'Online version of Britannica is updated every 20 minutes'

The Inquirer

'Online version of Britannica is updated every 20 minutes'

The privately-held firm behind Britannica is making a beeline for the Indian market, targeting schools and individual customers. In an interview with Kalyan Ray of Deccan Herald, the company president Jorge Cauz spoke of its India plans.

Excerpts:

The popular image of Encyclopaedia Britannica is the 32-volume print set. How relevant is it in the digital era?

The print set is the heritage of the company. It’s difficult not to have the print set, which is the icon of the company for the last 243 years. But the print edition is now marketed only to a small segment. The most important part of our business is digital products, meant for high school graduates and above. School curriculum and e-learning is also an important part of our business. We have very robust plans on e-learning for the Indian market.

How much of your revenue comes from the print business? How frequently is the print set updated?

The earnings from all print businesses is less than 15 per cent of our revenue. The print edition is updated every two years, whereas the online version is updated every 20 minutes.

When did you start your digital business?

We created the first electronic encyclopaedia in 1981, the first multimedia encyclopaedia in 1989 and the first encyclopaedia on the internet in 1994.

Do you feel competition from Wikipaedia?

Britannica at one point of time had 11-12 competitors in online publishing and CD-ROM business. But being a niche player, it has values to those who are highly educated, intellectually curious and appreciate authentic and specific information. All those competitors don’t exist anymore and that’s where Wikipaedia has taken over. Wikipaedia provides generic information but Britannica stands where it was and grown steadily.

Do you have a presence in the school education market in India?

Britannica entered the school market in India in 2009 with four series for CBSE school students in mathematics, environmental studies, computer science and general knowledge. In 2010 there will be a science series, social studies series and another mathematics series for classes 1-8 while adding more books for classes 9-10 in computer sciences.

What next?

For the next two years, we have plans for an English grammar series and main English series along with mathematics, science and social studies for the ICSE board schools. We target to spread our brand value as an educational publisher in India and neighbouring countries like Sri Lanka and Nepal.

How is the Britannica material linked to the NCERT curricula?

NCERT has framed syllabus subject by subject and class by class according to which print books are written. NCERT has projects that go beyond the textbooks and encourages students to go beyond the textbook for reference material to learn more. When we map it to NCERT curricula, we use our vast database to aid students.

Don’t you think that the content should be modified for India?

No. Britannica is not a curriculum publisher. Curriculum publishing is a different endeavour than reference publishing linked to a board. We are not teaching photosynthesis for example. We are saying that given your learning in photo-synthesis, these are the material we have which will upgrade your knowledge on photosynthesis. It’s mapped according to the board standards whereas teaching material is much more structured.

Are you approaching individual schools with your products?

We will be going to schools besides working with the central and state education departments. For schools with a chain of institutions, we will work with the central body.

How big is the Indian market for your kind of products?

India has about 50,000 schools, out of which 25,000 are expected to have access to the digital world and internet within the next 5-7 years. As the infrastructure impediments are coming down rapidly, there will be a large number of schools demanding our products.

How are the Britannica products priced?

In the USA, Britannica online school edition costs one dollar per kid per year. It’s an IP-based solution whose price depends on the number of users. For Indian schools, the annual subscription could be anywhere between Rs 25,000 to Rs 50,000 for 500 students. Many schools in India will be able to afford that. However, for IP-based subscriptions, schools would be requiring their own virtual private network and high bandwidth.

Besides schools, do you plan to target any other group?

Highly educated and sophisticated individual customers would also be targeted. They have access to high bandwidth and can afford our yearly online subscription.

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