The book-form of Encyclopaedia Britannica has been in print since it was first published in Edinburgh in 1768 [Reuters]

Encyclopaedia Britannica, one of the world's weightiest and best-respected repositories of knowledge, has decided to stop publishing its famous 32-volume print edition for the first time in 244 years.

The book-form of Encyclopaedia Britannica has been in print since it was first published in Edinburgh in 1768.

It will now focus on digital expansion amid rising competition from websites such as Wikipedia, the free user-generated online encyclopaedia that has increasingly challenged its dominance in recent years.

"The sales of printed encyclopaedias have been negligible for several years," said Jorge Cauz president of Encyclopaedia Britannica. "We knew this was going to come."

The book format of the 32-volume set will cease when the current stock runs out, said the company.

The company plans to mark the end of the print version by making the contents of its website available free for one week.

The final print edition of the 32-volume encyclopaedia is being online sold for $1395.

Online versions of the encyclopaedia now serve more than 100 million people around the world, the company said, and are available on mobile devices.

The encyclopaedia has become increasingly social as well, Cauz said, because users can send comments to editors.

Britannica has thousands of experts' contributors from around the world, including Nobel laureates and world leaders such as former US President Bill Clinton and South Africa's Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

It also has a staff of more than 100 editors.

In a blog entry posted on the encyclopaedia's website, Britannica editors said the end of the printed edition represented "just another historical data point in the evolution of human knowledge".

The multi-volume work had "stood on the shelves of homes, libraries, and businesses everywhere, a source of enlightenment as well as comfort to their owners and users around the world," they said.

Source: Agencies