Encyclopaedia Britannica was the last word in in-home facts for nearly a quarter of a millennium, from 1766 to 2010. Now, it's just one more casualty of the Digital Age along with classifieds and the Yellow Pages.
Brittanica was the oldest continuously published, English-language encyclopedia in the world. It became widely popular during the 1950's and 1960's. They were sold, door-to-door, by fleets of travelling salesmen and eagerly purchased by consumers for both the books' repositories of knowledge and as status symbols for the emerging middle class. They were the Apple products of their day—even if people couldn't afford (or even really need) them, they still had to have them. And people had to have them even through the '90s. 120,000 sets were sold in the US alone at the encylopedia's popularity peak in 1990.
However, since the advent of the Internet and sites like Wikipedia, demand for the collectible encyclopedias has dropped precipitously. The EB simply couldn't compete with the breadth, depth, or freshness of the information provided by the new, and free, medium. Sales of the books now accounts for less than one percent of the company's revenue. The 2010 edition will reportedly be the last one printed.
Encyclopaedia Britannica, the company, is now refocusing its business on its existing online encyclopedia and school curriculum products. "It's a rite of passage in this new era," Jorge Cauz, the president of Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc., a Chicago-based company, said in an interview. "Some people will feel sad about it and nostalgic about it. But we have a better tool now. The Web site is continuously updated, it's much more expansive and it has multimedia." [NYTimes]