CHICAGO: Britannica.com has launched a new PR campaign to support
its plan to start charging a monthly fee for access to the site.
It's a dramatic about-face for Britannica, which in 1999 launched a free
site with news and information from its massive database, hoping to
create a new business model based on advertising revenue to replace the
generations-old publishing model. Britannica now plans to print its
first new edition of the encyclopedias since 1998.
Britannica.com has also hired East Coast education technology PR firm
Wheeler Baird for a $10,000-a-month retainer to promote
com, a new fee-based Web site aimed at teachers and students, grades K
through 12, said Tom Panelas, corporate communications director with
BritannicaSchool.com, unveiled in June, is one of several new products
the company is launching to broaden its reach across the Web, print, CD,
and DVD offerings, he said.
The failure of the free site became apparent in March, when the company
scaled back due to a lack of ad revenues, and dropped its PR agency
Middleberg Associates and a new PR staffer.
Panelas said his new PR strategy to support the fee-based site will
focus on distinguishing Britannica from the rash of other Web sites that
are now switching from free to fee. "We were never a pure-play Internet
company," he said. "We have a great brand that people still value."
Panelas has been using media relations, notification on the site, and
e-mail to regular site users to explain the reasons for the new
"I think the word has gotten out," he said, pointing to an AP story and
coverage in The New York Times and on The Wall Street Journal's Web