Wikipedia: The Book?

In News by Dennis Abrams

By Dennis Abrams

logl wikipedia booksNPR reports that a German-based group called PediaPress is attempting to raise enough money to make a print edition of all of Wikipedia. “That’s right, Wikipedia, the ever-evolving, always-changing, inherently digital encyclopedia of information gathered by contributors all over the world. To say this would be a massive project is an understatement.”

What would it take to make a printed version of Wikipedia? Imagine one thousand volumes, with one thousand pages each. It would be more than one million pages in all – and need nearly 80 meters of shelf space. But that’s the point, according to Christoph Kepper and his partners at PediaPress – to let people know exactly how much information is in Wikipedia.

“Nowadays you just use Wikipedia every day without thinking how large that might be – the English Wikipedia has 4.5 million articles, Kepper told NPR. “Nobody can imagine this number. It’s only when you see this in print or in a physical form that you realize how large it is.”

PediaPress is trying to raise $50,000 through an Indiegogo campaign to make the dream a reality. They hope to exhibit the book at a Wikimania conference being held in London this August. “We basically thought, OK, let’s put up a big bookshelf and put the books into it and let as many people as possible access this shelf and interact with it and get a feeling about how large it is for themselves,” Kepper explained.

But not everyone is on board. “This is not an idea I think is good,” said Lee Matthew, a blogger for geek.com.

“I understand from an artistic standpoint what they are trying to show. I think, though, that the beauty of Wikipedia gets lost when you try and print it…Trying to put something like Wikipedia that is constantly evolving into a print form doesn’t work for me.”

There are also those who criticize PediaPress for the sheer amount of paper that will be used for the project. In response, the company plans to plant trees to make up for the paper they use. That response helped Jordyn Taylor, a writer for BetaBeat, to get behind the project.

“I totally get it. I totally get when they are coming from because you know, when we look back at media history we can look at old newspapers, old magazines. But there’s no way to go back and look at the history of the Internet. And I am imagining us teaching kids in the future about the history of the Internet and how are we going to go back and show them what it looked like in the 1990s and 2000s?”

To the partners at PediaPress, they do think of the project as very much a period piece. And after it is shown at the conference, they hope to find a permanent home for it. Matthew Winner, a blogger (and elementary school librarian) had a few ideas.

“This is public knowledge, so putting it somewhere on display where the public can access it – New York Public Library or something like that – where everyone has access to it, the Library of Congress…I think that’s a wonderful idea,” Winner told NPR. “We have the user data of how many people are accessing and interacting with Wikipedia online now. It’ll be fun to see how many people are coming to see that print resource. And that is something we’ll only know when it’s printed.”

About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for news, children's publishing and media. He's also a restaurant critic, literary blogger, and the author of "The Play's The Thing," a complete YA guide to the plays of William Shakespeare published by Pentian, as well as more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers.