Can't beat 'em, print 'em


Wikipedia might not be the last word on any particular subject, but it has become the first reference on many subjects for practically anyone with an Internet connection. The breadth of Wikipedia's coverage ' everything from a detailed history of quantum mechanics to an individual entry on the J.W. Hallahan High School cheerleading squad ' along with its easily searched and up-to-date entries make it hard to pass up. It's become so popular that publishers of traditional encyclopedias and reference books have feared for their livelihoods.

What to do? Why, publish a print version of Wikipedia, of course. German publisher Bertelsmann announced recently it would publish a reference book, due in September, based on the 50,000 mostly commonly used search terms in Wikipedia. It will be a single volume, with relatively short entries on each of the chosen 50,000 topics, and cost about $32.

Perhaps this is a dandy idea that will boost the publishing world. But it seems to go against the tide it's trying to ride. A big part of Wikipedia's appeal is its evolving, user-edited nature. It might not get everything right, but mistakes can be corrected ' and are, often quickly. It might not have everything there is to know about a particular topic, but more can always be added, and many entries include links to their source material for people who want to know more. Embalming it on paper might make it, in the minds of many Wikipedia users, instantly obsolete ' not to mention that it would cost $32 to read abbreviated versions of things that are free on the Web.

However, if Bertelsmann finds that its volume isn't selling, it does have one trick up its sleeve ' it could publish an online version.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.


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