Wednesday, March 14, 2012

EB Digitalis

I note here that the Encyclopaedia Britannica is leaving print, a fact worth noting for people like me. I belong to two small communities members of both of which should take an interest: those engaged in reference publishing and those who study cyclic history. Back when in the Long Ago Brigitte joined what then was a leading reference publisher, Gale Research, we soon observed that making such tomes is a kind of journalism—because successive editions of reference works are snapshots of their times. My “latest” copy of EB is the 1956 version. The first one I consulted was a 1919 version my mother obtained used when we came to the United States. Each edition reflects the fashions of its time, and future EB editions (if that concept is even retained) will reflect modernity: the culture they’ll portray will be virtual. Now this comes just a few sad months after the U.S. Statistical Abstract succumbed (was it murder? suicide?—we miss you, M. Poirot)—having seen 131 editions last October. Will this mean that printed encyclopedias are doomed to disappear forever? Sooner or later? Rather the contrary, I would assert. One of my strongest convictions is that when curves appear to head straight up—thus threatening to leave the paper on which they’re printed—the trend they represent is almost over. I am quite certain that a century from now, thus 2113 at the latest, a modestly-sized bound EB will once more be available. But by the time conditions shall once more favor print, the world will have changed; headlines might be no more. Hence no one will be there to hype the renaissance of print. But it will come. 

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