Chicago Tribune – ROBERT CHANNICK – Mar 14, 2012
In the days before the Internet, before television, before radio, before the United States was even a country, there was the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Neatly bound and brimming with facts, figures and illustrations, it was the authority on just about everything — a repository of all human knowledge distilled into alphabetized volumes and tucked on a shelf.
Founded in 1768 in Scotland, Britannica has been headquartered in Chicago since 1935, when it was under the ownership of Sears. Marketed door-to-door for generations, it was a robust business that employed thousands and sold more than 100,000 sets as recently as 1990, its best year ever, when it generated $650 million in revenue.
Within a few years, sales began to tumble, as consumers opted for home computers bundled with CD-ROM encyclopedias over the $1,500 leather-bound sets. More recently, the rise of high-speed Internet and Wikipedia shifted reference libraries online, with only a few thousand copies of the printed version trickling out each year to libraries, schools and a handful of neo-Luddite homeowners, according to Cauz.
The last run in 2010 produced about 12,000 sets of a new 32-volume copyright based on the 15th edition, a version that first rolled off the presses in 1974. There are about 4,000 sets left, selling for $1,395 each on the Britannica website. After they are gone, the iconic publication will be history. Go to story
Encyclopaedia Britannica print edition is dead. Killed by the Internet, where instantly accessible and updated information renders print reference books obsolete. Even though they say they’re going digital, they have a long ways to catch up to online encyclopedia Wikipedia, who appears to have already won the race, because it is free and also because it is written and edited by what has to be tens of thousands (if not more) of contributors from around the world.
Even though the brand Encyclopaedia Britannica has long enjoyed prestige and trust due to articles written by experts and reputable authorities, even now it is bowing to the pressure and allowing readers online to make revisions to the encyclopedia articles, which are then published after going through a review process by the editors.
According to New York Times writer JULIE BOSMAN, “One widely publicized study, published in 2005 by Nature, called into question Britannica’s presumed accuracy advantage over Wikipedia. The study said that out of 42 competing entries, Wikipedia made an average of four errors in each article, and Britannica three.”
Nowadays everyone can publish his own blog or get her own TV reality show. And reader comments are ubiquitous on the web—Facebook and other social media, blogs, news sites. There is a plethora of experts and ‘opinionators’ like never before, and it’s not a given that any one expert or scholar would have the last word on any topic. In the case of Encyclopaedia Britannica, even the best scholar in the world writing an entry for a topic is giving just one point of view, after all, and his view is not necessarily authoritative, and most likely, given the brevity of encyclopedia entries, not comprehensive.
Actually, this is nothing new, although the Internet might have exacerbated the problem. The purveyors of information in this world pose as experts in their respective fields, and they are fond of citing their credentials—diplomas and degrees, awards and personal achievements, but Srila Prabhupada has pointed out that everyone here is subject to four defects: the conditioned soul (1) is sure to make mistakes, (2) is invariably illusioned, (3) has the propensity to cheat others, and (4) is limited by imperfect senses. We see these defects play out every day across so many fields of human endeavor, not least in science, politics and economics. Today one person says something; tomorrow another says something else contradictory. How, then, can we accept what any one has to say as final and authoritative? You have your truth, I have mine, so beyond relative truths—one truth depending on another—how do we get to the absolute truth?
Enter the Bhagavad Gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam. These are the essence of the Vedic literature, thousands of years old. Bhagavad Gita means “the song of God”. God, Krishna, is speaking. It doesn’t get any more authoritative than this. Srimad-Bhagavatam was composed by Vyasadeva, and subsequently spoken by Shukadev Gosvami and Suta Gosvami, great sages and Acharyas, pure devotees of the Lord, and fully self-realized souls, free from material conditioning. Their statements corroborate the statements of Krishna without contradiction, and therefore they are above anything written by any common man who is subject to the four defects. Therefore these books are taken to be as standard books of knowledge for the human race.
These great Sanskrit literatures have been preserved and passed down over thousands of years from generation to generation in disciplic succession, but they were kept within the boundaries of India, inaccessible to the rest of the world, until His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, under the direction of his spiritual master, translated them and published them for all the world to read. There were already hundreds of translations of Bhagavad Gita, but in most of them, the commentators expressed their own opinions or gave so many diverse interpretations without communicating the spirit of Bhagavad Gita. Bhagavad Gita As It Is by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, however, presents the Gita as Krishna spoke it. Together, the Bhagavad Gita and the Srimad-Bhagavatam comprise an authoritative encyclopedia—covering the mundane and the transcendental. The subject matter touches on every phenomenon in this material universe and beyond, to the origin of all life and the cause of all causes.
The material is timeless and not subject to change. Therefore it is so valuable. Today’s newspaper might be tomorrow’s fish wrapper, and Encyclopaedia Britannica might be defunct, but not so with the Vedic literatures. These are forever fresh and relevant, and they will be around when we are long gone and when the Internet has morphed into something else entirely or disappeared altogether.
So it’s the end of an era for Encyclopaedia Britannica, whose sales peaked in 1990, when 120,000 sets sold in the USA. We might have supposed it was a very big production, but not so compared to Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad Gita As It Is and Srimad-Bhagavatam, which have been distributed worldwide in the millions of copies, and have been reprinted several times since the first printing in 1968. Bhagavad Gita As It Is and Srimad-Bhagavatam, as well as the complete library of Srila Prabhupada’s works (including the Chaitanya-charitamrita, letters, conversations, lectures and essays) are available in print editions (as individual volumes or in sets), in digital formats (the complete library is in Folio Infobase for computer, Kindle or tablet devices) and free online (visit prabhupadabooks.com). To order print or digital editions, visit Krishna Store. An investment you will not regret.