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Reaching a worldwide audience through the Internet

30 May 2016

Two recent announcements show how the Internet has made it possible to make vast amounts of information available online, cost-effectively in one case and for public benefit in the other - and to benefit from reaching a worldwide audience.

Discovering Literature

The British Library has just opened a fabulous online treasure trove of 20th century literary material (Shakespeare, the romantics and the Victorians are already there), making 300 artefacts relating to significant 20th century writers available online for the first time, including literary drafts, rare first editions, notebooks, letters, diaries, newspapers and photographs from Virginia Woolf, George Orwell, Ted Hughes, Angela Carter and T S Eliot among others.

Until now, these wonderful items were only available to those visiting the British Library reading rooms but Discovering Literature: 20th Century aims to bring the work of some of the period's most famous writers to life. It features over 300 digitised collection items from the Library collections and over 90 essays written by writers and academics, placing the works of the 20th century writers in context.

These materials reveal the ways in which key writers of the 20th century rejected inherited traditions and experimented with new forms and themes. Through their notebooks and first drafts, we see their creative processes, innovation, self-doubt, rejection, rebellion and the risks they took on their journey to becoming the literary greats we know today.

Discovering 20th Century Literature

Encyclopaedia Britannica

Another recent innovation is the newly revitalised Encyclopaedia Britannica, seemingly doomed to die as the internet made information widely available online, rather than through the huge and expensive print edition. But in fact what's happened is that the Internet has enabled the publisher to reinvent itself as an online provider of high quality information through subscriptions.

The Encyclopaedia had been had been in continuous print since 1768, a 244-year run. Realising that what was valuable about Britannica was the high quality and trusted authority of the editorial content, the firm managed to migrate online in such a way that its 100-odd editors and thousands of contributors stayed in place.
Michael Ross, Senior Vice-President, says: "What Wikipedia has demonstrated is the value of our kind of content, because it's such a popular site."

Ross says that the Encyclopaedia does not compete with Wikipedia because the latter is largely indistinguishable from the internet. "Basically what they've done is scraped the internet and put it in a format. But it shows that people want information like that and they want knowledge like that."

Then they've made the Encyclopaedia available at a low price, for the general public, even though their chief market is libraries. The result is a successful transition to the Internet, which enables a venerable institution to power forward into the future in a thoroughly populist - and profitable - way.

Encyclopaedia Britannica