So many things about printed encyclopedias seem insane now. The space that dozens of volumes takes up. How much an entire set weighs (well over 100 pounds). The fact that many middle class families used to have to pay for them in regular installments. How slowly they are updated with new information.

Today, we have a reservoir of infinite knowledge, most of which is virtually free to access. It takes up no more physical space than the tiny devices we use to view it.

In a move that will surprise very few, Encyclopedia Britannica is expected to announce that it will no longer print its 32-volume set of printed encyclopedias, the New York Times reports. This comes 244 years after the iconic reference books first went to press.

The usefulness of such reference materials has been on the decline for years, especially since the advent of Wikipedia. Whatever flaws its open, crowd-sourced editorial model may invite, Wikipedia is generally regarded as a comprehensive and mostly-accurate source of information, which can be accessed for free.

It is also instinctively turned to by a new generation of students, as well as casual researchers around the globe. It now ranks as the sixth most-visited website in the world, according to Alexa.

Just because Britannica is shutting down its print operations doesn't mean its encyclopedia and other educational products will cease to exist. In fact, the print edition makes up a tiny percentage of the company's revenue at this point. It brings in more money from selling other educational materials and offering paid access to its website, which remains a more up-to-date and multimedia rich resource than print ever could be. It also has advertisements.

See Also: My Adieu to Britannica Print by David Strom

Photo by Stewart Butterfield