Encyclopedia Britannica might have lost its relevance years ago to many, but when they officially announced that after 244 years of print they were going to stop, it came as a major blow to the print industry. This announcement that was made yesterday must have given the print guys serious jitters. Are we finally to bow down to the pressure of technology, following in the steps of this icon? It is a harsh reality that’s thundering on our doors. Even our relationships are falling obsolete in this age of the Internet. Are these the signs of the end of an era? The last days of print? This comes amidst impeding debate on whether the web will finally sweep off this fixture we have on print. Libraries and publishers are going to bed with sore eyes because of this invasion, while others are spending time defending print in articles they are publishing on the very same medium they are fighting.
To many, even to Britannica themselves, printing the encyclopedia should have stopped ages ago, given that only a small percentage of their returns came from print version. But it is the outdatedness of Britannica that made it Britannica Encyclopedia. For many people, it was never about buying the publication for the information in it, but to put on a shelf, kind of like a collector of history. Which beats logic yes, but that is how it is.
It is hard to believe that in this age a college student would go through pages looking for information when they can hit Google and find it within seconds, regardless of how unreliable their internet sources might be. So we agree, in this age, books are really not winning this battle. Information that is being put out changes every day. By the time a book goes to print, War breaks out in Syria. By the time they have hit the bookshelves, a twitter revolution takes place in Egypt. It will take around four months to put all this in a book, or if it is in the Britannica, give it four years. But Britannica comes in as the physical archive, a collection for posterity.
However, as much as this is progress, we are still going to be prisoners of nostalgia for long. We are currently still captives of nostalgia for the Vinyl record. We are still mourning the fact that Oxford decided ‘cassette’ was not a word 21st Century enough. Our affection for the physical book is undeniable. We like something we can touch. Something we can feel like we own. It is natural selection that has made us relate to physical things this way. We might still argue that even in its formlessness, the internet is still going to give us all this information- faster and in a more organized way. But what will happen when the internet turns its back on us. Where will we find the history documented? Our memories? Can we trust these memories? What about the posterity?
We can rarely keep electronic media. We move on to the next interesting thing as soon as we find a new one. We cannot keep this media except for certain documents. As soon as we close web pages, we forget all about them and all we have read goes to our memory banks. Hard disks crash, books burn as well, but are we going to be ok doing away with print? Shouldn’t we be dependent on both medias? When your Vitz breaks down, you would want to know that your wheelbarrow is somewhere on the standby. Or that your legs are still functioning. Printable version is still valuable to us as an option.
And while books and magazines might survive the Internet, will the Britannica manage to solely depend on the online publication? Most print versions are opting to build their products across all platforms, building an online presence as they continue to publish. For a couple of years now, even though not free, the encyclopedia has been available online. Still, Wikipedia beats it, given that it is a free, but maybe not as reliable. Will Britannica’s archaic logistic survive the organization in the internet?
May the print version of the Britannica Encyclopedia Rest in Peace.