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I just bought the only physical encyclopedia still in print, and I regret nothing

Zoom in / A photograph of the 2023 edition of the World Book Encyclopedia on the shelf of the author’s family room.

Bing Edwards

These days, many of us live on the internet, where machine-generated content has started polluting the internet with misinformation and noise. At a time when it can be hard to know what information to trust, I was pleased to learn recently that World Writers is still printing an encyclopedia of modern books in 2023. Although the term “encyclopedia” is now almost synonymous with Wikipedia, it’s refreshing. To see such a reference. Large print on paper. So I bought one, and I’ll tell you why.

World Book, Inc. Headquartered in Chicago, the company first published an encyclopedia in 1917, and has released a new edition nearly every year since 1925. The company, a subsidiary of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, claims its encyclopedia is “the only general reference encyclopedia still published until today “. . My research seems to support this claim; This is true even for other languages. Its fiercest competitor, The Encyclopedia Britannica, ended the series in 2012 after 244 years in print.

In a nod to our current digital age, World Book also offers its encyclopedia as a web-based subscription service. However, it is typography that baffles and captures my fascination. Why does it still exist?

“Because there is still demand!” Tom Evans, editor-in-chief of World Book, told Ars via email.

Today, modern information flows freely thanks to the Internet. It’s just a google search away. Many people rely on Wikipedia, a nonprofit collaborative resource, for reference purposes. Despite this, it seems that some people and organizations still buy paper encyclopedias. Evans said hard copy sales are “in the thousands” and World Book always prints enough copies to meet demand.

Encyclopedia Britannica, a global book competition, ended the print series in 2012.

Zoom in / Encyclopedia Britannica, a global book competition, ended the print series in 2012.

Encyclopedia Britannica

A World Book representative told Quartz in 2019 that the printed encyclopedia is mostly sold to schools, public libraries, and homeschooled families. Today, Evans says, public and school libraries remain the company’s primary customers. “The World Book has a loyal following of librarians who understand the importance of a general reference encyclopedia in an accessible printed format.”

When I was a kid, our family owned a 1968 edition of the Universal book and relied on it for school reports and projects all the way until I graduated high school in 1999, although I briefly used Microsoft Encarta on CD and CompuServe encyclopedia in the ’90s. At the time, even with electronic references, immediate and up-to-date information did not matter. We were still operating pretty much at paper speed. While this concept seems strange to us in our current world, there was a certain kind of comfort in this slowness.

Speaking of slowness, a paper encyclopedia definitely can’t escape you. In the past, our family’s collection of encyclopedias would occupy a large custom shelf in our family room. Just like my old 1968 edition, the new print edition of The World Book is huge reference material. The 2023 edition spans 17,000 articles spread over 14,000 pages in 22 volumes. The company says it contains more than 25,000 photographs, illustrations, charts, and maps.

You might think that all this paper content can’t be cheap. And of course you are right. While most of the info comes to us for free online (with strings attached, of course), it’s easy to get a sticker shock at the retail price of $1,199 for the 2023 edition of the World Book, though shoppers can sometimes find it for as low as $799. . dollars on Amazon (for comparison, an online subscription costs $250 per year). Previous versions are available at much lower prices.

I know it might seem odd to prefer the print version since you can get the same content in the online version in a space-saving and portable format. But with the paper version, the Universal Book will always be yours. It cannot be surreptitiously modified or removed if the company needs server space or goes out of business.

So I took the lead.



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