Closing the book on an encyclopedia

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Norway’s Store norske leksikon, the country’s equivalent of Encyclopedia Britannica, faced its final chapter unless the state came to its aid. It didn’t, and now the online version will disappear this summer because the two publishing firms behind the venerable Norwegian encyclopedia say they’ve simply lost too much money on it.

The Store norske leksikon has been a national institution for years and many a Norwegian home has a set of the big, heavy books on a bookshelf. News bureau NTB reported that the encyclopedia earned a lot of money for its owners, publishing houses Aschehoug and Gyldendal, until the late 1990s.

Since then, however, with the arrival of the Internet, the encyclopedia’s publishers have lost roughly as much as they earned in the 20 years previous. They announced Thursday that encyclopedia production and operation of its own web site, www.storenorskeleksikon.no, will be terminated as of July 1.

The publishers thought the encyclopedia, as a national institution, should carry on, though, so Aschehoug and Gyldendal said they were willing to make available their data, the organization and web site technology to a foundation they hoped would get public support.

Anniken Huitfeldt, the government minister in charge of cultural affairs in Norway, declined the offer. “I don’t want the state to take over operations,” she told NTB later on Thursday. “Neither advertisers nor users have shown enough interest in Store norske, and that’s a clear signal.”

The online version had around 140,000 users a week, most of them students, but faced tough competition from Wikipedia. The publishers said they didn’t want to turn over their content to Wikipedia, because of different editing philosophies.

By Views and News staff