The Encyclopedia Britannica is now strictly digital? The thought left many stunned booklovers feeling that the prospects for looking up information were not... well, looking up. It was like learning your grandmother had gotten a tattoo and run off with a younger man.

Reference publishers, too, mourned the loss of a print icon—but they were not taken altogether by surprise. The necessity of balancing accuracy-based print with speed-based electronics had been apparent for some time. “The advent of tablets brought the issue even closer to home,” says James Hart, COO of KWS Publishing, summarizing a key conflict. “How can publishers stay relevant when almost anyone can get an answer to a question, regardless of whether that answer is right or wrong, from some convenient online source?”

Deference Materials

One way publishers deal with two separate formats—the new and the traditional—is to find ways they can co-exist. That means recognizing the best features of each, and combining them for more reader options.

“There’s still a need for authoritative, up-to-date reference works from reliable, curated sources,” says Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Steve Kleinedler, executive editor of the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition, which appeared in November. “Some customers prefer the traditional editions, thinking they provide a true learning experience. Others prefer the convenience of electronic access. Many prefer both. We try to make it easy for the customer. When they buy the print edition, the app is free.”

“Our most recent development is the production of our flagship title as a smartphone and tablet app for both Apple and Android platforms,” he adds. The company’s American Heritage Desk Dictionary, Fifth Edition, will come out in September.

DK has partnered with Apple to create titles using the iBooks platform. “We were the first trade book publisher to do so,” notes sales and marketing v-p Therese Burke. Four illustrated multitouch e-books for the iPad, including a top-seller, Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Life, are already available in the iBookstore. “They’re designed specifically for children ages seven and older,” says Burke, “but the entire family can enjoy them together.” DK’s newest title, The Story of the Titanic, published earlier this month. “We look forward to continuing the expansion of our role in digital illustrated books,” Burke adds. The company is also adding multitouch e-books for adults and continuing to publish print reference works.

The Online Solutions series, published by ABC-CLIO, is designed for students from high school through college. It combines continually updated textbooks with links to essays, historical documents, photos, maps, and audio and video clips, along with commentaries from a variety of perspectives. As editorial director Anthony Chiffolo explains, “Traditional reference—the presentation of facts for students to look up and find a ‘right’ answer—is no longer enough. We need to engage students in thinking critically about information, facts, opinions, and sources so that they can learn to analyze and form their own conclusions.” Recent titles in the Online Solutions series are Chronology of the U.S. Presidency and The Encyclopedia of the War of 1812, which both came out in the spring and are updated daily. Digital growth has also allowed ABC-CLIO to lighten backpacks by publishing the 21-volume World History Encyclopedia and the 10-volume Social History of the United States in a single e-book.

Libraries Under-do Books

Although libraries have traditionally been a major market for multivolume print references, budget cuts have threatened the ability of many to keep reference shelves stocked.

“Over the past five or so years, budgets have been cut to the point that libraries just don’t have the funds for a $600-plus product,” points out Brian Buerkle of Kingfisher. “They look toward digital databases to fill the hole, but even they may also be too expensive for smaller library systems.”

Kingfisher’s solution has been to publish smaller, single-volume reference titles in the areas of history, geography, and science for readers in grades k–9. Thirty-eight titles are currently in print, with The Kingfisher Dinosaur Encyclopedia and The Kingfisher Space Encyclopedia, due in spring 2012.

At Oxford University Press, Damon Zucca, editorial director, reference, says, “Now that most publishers have a digital offering, the competition within library and institutional markets is fierce. I see an increased focus on making our digital publications more visible on the free Web, as we know patrons access their library’s digital collections through Web searches. Users see a value in quality materials that are signed by the author and edited by the publisher, which can be used alongside free online sources.”

In June, Oxford will launch a free research service, the Oxford Index, which will for the first time allow users to search across OUP’s vast academic content. The index is designed to help users begin their research and then direct them to the most relevant related materials, from journal articles to scholarly monographs. Forthcoming print titles from the publisher include The Oxford Classical Dictionary, Fourth Edition (May) and The Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus, Third Edition (Aug.).

At Rowman & Littlefield, the print/e-book reference list has grown despite cuts in library budgets. Marketing v-p Linda May cites two reasons for this. “We try to publish in more offbeat areas that might be hard to find online, as well as in topical and curriculum-based subjects. Also, we consult with our library board and ask if a title will circulate enough to make publishing it worthwhile.” Out this month is Women’s Figures: An Illustrated Guide to the Economic Progress of Women in America, Second Edition by Dana Furchtgott-Roth.

