25 April 2008

Printing .. Wikipedia?

Media corporation Bertelsmann AG is planning on publishing Wikipedia. Or rather, a one-volume edition based on the most popular search terms.

The book will be under free license, selling for $31.80. Wikimedia Deutschland eV is getting $1.59 for every copy sold.

And yes -- "risky" entries will be "fact-checked."

It takes audacity to propose printing Wikipedia. It's just so .. stupid. I thought: not only is it not what Wikipedia is about -- in fact, it might be the exact opposite of what Wikipedia is about -- it also isn't what an encyclopedia is about. In the last 24, I've looked up "drunkenness", "Legionellosis", and "All You Need Is Cash" on Wikipedia -- that's its power, the quick fact-check to orient oneself. Why would I want the most popular search terms (representing a particular time) in print?

But maybe this is a step forward for publishing. If Bertelsmann feels okay producing an encyclopedia that includes entries on the Wii and some random German pop singer, maybe print is losing its grip as the Record of All Sacred Knowledge -- or maybe Sacred Knowledge is losing ground altogether. More and more blogs are being printed as books. In either case, my own reaction ("That's not Wikipedia is! And that's not what an encyclopedia is!") says a lot about how we perceive the boundaries between print and the web -- between what can at understanding of what kind of knowledge can and cannot be printed still is.

Peter Suber at Open Source news had an interesting reaction: "To me, this is interesting primarily because it shows a major book publisher willing to test the possibility that an OA edition is compatible with a priced/print edition, and might even boost its sales." With a bunch of new free textbook initiatives starting up, maybe this does signal a change.

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