Britannica Eyes New DTC Emphasis

Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc. is focusing more on direct to consumer this year with the appointment of a top direct marketing executive from florist Inc.

Dan Smith has become senior vice president of consumer sales to handle e-commerce, subscriptions to Britannica Online, DM campaigns and sales to current customers. He most recently was executive vice president of, taking its online marketing arm from $10 million in 1998 to $300 million when he left.

The January hiring comes a decade after Britannica, Chicago, expanded from its famous multi-volume encyclopedias to selling products online, in stores and through DTC channels.

Smith's tasks include increasing the number of channels to deliver information through the Internet and creating messaging to make the 238-year-old Britannica brand more relevant to today's consumers. He also will work on partnerships to distribute Britannica's content.

“I think the biggest challenge is differentiating our content between what's in our database — objective, factual, well-written — versus some of the stuff that's out there on Web sites that don't have the authority that Britannica has earned over the years and just making the connection relevant for them,” he said.

Staying Relevant In a Digital World

How does a publishing brand born in 1768 adapt to today's digital world? Here's what Dan Smith, senior vice president of consumer sales at Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc., has to say:

The Internet and digital technologies in general have forced us to rethink how we publish and market our content and have given us a vast array of tools for doing so.

For any publisher of high-quality, well-edited information, one of the greatest challenges of today is to distinguish one's product from the mounds of free and unedited information that anyone with Internet access can get simply by going to any search engine.

For publishers with well-respected brands, such as Britannica, National Geographic or The New York Times, this challenge is also an opportunity because consumers trust these brands. They think of them as reliable sources. With all the information available today, much of it questionable, the need for trusted sources is greater than ever.

How does a publisher leverage its brand in today's environment? One key is relevance: We have a need and an opportunity to make the high-quality information we publish relevant all the time, not only when you want to learn about the reign of Louis XIV, but when you think about the things that come up every day, such as earthquakes, violent weather or the latest Hollywood blockbuster.

One way we have done this is by reorganizing our consumer Web site (, introducing special features that change daily and weekly and bring Britannica's vast information to bear in engaging ways on the issues of the day. Only on the Internet could we present knowledge in such an engaging, entertaining way.

We will, of course, pursue a variety of new channels for reaching consumers and continue to develop those that we have in place. Search engines present a big opportunity for reaching consumers, and smart publishers will optimize their content to appear high on relevant search result pages.

More and more organizations need high-quality online content to add value to what they offer their customers. There are opportunities for distribution relationships with these organizations.

Today's savvy Internet population is prepared to pay for high-quality, relevant information because they know it's worth a reasonable price. But Internet advertising has made a comeback, and publishers also can earn ad revenue from free content while using that content to attract new users who may upgrade to subscriber status.

Give users value, with plenty of good features and benefits, and they will pay a reasonable price. Make creative use of the Internet in finding and serving them, and your business model can hum.

Mickey Alam Khan covers Internet marketing campaigns and e-commerce, agency news as well as circulation for DM News and To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting

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