The Encyclopaedia Britannica has announced it is to stop publishing its print edition and will now go entirely online.

First published in Edinburgh in 1768, it once sold hundreds of thousands of copies a year.

Yesterday, you could still buy a 32-volume print edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica but the company only has about 4000 left and once they're gone, that really will be it.

The president of Britannica, Jorge Cauz, said the printed version had become increasingly difficult to maintain and was not the best way to deliver their editorial.

Mr Cauz added: "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."

The scale of the problem Britannica faces was reflected in a recent study which found a quarter of the six to 15-year-olds interviewed did not know what an encyclopaedia was and 45% had never used a print encyclopaedia.

Professor Murray Pittock, head of the College of Arts at Glasgow University, said the end of the printed Encyclopaedia Britannica was part of general trend from print to online material.

"I would be sad to see books go but I'm very positive about the number of things online and the quality of them," he said.

"But we are definitely losing something with Britannica going. There was a sense in which a big reference work like Britannica could be a shared resource for all the family and that is much less likely when people are relying on separate gadgets."

Dave Harte, an expert in social media who was involved in the survey of young people for Birmingham Science City, said he was not surprised by Britannica's decision.

Will dictionaries be next? Mr Harte thinks not quite: "Being in a classroom involves paper and using a dictionary to make sure they get that right."