Books, by the set


Encyclopedias still a staple in libraries everywhere :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::


Remember encyclopedias? They're still around-in your local library and right here in Chicago, home to two of the largest encyclopedia publishers, World Book and Encyclopedia Britannica.

To stay competitive, both companies have revamped most facets of their businesses, including distribution, marketing and pricing.

The first edition of Britannica came out in 1768, in Edinburgh, Scotland; it became an American company in 1901. Twenty years ago, Britannica relied on one product-its 32-volume encyclopedia-and most of its revenues came from door-to-door sales, selling about 100,000 sets in a good year, says Britannica spokesman Tom Panelas.

Today, it sells "substantially fewer" of the $1,400 book sets because CD-ROMs offer the same information for far less money-$70 or less. The fastest growing channel for publishing encyclopedias is an Internet subscription service, $59.95 for a one-year subscription to Britannica,

And lower prices mean "the number of people you can reach increases exponentially," Panelas says. "Our encyclopedia is accessible to more than 16 million people now."

Britannica also has lines of reference books and CD-ROMs targeting specific age groups and topics, such as dinosaurs or U.S. presidents.

World Book, founded in 1917, has also capitalized on the digital age, but in different ways. After the home market fell apart in the early 1990s, World Book now concentrates almost exclusively on the school and library market, says Dom Miccolis, vice president, editorial. The company also launched, and a Spanish-language product.

"The Internet has made it possible to do a lot of different things," says Panelas. "What it has also encouraged us to do is take this vast information that we have and publish [it] in a variety of new ways."

But both companies still do books, and libraries still buy them.

The Tinley Park Public Library updates its encyclopedias each year. The library currently holds a 2004 Americana, 2003 World Book and 2002 Britannica. When the sets are replaced, the older volumes are available for checkout, says librarian Robin Lauren. "There are still some parents who are leery of the Internet. They try to steer their children toward books."

The books are also in vogue at the Oak Lawn Public Library, where they are particularly popular with the librarians, says reference librarian Mary Dunneback. "Sometimes it's even faster than searching through the Internet." Andrea James, Medill News Service

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