This week, publisher Penguin Random House confirmed that the 2017-18 edition of the Pears’ Cyclopaedia, which came out on Thursday, will be the last. Indeed, its cover boldly proclaims: The Final Edition.
The 125-year-old publication, dubbed “the Swiss army knife” of reference books, was ambitious in its scope. Want to know about a medical matter? Need some tax advice? Unsure who’s who in Greek mythology? What is that star in the sky? Reach for the Cyclopaedia. Its subtitle suggested that within its pages was “Everything you need to know“.
The reasons for its disappearance? Two.
The first is sales. While the 2001/02 edition sold 24,229 copies, the 2016/17 edition sold only 2,854 copies. Why reach for the bookshelf when a search engine is your friend?
The second is that the editor, Chris Cook, who has toiled away at the almanac since 1977, will be standing down.
Publishers Penguin Random House explained that they could not imagine the one-volume miscellany continuing under another series editor.
Originally brought to you by Pears’ Soap, and at the bargain price of a shilling, the original editions naturally contained useful information about soap (good soap, like good wine, improves with age).
Sadly, good information does not improve with age, so we wave the teeny-tiny writing on the Cyclopaedia‘s 832 pages goodbye. Not without some sadness, however, to see the passing of a volume that attempted to be the internet before the internet was invented.