In an age of multiculturalism, libraries’ religion shelves could find space for Inner Traditions’ The Complete Life of Krishna, Based on the Earliest Oral Traditions by Vanamali (May).

Gr8ate Books 4 Writers

Do you text? Do you tweet? Have you forgotten how to write a complete grammatical sentence using only letters of the alphabet?

For many, the answer to all three questions is yes. Perhaps ironically, reference guides to traditional writing skills are a strong category in an increasingly digital world. The reason, many experts say, is dissatisfaction with the limitations of rapid communication, especially in more formal settings.

“There’s a new generation of professionals who think formality in correspondence means forgoing emoticons,” says Ellen Kadin, executive editor of AMACOM Books, which in July will publish the fourth edition of The AMA Handbook of Business Letters. The newest edition, edited by Jeffrey Seglin with Edward Coleman, grounds readers in writing fundamentals and provides model letters, hundreds of which—for greater ease in individual customizing—are also available online. The book’s clearly been a success; AMACOM reports 40,000 copies in print of the 1996 edition.

According to Jen Moschella of Beaufort Books, “Texting and tweeting damage one’s analytic and critical thinking skills.” Coming in August is the paperback reprint of The Big Ten of Grammar: Identifying and Fixing the Ten Most Frequent Grammatical Errors by William B. Bradshaw, intended to help readers recognize and correct the grammatical mistakes prevalent in hasty or condensed messaging.

Writers especially value established, trustworthy guides, says Brenda Knight of Cleis Press. “To stake out permanent territory in the digital marketplace, books must be comprehensive, essential references; like carpenters, we need to have tools handy.” Arthur Plotnik’s The Elements of Expression: Putting Thoughts into Words—designed to teach writers “to blast thoughts and feelings into expression”—is coming from Cleis in June. Also out in June is Language: The Painted Word— A Treasure Chest of Remarkable Words and Their Origins by Phil Cousineau.

Technology is also behind one more reason for the interest in writing skills, according to Lara Simpson Hrabota of Da Capo Press. “In this technological age, people have more opportunities for writing than ever before. Online forums and blogs allow them to explore a creative voice they may not have been able to express previously. I think this creative curiosity has led to a network of new writers looking for guidance—hence the continued popularity of writing guides for a vast array of topics.” In July, Da Capo will publish Lee Gutkind’s You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Non-Fiction—from Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between.

Referring to Academe

Education reference is another strong category, as print publishers add digital resources to meet the needs of college (and college-bound) students. “”Our surveys show that counselors, students, and parents are profoundly dissatisfied with most areas of college prep, especially with finance and admissions,” says Todd Stocke, editorial director at Sourcebooks. “They don’t have the right solutions—print, digital, or otherwise. We’re working to bridge all formats to deliver new information.”

Sourcebooks has recently housed a number of resources on a new Web site, It includes the enhanced online version of the Fiske Guide to Colleges, test prep strategies, a time line for organizing the college prep process, plus other articles and advice. Sourcebooks is also publishing new print titles, including the just-released Admission Possible: The “Dare to Be Yourself” Guide for Getting into the Right Colleges for You by Marjorie Hansen Shaevitz, and Right College, Right Price: The New System for Discovering the Best College Fit at the Best Price by Frank Palmasani (Sept.).

The Princeton Review has partnered with a popular online college professor- rating site,, to produce its latest guidebook, The Best 300 Professors, which profiles professors in 122 colleges across the U.S. who were ranked highly by students for teaching ability and accessibility. (Neither professors nor their colleges are ranked.) Profiles of the colleges at which the professors teach are also included, along with information about applications and admissions.

Humor Me

So this reference publisher walks into a bar...

Well, maybe that’s not exactly the way it happened. What is true, though, is that publishers have seen that humorous reference books do sell—as do the lighthearted, the offbeat, and the far-out. “We’ve learned that adding sizzle of some kind to a reference book can boost sales,” says Skyhorse associate publisher Bill Wolfsthal. “With both print books and e-books, we’ve been successful with reference works that also make great, fun gifts. A great title or content that offers a little attitude can make the difference between a book being a modest success and one that takes off in the marketplace.” This summer, Skyhorse will publish Alex Palmer’s Weird-o-Pedia: The Ultimate Book of Strange, Surprising, and Incredibly Odd Facts About (Supposedly) Ordinary Things, along with Weirdest and Wackiest World Records: From the Absolutely Bizarre to the Downright Shocking, edited by Tony Lyons.

