Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The end of print

Last edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica was printed two years ago, there will be no more. After 244 years, Britannica Inc. is calling it quits in the print encyclopedia business. They sold a couple thousand copies of the 2010 edition to libraries, but that was pretty much it -- nobody else was willing to pay the price for information they can look up online as easily.

I am conflicted. I must admit that I rarely look up things in books nowadays. On the other hand I spent many a lazy summer evening picking up a random encyclopedia at a friend's house and opening it at random to some page about some topic I knew nothing about, and trying to figure out what they were talking about. In a way this gave me an education that the crappy schools of the desegregation-era South, which were all about trying to keep white boys out of the same schools as them uppity nigras and nothing about providing an education, could not have hoped to give.

And now that's gone, forever. There will be no more children on lazy summer evenings picking up an encyclopedia and turning it to a random page. I suppose it was inevitable anyhow, given the plethora of entertainment options that today's children have -- in my childhood there was one television, showing a black-and-white picture, in a large wooden piece of furniture in the living room, and if the grownups were watching a show that was not appropriate for children we were sent elsewhere to entertain ourselves. And we did, because we had no choice. And in homes full of books, naturally we picked up books. Today... that'll never happen again. Books are becoming obsolete. When I needed a new reference book on Microsoft Powershell, for example, I bought an e-book from O'Reilly, not a paper book. I have limited space on my bookshelves, and I save that for reference books I *can't* get as e-books... which is increasingly few nowadays.

-- Badtux the Wistful Penguin


  1. I am found enough of encyclopedias that I'm thinking of getting a set at a junk shop, just for browsing/entertainment purposes. It will be lavish use of shelf space, but it will be worth it.

  2. I worked automotive for almost 30 years. Can't tell you the number of times that an old printed catalog saved a job because it had the picture and number of what I needed at that time. It seems that the electronic catalogs are much less complete in the coverage.
    Especially when you don't know what the part was made for , all you know is you have a broken one. Jeeps and motor homes come to mind. Make and model have little value there. Matching the right part is the only way to go. I will surely miss the "Old Books".

  3. Yah, you already heard my rant about no FSM for any 2010 and up Jeep Wrangler, just a per-day web site ya gotta pay $$$$ to access.

    Older Jeeps... oy, Just Everybody Else's Parts LOL! For example, the steering box on a lot of Jeeps is weak. The answer: Substitute a steering box from a Dodge Durango SUV (for some model years) or a Chevrolet Tahoe (for other model years), which is much beefier. I pity the mechanic who goes to fix a steering issue and encounters one of these... add in the aftermarket electric fuel pumps for most of the Jeeps that originally had the mechanical fuel pump on the side of the engine (which never really succeeded at providing consistent fuel pressure to the carburetor), the fuel injection which a lot of the older Jeeps have substituted for the fuel injection (often even transferring the entire cylinder head from a later-model Jeep when they did the transplant), and so forth, and if you aren't a Jeeper yourself, one of those Jeeps coming into your shop would likely be cause for a major nervous breakdown :).

    - Badtux the Jeepin' Penguin

  4. When I was a kid, my parents, both schoolteachers, succumbed to the skills of a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman and bought the family a Britannica set. I read it for 15 years or so; I couldn't have asked for a better "toy."

    When I was a contract programmer for two decades, books were my primary source of new information, i.e., salable skills. For much of that time, the web was not yet the source it is today, and you couldn't, in those days, take the web out beside the pool with a glass of iced tea to edify yourself in comfort when the weather was good.

    Today, I still love the feel of books. And they're easier on my aging eyes than, say, a Kindle or Nook or iPad. (I shall not buy an e-reader until the display is of quality comparable to a good printed hardbound book. That probably means "never.") I am fortunate to live 1½ blocks from a public library, which provides most of my fiction and some popular science books. HPL has an excellent inter-library loan service; living near a branch is just like living near the main library downtown for practical purposes. At the moment I'm reading David Deutsch's The Beginning of Infinity, supplied by HPL's main library only two days after I requested it... I certainly can't complain about the service!

  5. The books and movies I've already bought are my free entertainment at this point. Can't really afford home media for the near future, and am not home enough to get my money's worth of use from it in any case. Also work too many hours to add library trips to an already tight schedule.

    Plus, I don't know what other folks read, but I'm not at all convinced that the things on my bookshelf would be easy to find at the library or even be available at all.


Ground rules: Comments that consist solely of insults, fact-free talking points, are off-topic, or simply spam the same argument over and over will be deleted. The penguin is the only one allowed to be an ass here. All viewpoints, however, are welcomed, even if I disagree vehemently with you.

WARNING: You are entitled to create your own arguments, but you are NOT entitled to create your own facts. If you spew scientific denialism, or insist that the sky is purple, or otherwise insist that your made-up universe of pink unicorns and cotton candy trees is "real", well -- expect the banhammer.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.