Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Paying for a print edition of Wikipedia

Noam Cohen, A Slice of German Wikipedia to Be Captured on Paper, New York Times, April 23, 2008.  (Thanks to Catherine Rampell.)  Excerpt:

...In Germany, a printed collection of Wikipedia articles is being produced for the first time by a major publisher, Bertelsmann.

The book, “The One-Volume Wikipedia Encyclopedia,” which will go on sale in September for 19.95 euros (almost $32), is an odd experiment in reverse publishing....

A printed volume would seem to negate the benefits of an online encyclopedia [in scope and interactivity].....

While [Beate Varnhorn, the editor in charge of Bertelsmann’s reference works] said the idea was an experiment, with a 20,000-copy initial press run....

Bertelsmann had a staff of 10 condense and verify the material found online....

Bertelsmann agreed to pay one euro per copy sold for use of the Wikipedia name, which will help support the site’s operation, according to [Arne Klempert, the executive director of Wikimedia Germany].

But he added: “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.”


  • 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.
  • The project also shows some confidence in Wikipedia itself.  Bertelsmann is betting that people willing to pay for a print encyclopedia will be willing to pay for a print edition of Wikipedia.
  • For buyers, clearly some of the added value is the layer of verification added by Bertelsmann staff.  But I wonder whether another layer is the abridgement itself.  If so, here's a new business model for TA publishers:  add value to OA originals by selecting, verifying, and abridging them. 

Update.  Klaus Graf has collected some critical comments on the Wikipedia book from German scholars.