Encarta: 1993 – 2009

Perhaps not surprisingly, Microsoft announced, via a notice posted on the MSN Web site, that it would stop selling Encarta CDs as of June and discontinue the online version of Encarta by the end of 2009.

Microsoft’s move is a recognition on the part of the company that the business of publishing information has once again changed dramatically.  In the early 1990s, traditional print publishers, such as the Encyclopaedia Britannica, found in Microsoft a formidable competitor when Microsoft launched Encarta on CDs and included copies of it in Microsoft Windows.  Microsoft purchased non-exclusive rights to the Funk and Wagnalls Encyclopedia, which continued separately as a print edition until the late 1990s; the company had reportedly approached Encyclopaedia Britannica first but its owner, worried that sales of the print edition would be hurt, turned down the offer.

Microsoft continued to enhance Encarta by purchasing and incorporating into it Collier’s Encyclopedia and the New Merit Scholar’s Encyclopedia.

Yet Encarta’s time in the sun was fleeting as online information resources, such as the Wikipedia, grew in size (it now has over 10 million articles in over 260 languages).  By comparison, Microsoft’s online Encarta offering currently has 42,000 articles and the complete English language version has only somewhat more than 62,000 articles and is updated much less frequently than the Wikipedia.

“Encarta has been a popular product around the world for many years,” Microsoft wrote in its posted notice. “However, the category of traditional encyclopedias and reference material has changed. People today seek and consume information in considerably different ways than in years past.”

David M. Goldes is the president of Basex.

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