From Academic Kids

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1913 advertisement for the 11th edition, with the slogan "When in doubt - 'look it up' in the Encyclopdia Britannica"

The Encyclopdia Britannica (properly spelt with , the ae-ligature) is the oldest English-language general encyclopedia. Its articles are commonly considered accurate, reliable, and well-written.

A product of the Scottish enlightenment, it was originally published in Edinburgh by Adam and Charles Black beginning in the 18th century. Unlike the French Encyclopdie, Britannica was an extremely conservative publication. Later editions were usually dedicated to the reigning monarch. The publication moved from Scotland to London and became associated with The Times newspaper in the 1870s for its ninth and tenth editions. Horace Everett Hooper was publisher from 1897 to 1922. For the eleventh edition the publication became associated with the University of Cambridge, also in England. The trademark and publication rights were sold after the 11th edition to Sears Roebuck and it moved to Chicago, Illinois, United States. Sears Roebuck offered it as a gift to the University of Chicago in 1941. William Benton figured as publisher from 1943 to his death in 1973, followed by his widow Helen Hemingway Benton until her own death in 1974. In January 1996 it was purchased by billionaire Swiss financier Jacqui Safra.

Encyclopdia Britannica Inc. now owns a trademark on the word "Britannica". As of 2004, the most complete version of Encyclopdia Britannica contains about 120,000 articles, with 44 million words, and a comprehensive index, the first of its kind for a major encyclopedia. It is published in paper form (32 volumes containing 65,000 articles, list price US$1400), online (120,000 articles, brief summaries of articles can be viewed for free, and the full text is available for US$11.95 per month or US$69.95 per year for individual subscribers), and on CD-ROM (more than 80,000 articles) or DVD-ROM (more than 100,000 articles, US$50).

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Encyclopaedia Britannica 2005 Deluxe Edition CD-ROM

The current version of Britannica was written by over 4,000 contributors, including noted scholars such as Milton Friedman, Carl Sagan, and Michael DeBakey. Under the influence of the director of planning, Mortimer Adler, the 15th edition, first published in 1974 and frequently reissued since, was published not as one alphabetical sequence of volumes as previously but in three parts that covered topics in different degrees of depth: a one-volume Propdia that provides a structured hierarchy to all the information in the set, a 10-volume Micropdia which contains short articles, a 19-volume Macropdia for longer articles. A two-volume index was added in 1985. Thirty-five percent of the content of the encyclopedia has been re-written within the last two years.

Dale Hoiberg, a sinologist, is the publication's current editor-in-chief. Among his predecessors were Hugh Chisholm (19031913, 19201924), James Louis Garvin (19261932), Franklin Henry Hooper (19321938), Walter Yust (19381960), Harry S. Ashmore (19601963), Warren E. Preece (19641975), and Robert McHenry (19921997). Ted Pappas is the current executive editor. Earlier holders of that position were John V. Dodge (19501964) and Philip W. Goetz. Don Yannias, former CEO of the company when it was "hemorrhaging money", serves on Britannica's Board of Directors.

In the 1980s, Microsoft approached Britannica to collaborate on a CD-ROM encyclopedia. Britannica, feeling that they had a stranglehold on the market and showing strong profits (sales of the complete Britannica were priced between US$1,500 and US$2,200), turned Microsoft down. Britannica's senior management viewed their product as a luxury brand with an impeccable reputation handed down from generation to generation. They did not believe that a CD-ROM could adequately compete or supplement their business. In turn, Microsoft used content from Funk & Wagnalls Standard Encyclopedia to create what is now known as Encarta. Encarta became a staple software with every computer purchase and Britannica's market share plummeted tremendously. Britannica countered by offering a CD version of their product. The sales team at Britannica were infuriated. Clearly, a CD could not generate US$500 to US$600 in sales commmisions as the print version did. In a poorly orchestrated move, Britannica decided on charging $995 for customers looking to purchase only the CD and included it in the print version for free. Britannica hoped that including the CD would entice buyers to stay with the brand while keeping the sales force happy. It didn't work.

In 1994, Britannica tried again to save the brand and launched an online version with subscriptions for sale for US$2000. By 1996, the cost of the CD had dropped to US$200. Sales had plummeted to US$325 million - about half their 1990 levels (US$650 million). Over 55,000 hard copy versions were sold in 1994 vs 117,000 in 1990. By the end of 1996, Britannica was in serious trouble and was purchased by Jacqui Safra for a fraction of its book value.

However, even though loyalties have moved towards products like Encarta and after the advent of novel knowledge disseminating resources like Wikipedia, Britannica still commands the authority and respect ascribed to the "best encyclopedia."

Edition history

Edition Published Size
1st 17681771 3 vol.
2nd 17771784 10 vol.
3rd 17881797, 1801 sup. 18 vol. + 2 sup.
4th 18011809 20 vol.
5th 1815 20 vol.
6th 18201823, 18151824 sup. 20 vol. + 2 sup.
7th 18301842 21 vol.
8th 18521860 21 vol. + index
9th 18701890 24 vol. + index 1
10th 19021903 9th ed. + 9 sup 2
11th 19101911 29 vol 3
12th 19211922 11th ed. + 3 sup.
13th 1926 11th ed.+ 6 sup.
14th 19291973 24 vol. 4
15th 19741984 30 vol. 5
1985 32 vol. 6
Edition notes

vol. = volume, sup. = supplement

19th ed. featured articles by notables of the day, such as James Maxwell on electricity and magnetism, and William Thomson (who became Lord Kelvin) on heat.

210th ed. added a maps volume and an index volume.

311th ed. Considered to be the classic edition of Encyclopdia Britannica and available in the public domain (see 1911 Encyclopdia Britannica). This was the first edition to be published all at once instead of volume by volume.

4 This edition was the first to be kept up to date by continual (usually annual) revision.

5 The 15th edition (introduced as "Britannica 3") was published as multiple sets: the 10-volume Micropdia (containing short articles and served as an index), the 19-volume Macropdia, plus the Propdia (see text).

6In 1985 the system was modified by removing the index function from the Micropdia and adding a separate two-volume index; the Macropdia articles were further consolidated into fewer, larger ones (for example, the previously separate articles about the 50 U.S. states were all included into the "United States of America" article), with some medium-length articles moved to the Micropdia.

The first CD-ROM edition was issued in 1994. At that time also an online version was offered for paid subscription. In 1999 this was offered for free, and no revised print versions appeared. The experiment was ended, however, in 2001 and a new printed set was issued in 2002.


  • Herman Kogan, The Great EB: The Story of the Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958)
  • H. Einbinder, The Myth of the Britannica (New York: Grove Press, 1964)

External links

de:Encyclopdia Britannica es:Enciclopedia Britnica eo:Encyclopaedia Britannica fr:Encyclopdia Britannica ko:브리태니커 백과사전 la:Encyclopaedia Britannica nl:Encyclopdia Britannica ja:ブリタニカ百科事典 no:Encyclopdia Britannica pl:Encyklopedia Britannica pt:Encyclopaedia Britannica ru:Британская энциклопедия sr:Енциклопедија Британика sv:Encyclopdia Britannica zh:不列颠百科全书


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