Britannica promotes free online tools for bloggers

CHICAGO: Encyclopedia Britannica is promoting its online information as a free service to Web publishers, and has hired Holtz Communication & Technology (HC&T) to focus PR efforts on bloggers.

CHICAGO: Encyclopedia Britannica is promoting its online information as a free service to Web publishers, and has hired Holtz Communication & Technology (HC&T) to focus PR efforts on bloggers. Encyclopedia's internal PR team is working on much of the campaign, including outreach to national and trade publications.

The WebShare initiative first targeted blogs by journalists, libraries, and academics, giving each free prelaunch access to the technology, said Shel Holtz, principal at HC&T. The encyclopedia then allowed a dozen technology bloggers access before its April 29 launch.

Tom Panelas, Britannica director of corporate communications, added, "The Web is where discussions of key issues are shaped... and Encyclopedia Britannica should be in the middle of those discussions."

Multimedia components of the campaign include a blog (http://www.britannicanet.com/), widgets, and clusters of articles related to current events. Britannica's PR team is relaying daily Twitter messages linking to articles and participating in comment-driven blog discussions. The campaign's budget is undisclosed.

Panelas dismissed the idea that the encyclopedia is trying to cut into Wikipedia's audience.

"Everyone seems to assume that we're trying to challenge Wikipedia... but we don't want to do anything of the kind. [Wikipedia] has its place, but it's different," he said. "We publish an encyclopedia that is written primarily by experts in their fields and is thoroughly vetted."

Jay Walsh, head of communications for Wikimedia Foundation, which administers Wikipedia, said the group is "always pleased to see other organizations making efforts to free their information."

A Ragan.com analysis questioned if it was ethical for Britannica to give bloggers free prelaunch access, but Panelas equated Britannica's decision to the practice of providing free magazines to qualified readers.

"There are trade magazines in every field that give free subscriptions to people who are influential decision makers, [whereas] other people have to pay for it," he said.

Britannica home users must pay a fee for access, and Panelas said that a lot of its revenues come from digital sources.

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