Encyclopedia Britannica: Free is Good for Web Marketing

Encyclopedia Britannica discovers Encyclopedia Britannica has just opened up its content to Web publishers. As a Web publisher, you can get free access to Britannica.com for a year through a program called Webshare. If you link to any article, your readers also will be able to read the entire article free of charge.

They are using a very broad definition of Web publisher — it includes any webmaster, writer or blogger who publishes regularly. If you’re interested don’t hesitate to request access by filling out the online form. The content would be a nice value-add for your clients, customers and readers.

Encyclopedia Britannica has seen its business change drastically as so much information has opened up on the Web. Britannica went from being seen as THE authoritative encyclopedia source, to having that de-facto title snatched up by Wikipedia, the free user-edited encyclopedia.

The reason? Mainly because anyone can read and link to any Wikipedia article. Wikipedia articles became even more visible as the articles started appearing in search engine results. In essence, Wikipedia and the free content model are their own best marketing vehicles.

That’s the dilemma for content providers on the Web today. Free distribution of content is good marketing. Free is just not a good business model.  It forces you to rely on advertising-based revenue streams, and ads are not right for every site.  Or you have to give away a portion of your content as a draw to attract subscribers or business leads or some other means of making money.

That’s something to keep in mind as you develop a business model for a Web-based business.


Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder, CEO and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses.

13 Reactions
  1. Hey,

    thanx it is useful information. Let me try that britannica..

  2. Surely that’s a good thing?

    Free is what gets your the attention, the permission, the right to talk to people. As you say, it generates the business leads. Free is the new advertising/sales calls. And that’s great. The point is building an alternative business model.

    It’s the music industry/business author dilemma. Use the books to get the attention, an make the money on live performances/premium content etc.

    Another example. My brother designs IT systems. His problem recently is people keep copying them and distributing them for free. Instead of taking the legal route he began releasing all his IT systems for free. He now sales 24/7 service-support/bespoke extras/updates for his systems.

    He makes about 50% more now than he did from the systems. About half the businesses that use his free systems subscribe to the extras that only he can offer.

    Besides, any model that relies on advertising to make money is a VERY vulnerable model.

  3. Hey Anita,

    The world is changing fast! It’s hard to keep anything digital locked up for long. The best way is to focus on the EXPERIENCE rather than the product.

  4. You wouldn’t believe the fights we cartoonists have about this very subject.

    Like any business, I think relying solely on one source of income (ads) is a baaaaad idea. And, come on, does anyone even look at banner ads anymore?

    Giving away a little is good business. Betting it all on ads and giving it all away? Bad!

    (Just a little free advice! :))

  5. Martin Lindeskog

    I will sign up for Britannica WebShare. I would say that Encyclopaedia Britannica will always be recognized as the #1 source, at least regarding “hands-on” information. It is a special feeling to open a leather bound dictionary and take a moment to learn something new. I use Answers.com (that includes material from WikiPedia) on a regular basis, but I enjoy to sit down and read a book now and then.


  6. The real question is whether or not Google will penalize their rank for developing a viral widget.

  7. Hi Richard,

    You’ve pointed out what many have learned: give the product away, and charge for the service and value-add surrounding it. 🙂

    Regarding ads, I think they certainly have their place as a business model. I happen to have an advertising supported model here. However, the problem is that advertising-based business models are vastly overused. I’m reminded of Steve Rubel excellent article, Advertisers, Only You Can Save Web 2.0: http://www.micropersuasion.com/2007/10/advertisers-onl.html


  8. I wonder how technology can bring blows to your business model. Britannica should have thought of something like this long time back when Wiki was upcoming.

    It could have retained its leader position.

    But it did not see this coming. This act now would be viewed as act of frustration.

    They are simply not able to compete with Wikipedia.

    Still, they have not made it free entirely.

    May be later. 😉

  9. Martin Lindeskog

    Arun Pal Singh: Personally, I don’t think that WikiPedia and Britannica are targeting the exact same group of users and customers. Britannica’s staff has long experience and a wealth of information, accumulated over a long time period.

    For further studies, read the articles, “Nature mag cooked Wikipedia study” http://peiyah.notlong.com and “Will Wikipedia Mean the End Of Traditional Encyclopedias?” http://aihain.notlong.com

  10. Martin! Thanks for those links.

    I enjoyed the inconclusive discussion among two parties.

    Barring libraries and institutions, I do not tink there is any difference between the two targets.

    Both Britannica and Wikipedia povide information.

    One had kept it in armours letting you access only for a fee.

    Other came and made it free.

    There is tremendous difference between popularity of WIki and Britannica when we compare online stats.

    Why would somebody pay $70 per year when the things are also free at some other place, just a click away.

    Times have changed for Britannica and it is responding accordingly albeit late.

    If there was no free encyclopedia which was free would Britannica have taken this step.

    I doubt.

    Because now we can free access , let us see what was behind those iron gates.

  11. Looks like this will be a very helpful resource to link to. They have some really interesting widgets too. Will be giving this a try. Thanks for the info 🙂

  12. I never realized that Britannica online wasn’t free to use. I definitely think this is the way to go for them if they want to keep up with their competitors.