Britannica Site Is Swamped

More than a week after Encyclopedia Britannica opened its online volumes for free, remained jammed a victim of huge worldwide demand and inadequate hardware and software.

Ten million hits a day have overloaded the free Web site since its Oct. 19 debut. Only 100,000 people have reached the first page.

In a third apology that greeted Web users trying to reach the site Wednesday, the company said it is working around the clock to fix the glitches and increase the system's capacity.

More users should be able to get in by next week, said Jorge Cauz, senior vice president for sales and marketing. But he admitted it likely will take weeks to ensure the Web site can handle millions of users at once looking up everything from a-ak (an ancient East Asian music) to Zywiec (a town in Poland).

"No one in his right mind would have built an infrastructure capable of handling the initial demand we had," Cauz said Wednesday.

But analysts like Emily Meehan of Boston-based Yankee Group said Britannica should have learned from other Internet companies that failed to anticipate high demand and found their systems overloaded, like America Online and auction site eBay.

Still, she said, "I think consumers will give [Britannica] a few more chances than they would some nameless, unheard-of Internet startup."

Britannica is counting on advertising, sponsorship and e-commerce to make its online venture pay off.

It also plans to keep its first Web site, where people can access the encyclopedia for $5 per month without advertising, and its printed volumes, which sell for $1,250 per set. Printed sales have fallen an estimated 80 percent since 1990 as less expensive computer versions have taken over the market.

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