Wikipedia Turns To Gutenberg-Era Tech

Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, is going to be printed in a hardcover edition. Beate Varnhorn, of Bertlesmann Lexicon, says the single-volume edition will be about 1,000 pages and carry around 50,000 most-requested entries and definitions.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

We think we've found the publishing equivalent of the man-bites-dog story. The German company Bertelsmann is planning to publish a sort of concise version of the German Wikipedia. A hardcover will be released in September.

Beate Varnhorn is publishing director at Bertelsmann Lexicon. And she spoke with us earlier today from Bielefeld, Germany, about how Germans would use Wikipedia in paper form.

Ms. BEATE VARNHORN (Publishing Director, Bertelsmann Lexicon): The things that people use the computer when they are working, but if they are looking TV, if they are having discussions in family, if they are eating or living in the living room, they will normally use books if they have some questions.

SIEGEL: How big a bookshelf would it require to print the entire German Wikipedia between hard covers?

Ms. VARNHORN: I don't know how much pages it will take to publish the whole online encyclopedia - probably 40 or 80 volumes of books. But we are printing not a one-to-one copy of the encyclopedia but a kind of best of. We choose the most requested, the most demanded keywords, and we choose only the most researched information that is tracked on the first article of the online version.

SIEGEL: So, that will be, I gather, about 50,000 entries that could be in publishing.

Ms. VARNHORN: Yeah. Entries in this initial print.

SIEGEL: And it'll all fit within a single volume of about how many pages?

Ms. VARNHORN: It will be a single volume with about 1,000 pages.

SIEGEL: One thousand pages. Now, Wikipedia is famous for being free and open to everyone. And for the writing and editing of it, being very distinctive, it's a voluntary community of contributors. So if I understand it, Bertelsmann can't have exclusive rights to publish the Wikipedia, can it?

Ms. VARNHORN: No, it can't. Everyone is open to make a printed version of this book, but I think you need some - lots of experiences in printing encyclopedias and in marketing them. And at the same time, I think it's open for everyone to change it. The printed one will not - you can't change. This is, in a certain sense, an advantage because our editorial staff checked the content. And so, people who want to refer to an encyclopedia can do this much better with the printed one because it's checked by an editorial staff.

SIEGEL: But what's the case, what's the argument for someone buying this as opposed to buying an old-fashioned encyclopedia?

Ms. VARNHORN: I think you should buy, really, both versions. The Wikipedia's interesting because of the collection of keywords, which are much - very different form the collection of keywords in a normal encyclopedia.

SIEGEL: So, I might find Amy Winehouse in the Wikipedia, but not…

Ms. VARNHORN: For example, yes. For example - or Carla Bruni or German writers. And you will find all this information of daily life.

SIEGEL: Well, Beate Varnhorn, thank you very much for talking with us about it.

Ms. VARNHORN: Thank you very much. Bye-bye.

SIEGEL: Beate Varnhorn of Bertelsmann Lexicon in Bielefeld, Germany, talking about their plan to publish a hardcover, bound edition of the German Wikipedia.

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