Encyclopedias Not Quite Dinosaur Yet

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), May 28, 2004 | Go to article overview

Encyclopedias Not Quite Dinosaur Yet


Byline: Andrea James Medill News Service

Remember encyclopedias?

They're still very much with us and, in fact, two of the largest publishers, World Book Inc. and Encyclop dia Britannica Inc., both based in Chicago, have prospered by using technology to tailor their products to reach more people.

To stay competitive in the age of Internet research, both companies have had to change almost every facet of their business, including distribution, marketing and sales, prices and publishing.

In the process, World Book and Britannica are changing the way people think about that hulking set of hardbacks on the family bookshelf.

Britannica has expanded its line to include reference books and CD-ROMs that target specific age groups and special topics such as dinosaurs or U.S. presidents.

"The Internet has made it possible to do a lot of different things," said Britannica spokesman Tom Panelas. "What it has also encouraged us to do is take this vast information that we have and publish it in a variety of new ways."

Britannica's first edition came out in 1768, in Edinburgh, Scotland; it became an American company in 1901. Its principal owner is Swiss investor Jacob Safra, nephew of fabled financier Edmond Safra.

Twenty years ago, Britannica had one product - its 32-volume encyclopedia - and most of its revenues came from door-to-door sales.

The company sold about 100,000 sets in a good year, said Panelas, who has worked with Britannica for 22 years.

Today most folks aren't willing to pay $1,400 for a set, which includes an online subscription, when CD-ROMs have the same information. And lower prices mean "the number of people you can reach increases exponentially," Panelas stated. "Our encyclopedia is accessible to more than 16 million people now. …

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Encyclopedias Not Quite Dinosaur Yet
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