Friday, April 18, 2008

Rule Britannica

The New York Times recently declared that print encyclopedias are on their way out. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! Sales of the most illustrious encyclopedia peaked in 1990 and then dropped over the next six years by 10 percent a year. Yes, the Encyclopaedia Britannica, that bulky 32-volume knowledge fest that took up serious shelf space in any library, is on its way out. Personally, I find it amazing that they have been producing a print edition for the last decade. What business can sustain a 10 percent drop in sales year on year? No business I’ve been involved with! Of course Britannica has tried all the obvious fixes. Once they were at only 40 percent of their original sales, they went online. That makes sense. Then they dropped their iconic door-to-door salesmen (at one stage in the 1970s, there were over 2,000 of them!). Then they started slimming down the world’s knowledge. Today the print edition is only 10 percent of what it was in 1990. So the volumes that helped thousands of kids reach high cupboards, and yes, open their minds, looks like it will soon become a phenomenon of the screen alone. I don’t have any insight into how successful this will be when confronted with the march of Wikipedia, but I do have some advice to give them better odds in this brave new screen world. Embrace sisomo.

So far, a reader’s advantages from the screen version are more images and standard features like a decent search. Not good enough. To survive and thrive they need to become Irresistible. To engage seekers after knowledge with interactivity, movies, animation and sound. With sisomo they might be able to climb back to the top of the encyclopedia heap.