Encyclopaedias: print or digital?


The ultimate reference tool remains the Encyclopaedias for all of us. But, this segment of publishing industry is also transforming with the digital invasion. With Encyclopaedia Britannica offering only digital version, the path has been set and publishers are following suit. What publishers think about this transformation and where the industry is going, finds AABP. Digital is the future of Encyclopaedias

Encyclopaedias have played and continue to play a very significant role with the academic world. They are the backbone of any self-respecting library as collieries of updated universal literature in all subject areas. Subodh Kapoor, chief editor, Cosmo Publications, shares more about the trends in the encyclopedia segment.

The word “encyclopaedia” comes from mistaken Koine Greek transliterated enkyklios paideia; enkyklios , meaning “circular, recurrent, required regularly, general” and paideia , meaning “education”. Together, the phrase literally translates as “common knowledge” or “general knowledge”. Copyists of Latin manuscripts took this phrase to be a single Greek word, enkyklopaidia, with the same meaning, and this spurious Greek word became the New Latin word “encyclopaedia”, which in turn came into English.

Europe has been the traditional home for encyclopaedia publishing for close to past 500 odd years. The Americans revolutionised the publishing of these kinds of reference works in their quest for consolidating the big pool of knowledge that had been accumulated by the Europeans, and making it available to the newly established institutions of knowledge after their independence. It also ensured the satisfying of the great hunger for new information and breakthroughs in Europe which at that time supplied most of the scientific and technical literature to America. Currently America is the epicenter of Encyclopaedia publishing especially in the scientific and technical areas. The Russians, markedly in the Soviet era, and the Japanese have published some significant works in this specialized field of publishing.

The hard work behind Encyclopaedia…

Publishing an Encyclopaedia is a time and cost intensive proposition, and requires a different skill-set for the publishing house. It must, by its very nature, bring together a number of experts in a particular field in which the encyclopaedia need to be planned, which means a good knowledge of the field itself for the editor or the publisher initiating the work. It is then painstakingly pursued for the articles or the required information to come through from experts. Once a reasonable pool of information has been collected, distilled and collated, the actual work of putting it all together starts for the publishing team. The decision for the publishing team to put a limit to the amount of information to be included, and by that is meant the number of pages and volumes that must be published, becomes a critical one. The task of heading the team of editors or that of a chief editor is therefore assigned to a field expert, having the expertise and the peer respect for getting the latest information required to make the encyclopaedia a commercial success.

The Indian scenario…

India with its huge pool of scholars and scientists should be a country leading this field of publishing. Unfortunately it does not. The scientific and scholarly output of our academic community leaves a lot to be desired. One abhors the lack of peer reviewed articles and scientific literature that is put out by our leading institutions, universities and technical colleges. This output forms the very backbone of publishing endeavours in this specialized field. In the Asian region, the Chinese, the Japanese and even the Koreans are way ahead of us in the output of scientific and technical literature.

So, inevitably India has to depend on encyclopaedias published abroad especially in the technical and scientific areas. We are gaining some ground in the Humanities and Social Sciences where Indian publishers are beginning to put out reasonably good reference works but they are still too few and far between to make any significant numbers. On the back of these small numbers is the terrible situation we face in India where some unscrupulous publishers have been publishing what is referred to as “cut-and-paste” encyclopaedias which are nothing more than putting together information taken from the web and hawked as encyclopaedic works. This has invariably brought bad name and the foreign institutional buyers are viewing encyclopaedia publishing from India with a very liberal dose of skepticism.

The situation with the Indian buyers is no better. Although Indian higher education system has expanded at a fast pace by adding nearly 20,000 colleges and more than eight million students in a decade from 2000-01 to 2010-11, and as of 2011, India has 42 central universities, 275 state universities, 130 deemed universities, 90 private universities, 5 institutions established and functioning under the State Act, and 33 Institutes of National Importance, the purchase of encyclopaedia and reference works is abysmally low. In fact the encyclopaedias and reference works of similar nature are the last in the list of priorities with libraries. With library budgets being squeezed across the board with government supported and funded institutions the problem gets further compounded.

Currently we see a peculiar situation in India where those authorized to sanction purchase of books in universities have put a blanket ban on purchases beyond a particular price-point, and no prizes for guessing, this definitely puts encyclopaedias beyond the scope of consideration for purchase. It is quite obvious that encyclopaedias and reference works are considered a luxury, thus defeating the whole idea of a “library” which more than anything else is a house of reference. So marketing of encyclopaedias is a huge challenge in this country, the decisive factor being the reputation of the publisher and the past output. With well over 300 Encyclopaedias and reference works, Cosmo has played a significant role in this niche market.

