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Britannica: More just an than encyclopaedia

india Updated: Mar 03, 2010 20:04 IST
Meher M. Ali

Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc., the 242-year old company that started in Scotland and gave us the signature Encyclopaedia of India, is dusting off its image of publishing bulky, leather-bound encyclopaedias and pushing aggressively towards having an active online presence in India.

Britannica plans to lower its membership price for Indian users by September of this year, so that they can contribute, edit and read articles on its website (

The company will also set up a server in India and Encyclopaedia Britannica India will get its own IP address within 5 months, said company president Jorge Cauz, who is in India to push forward the company's online ventures, in an exclusive interview with HT.

Unlike Wikipedia, where a member can publish information and anyone can edit it, on Encyclopaedia Britannica's website, a user gets updated content (revised at least within 20 minutes) that is verified by the company's team of 120 editors, before it is published online.

"We want our users to see the information (on factually correct, balanced, and constantly updated," said Cauz.

The company, established in 1768 in Scotland has its headquarters in Chicago, US.

Contributors to the print edition of Britannica Encyclopaedia include names such as Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, Marie Curie and more recent contributors to the updated edition include Amartya Sen and Bill Clinton.

Having a server in India will increase the speed at which the website's page opens on your browser.

Britannica India website will also feature products more suited to Indian customers, although the specifics of this have not been decided by the company, said Vrinda Mathur, public relations office for the company.

'Community usage' is an idea that Britannica is promoting through its website.

This means that like Wikipedia, a member can contribute an article on But there are two differences - one that you have to pay to be a member and second Britannica's editors review the content before it is published online.

Members also get credit for their work and their name appears with the article. If another member points out factual, spelling or other errors, their name also appears in the article history, after their contribution has also been verified.

To be a member of this 'community' it costs $70 or Rs 3,215 per year and 'a lot of wikipedians' have (also) come to Britannica and made suggestions, said Cauz.

Users in the UK and US may be able to afford a Britannica membership, but this may not be the case in India. This is why Britannica plans to lower its membership price for Indian users this year.

"India is a good market (and) we want to tap into the knowledge base of India," said Cauz, adding, "There is a huge emphasis on education, lot of English speakers and there is opportunity in school market as there is growth here as well."

It is the last the 'school market' that the company has set its eyes on. It wants to be known as 'the reference provider for young people'.

For this, Britannica has gone online with its Britannica Online School Edition (BOLSE) website where students can make notes, share these with their friends and browse through articles.

"Before reference material used to sit in the library, it was passive reference material, with technology, it is now in the classroom," said Cauz.

But this wealth of knowledge also comes at a price.

If you are an individual user, such as a parent, you have to pay $40 or Rs 1,837 per year. Mostly, however, it is schools that purchase membership which allows them full access to the website. The cost is $ 544 or Rs 25,000 and up to 200 students can use the website.