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Britannica.com gets abridged

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By Ronna Abramson

(IDG) -- Encyclopaedia Britannica is bringing its online division back into the fold in a consolidation move that is just the latest in a string of recent restructurings in the 233-year-old company's history.

The consolidation of Encyclopaedia Britannica and Britannica.com, both subsidiaries of Encyclopaedia Britannica Holdings, will not result in any layoffs for the total staff of about 280 employees, according to spokesman Tom Panelas. However, a new CEO, Ilan Yeshua, has been appointed to lead the newly consolidated company. Yeshua, previously CEO of Britannica Israel, succeeds Don Yannias, who will return to a former career in investment management and remain on the company's board.

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Purchased by Swiss financier Jacob Saffra in 1995, Chicago-based Encyclopaedia Britannica has been beset by tough times since the early 1990s, when CD-ROMs took a major bite out of business. The flood of information available on the Internet further eroded demand for the company's once venerated leather-bound volumes. Britannica has laid off about 150 employees during the past six months.

Britannica.com initially was created during the Internet boom with aspirations of going public, but it flip-flopped between charging for information and offering it for free. The company, following the lead of other media companies such as Salon.com and Variety, now plans to launch a subscription service, which it will announce in the next few weeks, according to Panelas. At the end of June, the company also plans to unveil a long-delayed project designed for K-12 classrooms and libraries called BritannicaSchool and will discuss plans for a print edition in coming weeks, Panelas said.

"While we will continue to work on the Internet as we have in recent years, we will pursue opportunities in other media as well while also using the Internet, print, CD-ROM and DVD in combination," Yeshua said in a statement. "To do this effectively, we will forge a closer working relationship between our two companies."








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