Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Wednesday, April 23, 2021

So if inveterate Wikipedia contributors want to add/edit entries in a printed-book version of the encyclopedia-like resource — which publisher Bertelsmann plans to produce, drawing from the German edition of the website — will they have to stock up on Wite-Out and scissors?

The media company — whose units include publisher Random House Inc. and music venture Sony BMG — said Wednesday that it plans to publish “The One-Volume Wikipedia Encyclopedia” starting in September with the content made up of 50,000 of the most-searched terms on the German language edition of Wikipedia.

Beate Varnhorn, the head of publishing at Bertelsmann Encyclopedia Institute said the “condensed, one-volume print edition” would bring Wikipedia to a new audience.

She told The Associated Press that the sheer number of entries on the German Wikipedia — at last count they numbered approximately 740,000 and would likely fill hundreds of printed volumes — meant publishing all of it was not “a good project for the German book trade.”

But an annual collection of the most-sought out terms made sense, she said. “A yearbook really can be a documentation of the zeitgeist.”

I can see this move as widening the audience scope of Wikipedia, but in a decidedly dumbed-down way — it reduces the site to a top-ten list. Naturally the flavor-of-the-month entries will get the most action, and by extension would spur the bulk of sales for any published product.

Speaking of those sales:

Like its Web-based namesake, the book will be under a free license, meaning its content can be distributed and copied, including commercially. Copies of the 992-page book — available only in German — will retail for $31.80.

Bertelsmann has agreed to pay Wikimedia Deutschland eV, which promotes the German-language version of the online encyclopedia, $1.59 a copy, said Arne Klempert, the group’s executive director.

“To some extent it’s marketing for Bertelsmann. They are using free content, free knowledge,” he told The Associated Press. “Legally, they don’t have to pay anything for the content but they don’t want to give the impression that they are acting on the back of the Wikipedia authors, so they decided to give something back for that reason.”

Despite the stated ground rules under the free documentation license, I’m sure this exercise in crass commercialism will raise hackles among those with nothing better to do. Likewise, how many article-writers are going to feel miffed over their words generating profit for someone else — again, even though that’s part of the deal? Most Wikipedians blanch at any moves toward directly monetizing the site’s content; even couching a print product as an attempt to spread the word will be met with hostility.

Despite the creeping acceptance in venues high and low — including among far too many media professionals who should know better — I still regard the use of Wikipedia as a reference source to the equivalent of citing graffiti. Bottom line, if a page can be altered at any given moment, it’s not worthy of trust. I’m afraid an enshrined, faux-legitimized hard-copy version will only accelerate the false sense of security it engenders.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 04/23/2008 03:02:31 PM
Category: Internet, Publishing
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