For the first time, a printed collection of Wikipedia articles is being produced in Germany by a major publisher, Bertelsmann. The book, The One-Volume Wikipedia Encyclopedia, will go on sale in September for 19.95 euros (nearly $32), in an unusual experiment in reverse publishing. Bertelsmann sees this use of Wikipedia as a way of capturing the nation’s zeitgeist: “we think of it as an encyclopedic yearbook,” Dr. Varnhorn, the editor in charge of Bertelsmann’s reference works stated.
The German-language Web site has more than 750,000 separate articles, while the printed volume will have only about 25,000 (with 1,000 or so photographs). Additionally, they will fit this into about 1,000 pages so each entry will consist of a brief summary of about 15 lines. Of course, the published version will lack many of the advantages of the website (such as the ability to go from topic to topic via hyperlink rather than the old fashioned thumb). But it may well serve as an artifact of sort since “most of the key words [in Wikipedia] are related to current discussions [such as] a successful TV show or new electronic products — all key words you normally don’t find in a traditional encyclopedia.”
This publishing experiment will consist of a 20,000-copy initial press run that Bertelsmann believes will do well due to Germany’s strong encyclopedic culture as well as its ability to attract young people. Also to its credit is the reputation of the German site as the most accurate and carefully examined of the large Wikipedia sites. Bertelsmann agreed to pay one euro per copy sold for use of the Wikipedia name, which will help support the site’s operation. But they claim: “It is not about the money. It is a very good example of the power of free knowledge, so anyone is free to use the content and do interesting things with it. It’s a nice experiment to see if the Wikipedia content is good enough to sell books.”