The Encyclopædia Britannica is a general encyclopaedia published by Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., a privately held company. The articles of the Britannica are aimed at educated adult readers, and written by a staff of 19 full-time editors and over 4,000 expert contributors. It is widely considered to be the most scholarly of encyclopaedias.
The Britannica is the oldest English-language encyclopaedia still in print. It was first published between 1768 and 1771 in Edinburgh and quickly grew in popularity and size, with its third edition in 1801 reaching 20 volumes. Its rising stature helped in recruiting eminent contributors, and the 9th edition (1875–1889) and the 11th edition (1911) are regarded as landmark encyclopaedias for scholarship and literary style. Beginning with the 11th edition, the Britannica gradually shortened and simplified its articles to make them more accessible and to broaden its North American market. In 1933, the Britannica became the first encyclopaedia to adopt a "continuous revision" policy, in which the encyclopaedia is continually reprinted and every article is updated on a regular schedule.
The current edition (the 15th) has a unique three-part structure: a 12-volume Micropædia of short articles (generally having fewer than 750 words), a 17-volume Macropædia of long articles (having from two to 310 pages) and a single Propædia volume intended to give a hierarchical outline of all human knowledge. The Micropædia is meant for quick fact-checking and as a guide to the Macropædia; readers are advised to study the Propædia outline to understand a subject's context and to find other, more detailed articles. The size of the Britannica has remained roughly constant over the past 70 years, with about 40 million words on half a million topics. Although publication has been based in the United States since 1901, the Britannica has maintained its traditional British spelling.
Over the course of its history, the Britannica has had difficulty remaining profitable—a problem faced by many encyclopaedias. Ownership of the Britannica has changed many times, with past owners including the Scottish publisher A & C Black, Horace Everett Hooper, Sears Roebuck and William Benton. The present owner of Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. is Jacqui Safra, a Swiss billionaire and actor. Recent advances in information technology and the rise of electronic encyclopedias such as Encarta have reduced the demand for print encyclopedias. To remain competitive, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. has stressed the good reputation of the Britannica, reduced its price and production costs, and developed electronic versions on CD-ROM, DVD and the World Wide Web. Since the early 1930s, the company has also promoted spin-off reference works. Certain earlier editions of the Britannica have been criticised for inaccuracy, bias and unauthoritative contributors; the accuracy of the present edition has likewise been questioned, although such criticisms have been challenged by the Britannica's management.
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