After Encyclopedia Britannica Inc. made the announcement on Wednesday that they were ending the publication of their flagship encyclopedia for the first time in over 200 years, the company’s free online rival, Wikipedia, made a statement.

"It was announced that after 244 years, the Encyclopedia Britannica is going out of print, instead focusing on its online encyclopedia," Wikipedia’s entry read.

President of Encyclopedia Britannica Inc. Jorge Cauz said, "This has nothing to do with Wikipedia or Google."

Cauz went on, "This has to do with the fact that now Britannica sells its digital products to a large number of people."

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While the print version of the Encyclopedia Britannica has declined in sales, the online version of the encyclopedia serves more than 100 million people every day.  The encyclopedia has become increasingly social as well, Cauz said, because users can send comments to editors.

Plans to terminate the printed 32 volume set have been in the works for some time.

"The sales of printed encyclopedias have been negligible for several years," Cauz said. "We knew this was going to come."

"A printed encyclopedia is obsolete the minute that you print it," Cauz said. "Whereas our online edition is updated continuously."

The book-form of Encyclopedia Britannica has been in print since it was first published in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1768. It will stop being available when the current stock runs out, the company said. The Chicago-based company will continue to offer digital versions.

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The top year for the printed encyclopedia was 1990, when 120,000 sets were sold, Cauz said. That number fell to 40,000 just six years later in 1996, he added. The company started exploring digital publishing in the 1970's. The first CD-ROM edition was published in 1989 and a version went online in 1994.

Britannica has thousands of experts andcontributors from around the world, including Nobel laureates and world leaders such as former President Bill Clinton and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. It also has a staff of more than 100 editors.

"To me, the most important message is that the printed edition was not what made Britannica," Cauz said. "The most important thing about Britannica is that Britannica is relevant and vibrant because it brings scholarly knowledge to an editorial process to as many knowledge seekers as possible."

The final hardcover encyclopedia set is available for sale at Britannica's website for $1,395.

The company plans to mark the end of the print version by making the contents of its website available free for one week, starting Tuesday.

Based On Reporting By The Associated Press

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