Encyclopaedia Britannica goes the way of the door-to-door encyclopedia salesman after 244 years in print

Collectors, bookworms, and analog antique aficionados, act now: the 2010 edition of the legendary Encyclopaedia Britannica – weighing in at 129 pounds, and comprising 32 volumes – is officially the last of its kind. The New York Times reports Chicago-based Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc. will no longer manufacture a print edition of the iconic reference omnibus. Instead, the company plans to focus on its online and educational materials.

According to Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc. president, Jorge Cauz, the move is a reflection of the times, although he admits it’s one tinged with nostalgia for many.

Possession of the weighty series was once seen as an admission ticket to the middle class; today, the World Wide Web has largely rendered the book version of Encylopaedia Britannica a paper-era dinosaur. While the last edition contained contributions from over 4000 authors, only 8,000 of 12,000 printed sets have actually been sold to date.

Perhaps news of the end of the offline era of the encyclopedia will spur sales.

At $1,395 for a set it’s no surprise the 244-year-old reference series—the world’s oldest continuously-updated encyclopedia—has met its match. The online encyclopedia Wikipedia, by contrast, is free, instant, constantly updated, covers a wider range of topics, and has famously been favourably compared to Encyclopaedia Britannica in terms of accuracy. And Wikipedia already notes the demise of its once-mighty paper rival. Any schadenfreude on the part of the online reference remains at undetectable levels.

For shelf presence, of course, there’s still no comparison. But perhaps shelves will be the next to go.

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