Sunday, April 20, 2008

Encyclopedia Britannica offered free to "web publishers"

Neat idea from the Encyclopedia Britannica who must have finally got bored of only ever being cited as an example of how established business models have been undermined by the internet and the cost of failing to respond to that change quickly enough (see below chart for headline traffic comparison with Wikipedia).

The scheme is called Britannica WebShare and is described as "A special program for web publishers, including bloggers, webmasters, and anyone who writes for the Internet. You get complimentary access to the Encyclopaedia Britannica online and, if you like, an easy way to give your readers background of the topics you write about with links to complete Britannica articles".

I signed up (here) yesterday afternoon giving this blog's URL as my "Web Content Site" and by 10pm had received an email confirming I had been granted access. It's not 100% clear what their definition of a web publisher constitutes although the registration form has a disclaimer at the bottom stating "This program is intended for people who publish with some regularity on the Internet, be they bloggers, webmasters, or writers. We reserve the right to deny participation to anyone who in our judgment doesn’t qualify" and the FAQ advises that "If you go online and start a blog with one post just to get a free subscription to Britannica, we may say no".

In addition to unlimited personal access to the Encyclopedia, the WebShare initiative also encourages publishers to share the love by linking to individual articles which readers can access without being able to then move laterally through the site. So I can point you at this recently added article about Beck, which you can access, but to browse further you'd need to register for your own account.

They've also hopped on the widget bandwagon, offering embeddable 'clusters' of thematically grouped articles - below is their US Presidents widget (full list of available widgets here).

Whilst it may ultimately turn out to be too little too late for the EB, it's encouraging to see an 240 year old publishing company implement a fairly major rethink of its strategy and open up its content to the very people whose Wikipedia contributions have contributed to its decline.

My only criticism would be how poorly (if at all) the pages render in Firefox and Opera on a Mac. Sort it out guys.

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