Encyclopaedias have played and continue to play a very significant role with the academic world. They are the backbone of any self-respecting library as collieries of updated universal literature in all subject areas. The libraries cannot, should not, deprive the users of this uniquely significant tool of keeping abreast with the latest information in the case of scientific and technical literature, and peer-reviewed and collated material in the areas of humanities and social sciences. If textbooks are a must for students than the important information, they can garner only from an encyclopaedia which is a necessary element of studying a subject. One can argue that if Indian students do not get into the habit of referring to secondary sources then a lot of blame should be laid at the doorsteps of the libraries for not providing them with the right tools. And the most significant tool in secondary source reference is – THE ENCYCLOPAEDIA.

Encyclopaedias from Cosmo

Cosmo has had a reasonably successful experience with publishing reference works. The fact that the first work which Cosmo published, way back in 1972, was a multi-volume encyclopaedic dictionary “Dictionary of Economic Products of India, in 10 volumes”, laid the path for a sensible and mature vision of looking at such publishing. They have published some of the leading and ambitious reference works and encyclopaedias to have been undertaken in this part of the world, many of which have enjoyed international success. Some of these include their bestsellers – The Indian Encyclopaedia (25 Volumes); Encyclopaedia of Indian Heritage (90 Volumes); Encyclopaedia of Tantra (5 Volumes); The Hindus. Encyclopaedia of Hinduism (5 Volumes); The Muslims. Encyclopaedia of Islam (11 Volumes); Encyclopaedia of Indian Mysticism (12 Volumes); Encyclopaedia of Indian Tribes and Castes (23 Volumes), and many more fine works of scholarly excellence.

Cosmo has recently partnered with an American publisher – Impact Global Publishing Inc. – to bring to India some of the finest Encyclopaedias and reference works at special Indian prices which are international bestsellers, including, International Encyclopaedia of Gods & Goddesses; International Encyclopaedia of Worship in All Religions; Encyclopaedia of Asian Philosophy and Religions; Encyclopaedia of Modern Philosophies of Law; as well as perennials like Durant’s The Story of Civilization; Hastings’ Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, etc. The uniqueness of this partnership is the fact that the Encyclopaedias are released in India simultaneously to their being made available to the rest of the world.

The markets…

Most of the encyclopaedias and reference works of similar nature that we publish are targeted at the scholarly community, libraries and institutions. Due to this focused approach these works are printed in limited numbers and are therefore expensive. Cosmo now has a list of 3000 titles in its expanding catalogue, and there are more than 300 encyclopaedias and reference works of similar nature on offer. Exports form a very formidable part of this output and libraries from across the world regularly place orders for our works. We enjoy the trust of institutions and libraries to an extent that many of them place “standing orders” for our reference works. Very reputable distributors of reference works in Germany, the United Kingdom and America regularly carry special advertising campaigns only for Cosmo’s works, which is unique to a publisher from India. The recently concluded one such campaign for our “Sacred Books of the Hindus” in 38 Parts was a huge success in Continental Europe. We have partnered with three international publishers to take our “Encyclopaedia of Tantra” to the readers in their respective countries with the work in 5 volumes now in its 5th printing.

On digital publishing…

Lately, the publishing landscape of this type of publishing is seeing rapid churning of unforeseen proportions. With the onset, and the rapid strides, of digital publishing, especially those linked to the web, the print editions are seeing some stress in the output, the price and the numbers being put out. This phenomena will see rapid increase in the near future and one will see increasing number of reference works published digitally. More so with the increasing availability of Tablets and Pads and their decreasing price points, the access to ready information will only proliferate. The publishers will benefit enormously by going digital as they can attract individuals directly to their encyclopaedias in increasing numbers which was not possible with libraries, especially in a country like India where we see so little numbers being sold.

Digital is the future of encyclopaedias and huge reference works. The content can also be sold in many different ways to generate additional revenue streams for the publisher which was not possible with the print version. The digital age also ensures shortening of the time it takes from conception to execution of the works of this mega proportions. Smaller encyclopaedias meant for individual consumption however will continue to be published in bigger numbers but here also those which link the printed word to the web and provide digital content supplementing the print word will have a huge advantage. We will see a similar situation with encyclopaedias targeted at children which will continue to proliferate.

