On March 13, 2012, Encyclopaedia Britannica announced that it would no longer print its 32-volume encyclopedia, electing to discontinue the physical product and sell whatever it could of the remaining 4,000 sets in stock.
According to the New York Times, the news has set off a bit of a buying spree.
The encyclopedia, whose sale staff has been largely disbanded, had been selling at a rate of about 60 sets a week. At that pace, the inventory on hand would have lasted through mid-2013.
Now, print aficionados have upped the sales to more than 1,000 sets a week. At $1,395, the selling price is unchanged, but people are calling in, handing over credit-card information and waiting for 130 pounds of paper to arrive on their doorsteps. Inventory is expected to run out later this month.
Last week, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales described the end of the print version of Encyclopaedia Britannica as “a sign of a new beginning“. It may be a new beginning, but it remains one whose funding sources are somewhat obscure.
If anything, the sales boom provides solid evidence that scarcity sells, particularly in a niche market. Unfortunately, we’re no longer in an era in which we can safely limit all of our editions. For most products, absence makes the heart grow fonder, but for a substitute.