading VCs deeming content aggregators in fashion at the time, the
company turned to aggregating the content as opposed to creating it.
Consequently, in lieu of its stoic publishing business, the company poured
more time and money into an online directory service that was later dubbed
“eBLAST.”

But even after pumping tens of millions of dollars into its online
efforts (including the
largest ad campaign in its 233-year-old history
), Encyclopaedia
Britannica faced difficulties warding off the onslaught of the
computer-savvy — new competitors like Microsoft sales reps who were armed
with their $50 Encarta CD-ROMs. The site, itself, encountered technical problems as well as the scrutiny of critics who were eager to
denounce the company’s efforts. And eBLAST has since been discontinued.

Today, Encyclopaedia Britannica announced it will resume printing of its
world-renowned 32-volume encyclopedia in the fall of this year — the first
published revision since 1998.

“The economics of the model has changed,” said Tom Panelas, company
spokesman. “In large part because of the tail-off in advertising rates. Part
of our response to that is to return to products and revenues that have done
very well for us over the years but we have perhaps not given as much
attention to recently.”

To be sure, Panelas is quick to point out that the company isn’t entirely
retrenching from the Web. Britannica.com is merely re-shifting its business
model to diversify its product portfolio.

“In other words, we’re going to have a broader range of products than in
recent years when we have focused more on the Internet,” he explained to
internetnews.com.

The company still plans to pursue new
subscription-based services
such as BritannicaSchool.com, a Web-based
resource for the K-12 market. Details about availability and pricing will be
announced shortly.

In addition, it will continue to support the free site through
advertising.

But perhaps most significant in today’s announcement is Encyclopaedia
Britannica’s renewed commitment to original content. The new set of
encyclopedias will have new entries including the Ecstasy drug, Falun Gong,
rock star Madonna and writer J.K. Rowling.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica volume is the oldest continuously published
reference work in the English language, having been in print without
interruption since 1768.

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