Harnessing the potential of print, electronic and online media…

With Encyclopaedia Britannica now available in digital version only, what changes have been in the industry in general and Encyclopaedia Britannica in particular, shares Sarvesh Shrivastava, managing director, Encyclopaedia Britannica South Asia.

“Acceptance of digital content over print has been steadily increasing worldwide and we see the same trend in India. Take the library as an example. With the increasing adoption of digital libraries, learners are not constrained by the availability of only a few physical copies of the titles. Reference can now be truly brought into the classroom. Schools, colleges as well as public libraries can now focus on adding more titles to their collection with the available funds instead of incurring costs in maintaining and replacing limited number of print copies. In India, digital encyclopedias are also available at substantially lower subscription cost with all the advantages of rich media and constant updates compared to the earlier investment in print versions,” tells Sarvesh Shrivastava, managing director, Encyclopedia Britannica South Asia.

There are encyclopedias available on various subjects and for various age groups, for example the Encyclopedia of India and the Student Encyclopedia. “Britannica is available on our new app for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch for anytime learning and answers on the go,” he adds.

On asking about the scope of Encyclopedias in India, Sarvesh replied, “The size of the textbook market was estimated at about US $ 1.7 bn a few years back with a growth of over 10 percent and the educational online and multimedia segment was estimated to be approx. US$ 450 million with a similar growth. We see the entire segment as an opportunity for us at Encyclopædia Britannica.”

“Globally we have done away with print editions of the Encyclopædia Britannica, but in India, we are still selling some titles in print. The last 32 volume print edition set sold for Rs 65,000,” told Sarvesh.

On technological transformation…

“We have taken technology changes as an opportunity to enrich our content and bring it ubiquitously to our customers. We were amongst the first to launch an electronic encyclopedia. Later in the 90’s, with the advent of CDROMs, personal computers and the Internet, the users were suddenly at the helm of choices that made information as well as content available to them in a lot of different forms be it audiovisual, text or animation with much ease. By this time, we were already geared up for the changing times and introduced Britannica Online, a web-based version of the Encyclopædia Britannica and the first such work on the Internet in the year of 1994. Complementing this, as general reference for kids, we introduced Britannica Kids. As an institutional offering for colleges and schools, we introduced Britannica Online Academic edition and Britannica School. Britannica E-STAX has been added to offer over 1200 reference titles in eBook form covering a wide range of subject areas,” he adds.

About Encyclopaedia Britannica…

Encyclopædia Britannica is widely regarded as an authority in reference and general knowledge ever since its first publication in 1768. Thousands of eminent experts, scholars, and leaders have contributed to Britannica in the past and continue to do so today, including more than a hundred Nobel laureates, four presidents of the United States, countless Pulitzer Prize winners and others of international renown.

Information that a reader is seeking or discovers transforms to knowledge and learning when it is of the requisite level and considered trustworthy. As a pioneer in the field of knowledge and learning, they have kept our focus to offer the most trustworthy and age appropriate content during this journey of over 245 years – from the My First Britannica for children to Encyclopædia Britannica for life-long learning. Earlier, with the print edition one had to wait for the annual updates. Today, the Encyclopædia Britannica products are found in a multitude of digital age-appropriate forms that are updated continuously, many times a day.

“Trustworthy content and editorial quality has always been fundamental to our value proposition in the growing sea of questionable information in the age of internet. This differentiator has kept the momentum consistent and established a strong relationship with our users,” adds Sarvesh as a matter of fact.

“With a thrust on educational initiatives; today, we are geared to harness the immense potential of the convergence of print, electronic, and online media. We have done this by consolidating our product offerings and going beyond reference products thereby developing full-fledged learning solutions catalogue, providing individualized learning for various grades and reading levels,” he adds.

In terms of reference the bestsellers in India are Britannica Global Edition; Britannica Student Encyclopedia; Britannica Illustrated Science Library and fascinating reference books in association with Rosen Educational Services to help students develop a deeper understanding of core subjects and current events.

Encyclopaedia Britannica today…

“We believe that “research” is more important than “search”. On demand information is readily available everywhere these days. Internet has given unlimited power to everyone. While this is liberating, search for trustworthy and appropriate information quickly is almost becoming an art. Britannica‘s digital products offer a fast and dependable way to access reliable information. For these reasons, we continue to be most used resource for general reference by leading schools, colleges and universities worldwide,” concludes Sarvesh.

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