Britannica.com Prepares Relaunch

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Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc. plans to relaunch Britannica.com in September as part of a strategy to become the definitive gateway for knowledge on the Internet.


A $25-million to $35-million ad campaign, the largest in the reference publisher's 231-year history, will support the site revamp. New York shop Deutsch Inc. has been named to the account.


"Basically, what we are looking for is becoming the knowledge and learning destination on the Internet," said Jorge Cauz, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Chicago-based Britannica. "We really believe we have the brand and editorial credentials."


Britannica.com currently is a navigation service that classifies, rates and reviews Web sites, while simultaneously running book reviews and excerpts from the online version of its 32-volume Encyclopaedia Britannica. It also sells CDs, CD-ROMs and DVDs.


Changes will include a more powerful search tool and 15 channels of online sources for information in categories including the arts, health, politics, religion, books, history and travel. The site will continue to pull editorial from the WashingtonPost.com and Newsweek.com, and include a link to Merriam-Webster's online dictionary.


"What we are doing today is expanding our role from creating content to providing and selecting content," Cauz said. "We are creating a lasting value proposition that [Britannica.com] is not just a smart Web directory, it's a smart way of using the Internet in its full capacity as a delivery vehicle regardless of content."


Meanwhile, Britannica will not neglect its eb.com site, which it said was the the first encyclopedia on the Internet when it launched in 1994. It targets institutions, students and parents. It has 45,000 individuals who pay an annual subscription fee of $60 and 7,000 institutions which pay undisclosed license fees to access customized information.


Key features of a planned upgrade scheduled for 2000 include a more prominent presence in the reference and non-reference categories, enhanced learning material for the K-12 school audience, more tools and a larger book list.


Another Web site also is in the pipeline that will be "more than a mere content provider to become a distance-learning provider," said Cauz, although he would not elaborate.


Total investment for the Britannica.com relaunch, the eb.com upgrade and the new, unnamed site were not disclosed.


A privately held company based in Luxembourg, the publisher's Encyclopaedia Britannica Holding S.A. parent is controlled by Jacob Safra, an investor who bought the company in 1996 for an undisclosed sum from the William Benton Foundation.


The foundation was formed by Senator William Benton, who bequeathed the encyclopedia publisher to the University of Chicago on his death in the 1970s. The university later sold it.


While Britannica.com will continue to rely on advertising, channel sponsorships, affiliate programs and e-commerce activities, eb.com has only subscription and site license fees to generate revenue.


The publisher and Deutsch are still working on the ad strategy to push the Britannica.com brand, Cauz said. But he expects to use a mix of print, radio, online media and TV to attract the product's target: intellectually curious, educated people with above-average incomes.


"We're going to launch with an aggressive strategy in terms of advertising, promotions and channel partnerships," he said. "We believe that the main focus of our efforts in marketing and advertising is not just bringing people to our site but really repositioning our brand."


The hurdle is trying to convince people that Encyclopaedia Britannica is evolving, and the relevance of the changes in an information-cluttered environment.


"A major challenge," Cauz said, "is how to communicate effectively to the end user of this repositioning and the value of this tool as an everyday service. This is not about ancient Greek history, Egyptian antiques or Mayan culture. Britannica is relevant in today's life."
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