Encyclopedia Britannica Inc.

Topics: Encyclopædia Britannica, Wikipedia, Encyclopedia Pages: 15 (2960 words) Published: October 19, 2013
HBR.ORG

March 2013
reprinT R1303A

How I Did It

Encyclopædia
Britannica’s President
on Killing Off a
244-Year-Old Product
The Idea: By the time Britannica’s top management
decided to stop producing bound sets of the iconic
encyclopedia, the company had made sweeping
changes to put itself at the forefront of the online
education market. by Jorge Cauz

This article is made available to you with compliments of Jorge Cauz. Further posting, copying or distributing is copyright infringement.

How I Did It…

For article reprints call 800-988-0886 or 617-783-7500, or visit hbr.org Jorge Cauz is the president of
Encyclopædia Britannica.

Encyclopædia Britannica’s
President on Killing Off a
244-Year-Old Product
by Jorge Cauz

Photography: EncyclopÆdia Britannica, Inc.

O

The Idea

By the time Britannica’s top
management decided to
stop producing bound sets
of the iconic encyclopedia,
the company had made
sweeping changes to put
itself at the forefront of the
online education market.

ne year ago, my announcement
that Encyclopædia Britannica
would cease producing bound volumes sent ripples through the media world. Despite the vast migration of information
from ink and paper to bits and screens, it
seemed remarkable that a set of books published for almost a quarter of a millennium would go out of print. But in our Chicago
offices this wasn’t an occasion to mourn.
In fact, our employees held a party the day
of the announcement, celebrating the fact
that Britannica was still a growing and viable company. They ate the print set—in the form of a cake that pictured the 32-volume,
129-pound encyclopedia. They displayed
244 silver balloons—one for each year
the encyclopedia had been in print. They
toasted the departure of an old friend with
champagne and the dawning of a new era
with determination.
We had no need for a wake because we
weren’t grieving. We had known for some
time that this day was coming. Given how
little revenue the print set generated, and
given that we had long ago shifted to a
digital-first editorial process, the bound
volumes had become a distraction and a
chore to put together. They could no longer
hold the vast amount of information our

March 2013 Harvard Business Review 2
This article is made available to you with compliments of Jorge Cauz. Further posting, copying or distributing is copyright infringement.

Copyright © 2013 Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.

How I Did It

Britannica Then and Now

customers demanded or be kept as up-todate as today’s users expect. The reaction to our announcement was
interesting and varied. Some people were
shocked. On Twitter, one person wrote,
“I’m sorry I was unfaithful to you, Encyclopedia Britannica, Wikipedia was just there, and convenient, it meant nothing. Please,
come back!”
Of course, we didn’t need to come back,
because we hadn’t gone away and weren’t
about to. But although most people seemed
to know what was happening, some misunderstood. Commentators intimated that we had “yielded” to the internet. In fact, the
internet enabled us to reinvent ourselves
and open new channels of business. Reports cited Wikipedia as a disruptive force. In fact, Wikipedia helped us sharpen our
business strategy. Our content model was
dismissed as “vintage,” but it is actually
anything but: We update our content continually, with community input, reaching tens of millions of people every day—and
they pay for it.
I relished the irony. If you relied on free,
gossipy online channels to understand
why we were ending the print edition, you
got what you paid for: some jokes, some
inaccurate observations about the state of
our business, and maybe a 20% chance of
seeing “Encyclopædia Britannica” spelled
correctly. You may not have learned that by
the time we stopped publishing the print
set, its sales represented only about 1% of
our business, that we have an...
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