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Publisher aims to put all 4 million Wikipedia articles into print

Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.BookJimmy CarterNPR

For some people, Wikipedia is the answer to everything. The always-growing, crowd-sourced encyclopedia is a source of knowledge and trivia used by undergraduates, assorted professional writers and people trying to settle dinner-table arguments about television shows and vaguely remembered news events.

Now a German-based publisher, PediaPress, wants to take that virtual encyclopedia and put all of its articles into print -- in one massive, 1,000-volume set of hardcover books of 1,200 pages each.

“We all know that Wikipedia is huge. The English version alone consists of more than 4 million articles,” the organizers of the project say in a pitch for support of the Indiegogo crowd-funding site. “But can you imagine how large Wikipedia really is? We think that the best way to experience the size of Wikipedia is by transforming it into the physical medium of books.”

The single, complete collection would then be exhibited, first at the Wikimania conference in London in August. 

PediaPress has created thousands of books from Wikipedia content and is the official print-on-demand partner of the Wikimedia Foundation. Its printed copy of all of Wikipedia would fill a bookcase that’s 32 feet long and 8 feet high. But not everyone thinks it’s a good idea.

Lee Matthew, a blogger for geek.com, told NPR the project is both unnecessary and a waste of paper. “I understand from an artistic standpoint what they are trying to show,” Matthew said. “I think, though, that the beauty of what Wikipedia is gets lost when you try and print it. ... Trying to put something like Wikipedia that is constantly evolving into a print form doesn't work for me.”

To complete the project, PediaPress is trying to raise $50,000 on Indiegogo by April 11. In seven weeks it has raised a quarter of that, about $12,500.

Wikipedia is at once all-encompassing and notoriously unreliable. This writer once spotted an entry that had him born in the wrong country, and professors and college counselors routinely tell their students not to rely on Wikipedia entries in their coursework. Clearly, a $50,000 budget can’t cover fact-checking 4 million articles. 

But backers of the project argue such concerns miss the point. Founded in 2001, Wikipedia is the work of 20 million volunteer contributors. And the organizers think of their project as a “period piece,” an artifact that’s meant to commemorate a unique and especially fertile moment in the history of ideas. 

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hector.tobar@latimes.com

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