This is odd — weeks after Microsoft announced that it was abandoning Encarta, the NYT publishes a piece by Randall Stross.
IN 1985, when Microsoft was turned down by Britannica, the conventional wisdom in the encyclopedia business held that a sales force that knocked on doors was indispensable, that encyclopedias were “sold, not bought.” Encarta showed that with a low-enough price — it was selling for $99 when Britannica introduced its own CD-ROM encyclopedia in 1994 for $995 — it could become the best-selling encyclopedia.
But the triumph was short-lived. Microsoft soon learned that the public would no longer pay for information once it was available free. Other information businesses, of course, are now confronting the same fact, but without the Windows and Office franchises to fall back upon.
Randall Stross is a good reporter, so my hunch is that this is a piece that’s been lying on the shelf for a while until a quiet news day arrived.