Slippery Slopes

Slippery Slopes

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4454-0.ch003
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Abstract

In order to clarify some defining factors of business success in the information age, this chapter presents two known failures. Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. successfully marketed a reputable product, but certain flaws in the company’s structure and process led to a decision to protect its print product rather than make a shift to digital media, with irreversible results. Among newspapers, the San Jose Mercury News seemed ideally positioned to make a successful transition to the Internet age. Yet it was impossible to do so without the cooperation of other major newspapers, which it was unable to obtain. This example evinces the rise of a new and widespread paradigm in which users expect content without cost, which has proved especially challenging for newspapers. However, several publications, including The Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, and The New York Times, have adopted new business models that may lead to sustainability.
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Encyclopedia Britannica: A Refusal To Engage It’S Core Business

Dialog and ORBIT succeeded by selling access to specialized databases on topics such as chemicals and medicine; encyclopedias represent the diametrically opposed approach to the dissemination of information. While database access was routinely sold to institutions that only had use for one highly specialized type of information, encyclopedias were marketed to individual households on the premise that owning an encyclopedia would give them access to an impressive store of generalized information on a host of topics. Lengthy trips to the library for research could now be replaced by a quick walk over to one’s bookshelf. The potential benefits for children in the home were highly touted. Thus, the encyclopedia was the information industry’s answer to the average consumer who wanted a well-balanced, “all-around” education.

For over a century, Encyclopedia Britannica was one of the preeminent encyclopedias. It was also one of the most well respected scholarly publications in the Western world. It offered high quality articles on a variety of topics from the humanities to the hard sciences and everything in between, authored by a wide-ranging field of experts that included Nobel laureates. As far as factual integrity and product reputation went, the company was beyond reproach.

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