THE 230-YEAR-OLD SWISS-OWNED Encyclopaedia Britannica announced the imminent shut-down of its direct sales force in the UK and Ireland, with seventy independent sales contractors due to be phased-out by April. Conceding that consumers perceive Britannica as old fashioned and conservative, vice-president and general manager of English language products Tim Pethick admits: 'We haven't nurtured the brand as we should. And we have been tarnished by the notion of door-to-door selling.' Under siege by the Internet and other online information suppliers, Britannica's worldwide sales of its 32-volume printed edition have plummeted 85% over the last eight years - from 350,000 in 1990 to an expected low of 25,000 this year. Future hopes are pinned on the Web-based Britannica Online launched in 1994, and also on new CD-Rom products. Pethick expects to sell over 80,000 of the latter in the UK this year, compared with just 4,000 hard copy editions. Sales activity worldwide will focus on high street electronic retailers, direct marketing, off-the-page sales and the Internet. In the UK a £1m rebranding campaign is planned for later this year.