The Encyclopaedia Britannica will cease publication after 244 years of continuous print, and move online as the dominance of digital media intensifies.
Since its launch in Edinburgh in 1768, a new version of the Britannica was available every two years, with the latest 32-volume collection costing £1,195.
Although the Britannica retains British spelling, it has been operating from the US since 1929.
It was one of the first publications to move into the electronic age, introducing a digital version in 1981 for the Lexis-Nexis academic service and an online edition in 1994.
The publisher also has several smartphone and tablet apps.
“The print edition became more difficult to maintain and wasn’t the best physical element to deliver the quality of our database and the quality of our editorial,” president Jorge Cauz said.
However he denied that Encyclopaedia Britannica, with its scholarly, reliable reputation and a concise free online edition, had been affected by Wikipedia.
“Britannica was one of the first companies to really feel the full impact of technology, maybe 20 years ago, and we have been adapting to it, though it is very difficult at times,” Mr Cauz added.
The company will sell print editions until the current stock of around 4,000 sets runs out.
Commenting on the future of the industry, the Britannica boss said many trade publishers would not survive, and content development companies would need to think about how to fill the gap.
“Print may not completely vanish from the market, but I think it is going to be increasingly less important,” he said.
“Many publications will never have a print analogue and will only be printed on digital formats.”