Even the most traditional publishers have noted the demand for lighthearted works. Coming in September from National Geographic—with an eye to online favorites—is Angry Birds: 50 True Stories of the Fed Up, Feathered, and Furious. Mel White’s tome includes information on different species, including physical descriptions, known whereabouts, aliases, and angry behavior. And Oxford will bring out its fourth edition of The Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations in the fall. “These books are perennially popular because politicians, celebrities, and opinion makers have always said the most outrageous things,” says OUP’s Christian Purdy.

The wisdom of Jane Austen and the elegance of the #2 pencil are the subjects of two additional reference works in this field. Miss Austen’s Guide to Modern Life’s Dilemmas: Answers to Your Most Burning Questions About Life, Love, Happiness (and What to Wear) from the Great Jane Austen Herself (Tarcher, Oct.) was written by Miss Austen’s great, great, great, great, great-niece Rebecca Smith and designed to impart Austen-inspired wisdom to today’s woman. Out this month from Melville House is David Rees’s How to Sharpen a Pencil: A Practical and Theoretical Treatise on the Artisanal Craft of Pencil Sharpening. Rees—dubbed on the book’s cover “The number one #2 pencil sharpener”—celebrates the implement’s elegance and efficiency. “If Steve Jobs had introduced the #2 pencil, people would consider it the greatest thing ever designed,” he says.

April is National Humor Month, and, the national romantic network blog, learned in a survey that 75% of women and 87% of men consider humor to be an aphrodisiac. We’ll have to wait until November for Park Street Press’s The Encyclopedia of Aphrodisiacs: Psychoactive Substances for Use in Sexual Practices by Christian Ratsch and Claudia Muller-Ebeling.

If all these references tomes leave you feeling that you’ve learned everything you possibly need to know, it may be time to turn to one other. Perigee’s The Incredible Book of Useless Information: Even More Pointlessly Unnecessary Knowledge is due out—it’s important to know—in October.

Be a Good Sport

Whether you’re a sports buff—or just want to sound like one—there’s a reference book for you. The category is an increasingly strong seller, say publishers, especially in this Olympic year. “There’s a passionate readership for sports stories and team and player profiles,” says Rick Hollwedel at Human Kinetics Publishing. “Men, and increasingly women, seek information on performance and also on injury management.”

Among the publisher’s new titles are A Woman’s Guide to Muscle and Strength by Irene Lewis-McCormick (Feb.), which features some 100 exercises and progressive training programs for exercisers at all levels. In Waterlogged: The Serious Problem of Overhydration in Endurance Sports (May), exercise physiologist Dr. Tim Noakes argues against many current hydration beliefs and offers guidelines for maintaining proper fluid balance. For a workout that combines inner and outer strength, Hatha Yoga Asanas: Pocket Guide for Personal Practice by Daniel DiTuro and Ingrid Yang describes more than 160 classic postures.

Aurum Press offers two Olympic titles, both by NBC sports commentator David Wallechinsky and Jaime Loucky. May’s The Complete Book of the Olympics: 2012 Edition will be followed in July by The Book of Olympic Lists: A Treasure-trove of 116 Years of Olympic Trivia.

Tennis lovers will want Wimbledon 2012: The Official Story of the Championships (Sports Vision, Sept.) by New York Times tennis correspondent Neil Harman, and a September Skyhorse title sounds perfect for father-son bonding: Cool Sports Dad: 75 Amazing Tricks to Teach and Impress Your Kids by David Fischer. Finally, the truly passionate can pore over Sports Market Place Directory, 2012 Edition—all 1,800 pages, at $250.

So You Didn’t Win The Lottery

There’s always another chance to rake in the big bucks. And when you do—don’t you want to be prepared? Get helpful planning tips on spending big from The Best Places for Everything: The Ultimate Insider’s Guide to the Greatest Experiences Around the World (Rodale, May). Authored by CBS travel editor Peter Greenberg (who, not surprisingly, had earned over a million frequent flier miles before he was 26), the book is a guide to the unusual and inspiring. It includes information on bungee-jumping, French cooking classes, whitewater rafting, and other activities. Experiences are organized by affinity, accessibility, and affordability. And for actual or aspiring sailing enthusiasts, Rizzoli offers Yacht Clubs of the World (Oct.), in which Bruno Cianci and Niccolo Reggio’s luxe listing combines elegant photos of 15 clubs noted for their sports and social importance plus details on their history and architecture.