OK! The title of this post may be misleading. The 244-year-old Encyclopaedia Britannica (EB) is not dead. In contrast it is viable and growing despite the publisher’s recent decision to kill production of the bound volumes. In 1990 a 2000 person door-to-door sales force sold 100,000 units but then sales began to fall. Decreasing numbers of potential buyers wanted a costly 32-volume book series that weighed 129 pounds filled with information that was losing up-to-date relevance every day. So EB reinvented itself in ways that are generating more profits and involving more on-line subscribers whose databank of information is updated every 20 minutes.
How does this have broader relevance for educators, students, mental-health practitioners, churches, leaders and individuals like us? Consider what follows, adapted from an article by EB President Jorge Cruz writing in Harvard Business Review (March, 2013):
- With the appearance of competing sources of up-to-date information available free, on line, EB could die or make radical change. EB determined to make changes.
- The company determined to stay with their core purpose of providing content of impeccable editorial quality and accuracy. EB remained committed to their mission.
- While the mission and brand recognition remained firm, the methods of delivering content changed radically. Door-to-door salespeople were gone, replaced by (currently 500,000) digital subscribers who pay for proven-quality content, updated continually with input from communities and proven experts. EB changed the way their services are delivered.
- They learned from other information providers (like Wikipedia) who reach readers content with “good-enough” information that may be of unproven validity. EB focused on their strength of providing quality.
- The company stopped thinking of themselves as encyclopedia producers and developed “a full-fledged learning business.” EB clarified their core business.
The article concludes with these words: “We don’t want to be like an old actor trying to hold on to his youth. You get on with the times and our times are digital…. We no longer have a stake in the old education model of textbooks and printed classroom curricula…. It makes no sense for us to print books. As an organization, we’re over it.”
Look at the above conclusions in italics. How might any of this apply to your work and business? Please comment.