Inke Arns on Wed, 20 Oct 1999 17:03:34 +0200

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Syndicate: Free Britannica


Free Britannica
Peruse 32-Volume Set at No Charge 

Encyclopaedica Britannica

By David Carpenter
The Associated Press

C H I C A G O, Oct. 19 ? The Encyclopaedia Britannica, afraid of becoming
just a dusty relic of the pre-computer age, is making its 32-volume set
available for free on the Internet. From a-ak (an ancient East Asian music)
to Zywiec (a town in Poland), the Rolls-Royce of encyclopedias was there in
its entirety starting today at the company?s retooled Web site. The
231-year-old company dumped door-to-door sales three years ago and hopes
now to make money selling advertising on its site. The move may have been
inevitable in an era when students doing homework are more likely to get
their information from a computer than from a book. 

The privately held company won?t reveal revenue figures, but sales of its
print volumes ? which cost $1,250 a set and are now sold mostly to schools
and other institutions ? have seen a steep decline, admitted Don Yannias,
chief executive of

In an Internet-dominated market, ?you have to be free to be relevant,? said
Jorge Cauz, senior president of Inc., the new company that
holds the Chicago encyclopedia publisher?s digital properties. 

Free encyclopedias are only part of the lure. The Web site also will offer
current information from newspapers, news agencies and 70 magazines as well
as e-mail, weather forecasts and financial market reports. 

Analysts who follow Britannica say its belated but aggressive moves into
the electronic world, including some significant success with CD-ROM sales
over the past three years, just may work. 

?They?re clearly not going to be able to recoup their revenues in the short
term,? said Aram Sinnreich of Jupiter Communications Inc. in New York. ?But
the move just might save them in the long run.? 

The early response was promising. Britannica said the site received
millions of hits today, temporarily blocking access for some. 

Britannica Set the Standard 

For generations, Britannica set the standard for encyclopedias. The
leather-bound books were sold door-to-door, via direct mail, or at shopping
mall kiosks. At its peak in 1989, Britannica had estimated revenue of $650
million and a worldwide sales force of 7,500. But with direct sales
abandoned, the staff shrank as low as 280 and is now about 400.  The
company lost ground badly after it spurned Microsoft, which went on to team
up with discount encyclopedia publisher Funk & Wagnalls to produce a
colorful, multimedia encyclopedia on CD-ROM in 1993. Britannica?s own
CD-ROM version, released a year later, was low on graphics and did not fare
as well. 

Britannica became the first encyclopedia available on the Web in 1994, but
there was an $85-a-year subscription fee. Since Swiss investor Jacob Safra
bought Britannica in 1996, the company has been making a bigger push for
the electronic market. The online subscription fees were dropped and CD-ROM
sales began to account for the bulk of revenue. 

?Before we were more backward-looking ? looking back at historical events,?
Yannias said. ?Now we can be right on the brink of current events,
incorporating the news with the foundations of history.?

Encyclopaedica Britannica

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