End of an era, this bit of news from Microsoft:
"Microsoft's years-long-running multimedia CD-based encyclopedia product, Encarta, will be history by the end of the year. According to Ars Technica, Microsoft quietly announced the discontinuation date for Encarta to be October 31, 2009. Although the MSN press release doesn't go into too much detail on all the reasons why this decision was made, (nothing about Wikipedia for example), they do mention that the way people look for and consume information has changed substantially in the last few years, which seems like a fair assessment.
It appears that all Encarta properties will be phased out over the coming year. They will stop selling the retail and student versions by June and the online MSN Explorer content will be removed by the end of October. Customers paying for a subscription to Encarta Premium will receive a pro-rated refund around the middle of the year. Technical support, like with most other Microsoft products, will continue for three years after the official end of life.
As we mentioned, although Microsoft doesn't directly implicate Wikipedia as one of the harbingers of their decision to kill Encarta, we can only assume that it is a big part of that decision. Although Encarta's content was carefully curated, and of course factually accurate (which is often more than what you can say about Wikipedia), apparently the cost and availability of instant sources of information online has overcome the appeal of this once-novel encyclopedia."
It's a bit ironic though, since not too long ago, the world of encylopedias almost saw the end of another era, as this piece from Capitalism Magazine recalls from 2000:
"In 1768, three Scottish printers began publishing an integrated compendium of knowledge -- the earliest and most famous encyclopedia in the English-speaking world. They called it Encyclopedia Britannica. Since then, Britannica has evolved through fifteen editions, and to this day it is generally regarded as the world's most comprehensive and authoritative encyclopedia.
In 1920, Sears, Roebuck and Company, an American mail-order
retailer, acquired Britannica and moved its headquarters from Edinburgh
"By 1990, sales of Britannica's multivolume sets had reached an all-time peak of about $650 million. Dominant market share, steady if unspectacular growth, generous margins, and a two-hundred-year history all testified to an extraordinarily compelling and stable brand. Since 1990, however, sales of Britannica, and of all printed encyclopedias in the United States, have collapsed by over 80 percent. Britannica was blown away by a product of the late-twentieth-century information revolution: the CD-ROM.
The CD-ROM came from nowhere and destroyed the printed encyclopedia business. Whereas Britannica sells for $1,500 to $2,200 per set (depending on the quality of the binding), CD-ROM encyclopedias, such as Encarta, Grolier, and Compton, list for $50 to $70. But hardly anybody pays even that: the vast majority of copies are given away to promote the sale of computers and peripherals. With a marginal manufacturing cost of $1.50 per copy, the CD-ROM as freebie makes good economic sense. The marginal cost of Britannica, in contrast, is about $250 for production plus about $500 to $600 for the salesperson's commission."
So what the CD-ROM did to print encylopedias, the web did to CD-ROM tomes of knowledge. At each juncture, the business models that ruled rapidly disintegrated, and new ones took their place...or not.