A Tale of Two ’Pedia’s

April 25, 2008 by Thad McIlroy

I bet you didn’t observe it with a special ceremony at your company (nor, privately, at home), but April 23rd was UNESCO’s annual World Book Day (coinciding with Shakespeare’s birthday). I learned about this on the website of German media giant Bertelsmann. With sales approaching $30 billion annually, it is easily one of the largest publishers in the world (including in the U.S., through its Random House subsidiary).

It seems appropriate that April 23rd is also the day that the press got wind of Bertelsmann’s plan to issue a book version of Wikipedia. According to the New York Times report, the book will be published in September in German only, based on the German version of Wikipedia, with a list price of 19.95 euros. While the online German Wikipedia has nearly three-quarters of a million entries, the book will contain only 20,000 of these, each verified by Bertelsmann’s editors.

Meanwhile, over at another encyclopedia company, Encyclopedia Britannica, a very different kind of announcement was making the rounds this week (although actually first announced on April 13): free access to the online version of Encyclopedia Britannica through a new program called Britannica Webshare.

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The Wired Campus blog in The Chronicle of Higher Education suggests that “Encyclopaedia Britannica…apparently fears being nudged into irrelevance by the proliferation of free online reference sources…

“Comscore analysis, also reported on TechCrunch, found that ‘[f]or every page viewed on Brittanica.com, 184 pages are viewed on Wikipedia,’ or 3.8 billion v. 21 million page views per month…

“Under a new program entitled Britannica WebShare, the encyclopedia publisher is allowing ‘people who publish with some regularity on the Internet, be they bloggers, webmasters, or writers,’ to read and link to the encyclopedia’s online articles. The company seems to hope that by offering its services free to Web publishers, links to Britannica articles will proliferate across the Internet and will persuade regular Web surfers to cough up $1,400 for the encyclopedia’s 32-volume set, or perhaps $70 for an annual online subscription.”

Hurry: Get your application in here.

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