At a publishing industry event in New York last week, a Google official dropped a bombshell: the company plans to launch its own e-book store as soon as next month, pitting it against heavyweights Amazon and Apple. But just as observers were predicting an all-out digital book war, another online media star quietly unveiled a very different scheme. The Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit behind Wikipedia, will now allow users to convert its digital articles into old-fashioned paperbacks.
Heiko Hees is the managing director of PediaPress, the German company that’s partnered with Wikimedia (it’s based in Mainz, where Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press). Why turn to printed books, as everyone else goes digital? People “cherish their off-line moments more and more,” Hees says, adding that they read up to 30 per cent faster when it’s on paper.
The online open-source dictionary’s new “Create a book” function lets users choose pages, pick a cover photo and give the book a title and an editor’s name. (A book’s price varies by page count, but starts at around US$9.) The book-printing service has been available in a handful of countries since last year; last week was its English-language debut. PediaPress plans to branch out further, offering colour hardcover books soon, too.
Still, Wikipedia’s main selling point has been its constantly updated Web pages, whereas a printed book is forever. But unlike Google Books, Amazon or Apple, which are going for the mainstream, PediaPress is after a very niche market: the online dictionary’s thousands of contributors, who want to see their own words in print, or those looking to make a personalized gift. As one commenter wrote on the TechCrunch site, “Oh boy, now I can make the unofficial encyclopedia of Spider-Man that I’ve always wanted to.”