It seems even Britannica can no longer avoid going digital.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Encyclopedia Britannica Inc. announced yesterday it would stop printing its namesake encyclopedia, choosing instead to transition towards an online sales model. The Chicago-based publisher has made clear full intentions to sell its works solely through mobile device apps and online subscription. As Encyclopedia Britannica president Jorge Cauz emphasized, “This is not a sad day at Britannica. We are a fully digital company.”
Sales of Encyclopedia Britannica’s printed volumes peaked in 1990, when the company sold a clean 120,000 copies. Figures have dropped sharply since then, with less than 9,000 copies moved in 2010. However, the decision to cease printing is not entirely a propos — Encyclopedia Britannica has evolved gradually into an online product as consumers gained internet access.
In fact, up through 2004, Britannica had actually been losing capital due to the sharp drop in print sales. The company did manage to turn its fortunes around when it began more fully adapting to the digital format, with income bolstered by sales of educational pamphlets and e-books — a product currently responsible for 85% of the company’s annual revenue.
The remaining 15% of the company’s revenue accrues from reference-related content. The shift to a more fleshed-out digital format may dramatically boost Britannica’s revenue from reference. Not only do 500,000 households already subscribe to Encyclopedia Britannica’s current online model, but a tallied compilation of search engine queries suggest that over one billion searches per month target content that could be fully provided by Britannica’s database. Transference to a more personalized, subscription and app based format can only bode well for the company’s fortunes.
– Adam Patterson, InvestorPlace Assistant Editor