The Latest in CD/DVD Encyclopedias

Article excerpt

Several of the 2000 versions are good values, but a few are not

You may think it's too early in the year to form an opinion about the 2000 editions of CD/DVD-ROM encyclopedias, but it's not. Traditionally, the leading general-interest encyclopedia publishers release their new versions in the third quarter of the year. For instance, the 2000 editions were released between July and September of 1999.

Of course, you wouldn't know this if you get your CD/DVD-ROM encyclopedia news from the otherwise excellent PC Magazine. In the October 5, 1999 issue, among its Top 100 home-oriented CD-ROMs, it gave thumbnail reviews for some of the then more-than-1-year-old 1999 encyclopedias. This was somewhat rectified by the magazine's January 18, 2000 issue, which reviewed the 2000 editions of four of the big-name encyclopedias, as well as the newcomer from Simon & Schuster.

You may be wondering if there is a future for the disc versions of these reference sources. I think there is, especially for the millions who still have relatively slow modem access to the Web, and for those in countries where telecommunications are unreliable and very expensive. Plus, the CD/DVD-ROM encyclopedias also include some extras that not even users with cable access can have. In addition, the CD/DVD prices make these products the best deals, particularly when you factor in their $20 to $40 rebates.

In this column I'll describe what I think are the strengths and deficiencies of the traditional publishers of these encyclopedias. For detailed, richly illustrated reviews of the 2000 editions, you can peruse an archive of my review columns at http://www.galegroup.com/reference/peter/peter.html.

Grolier, Inc.

Grolier pioneered the CD-ROM encyclopedia almost 15 years ago, but the company has been less bold this year in winning market share. The Year 2000 Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia (GME) on CD-ROM comes in both a single-disc School Edition (complete with a 125-page Teacher's Guide) and the two-disc Deluxe Edition, which costs $30 after rebate and includes much more multimedia. The 1999 DVD-ROM version was never released to retail, although for now it is available on the Grolier Web site (http://www.gi.grolier.com) for $69.95. There are no plans for a 2000 version, because the company feels that the demand isn't there. Truly, school libraries are not embracing DVD-ROM technology; they have more essential concerns. However, if Grolier does not continue its presence in the DVD-ROM market it may be beaten by Microsoft, which has been delivering superb DVD-ROM versions for 3 years in a row for the home and for schools.

As I understand from the publicity material of the 1999 GME DVD-ROM, it features a mere 50-percent more video content, and better quality audio and video. That may not justify a DVD-ROM version, but enriching the existing GME content with excerpts from other GME digital assets like the Biomes of the World, American Immigration, and Fiesta could make a better case for a DVD-ROM.

Last year Grolier released a Reference Suite that consisted of the GME, the Hammond World Atlas, a new edition of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, and the Wall Street Journal Almanac. It was not actually a suite, as these were stand-alone products with nothing in common. It was really just a bundle. This year Grolier did not come out with a Reference Suite. Editorially and technically integrating--not just bundling--the current versions of these sources with the GME 2000 edition would have been a good idea for an attractive reference suite. Digitizing the company's other print reference sources that are popular in schools could also revitalize Grolier's presence in the same digital encyclopedia market it launched all those years ago.

World Book

World Book has published three versions of its World Book Millennium 2000 encyclopedia on CD-ROM: the Standard Edition ($39.95), the Deluxe Edition ($59. …