Heavy Traffic Crashes Britannica’s Web Site

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Encyclopedia Britannica’s nascent attempt to reclaim its role as a leading source of information faltered Tuesday when its Web site crashed after being flooded by visitors.

The Chicago-based company put the full text of its vaunted 32-volume encyclopedia on the Internet for free, but the overwhelming response caught the company unprepared.

Britannica officials said that while the temporary breakdown of the site was disappointing, it proved that there was a demand for the service.


“It’s one of those things where it’s opening night at the theater and suddenly its sold out and you realize, ‘Gee, we should have extended the run,’ ” said Kent Devereaux,’s senior vice president for product development.

The site went down midmorning and remained that way as Britannica technicians worked to fix Web servers in five cities. Traffic to its Web site-- more than 10 times normal, said company officials, who hope to have all servers up and running by today.

Britannica has seen information technology eat away at its core encyclopedia business since its sales peaked at $650 million in 1989, with companies such as Microsoft introducing digital encyclopedias that have come to dominate the market.

Although it was the first encyclopedia on the Internet in 1994, Britannica had never fully dedicated itself to the online world and many experts believe it lost a prime opportunity to lead the Information Age.

Britannica now has pegged its comeback on a new strategy of giving away the contents of its encyclopedia on the Internet and selling advertising on the Web site. Previously, the company had charged $5 a month for a subscription to the online encyclopedia.

The company also offers articles from 75 magazines as part of the relaunching of its Web operations.


“Site crashes on launch are common. It’s not like they’re the first to have problems with that. Microsoft crashes its site launches and demos too,” said Malcolm Maclachlan, an analyst with IDC Research, a market research firm.