26 May 2010
Printed books from Wikipedia, hands on
Two weeks ago I discovered that Wikipedia added a book-printing feature based on articles of your choosing. I selected and arranged several dozen articles discussing Russian composers of the early 1800s through the mid-to-late 1900s. One week later, flaws and all, they're now valued additions to my home library. Based on the quick delivery, quality of the finished product, and the giddy power of printing your own books, I plan on ordering more in the future. Some links:
- Help:Books - Primary information here, pricing, how-to, etc. You can download PDFs for free, but the layout is not nearly as nice (and you can't hold it in your hands!).
- PediaPress - These guys do the conversion and printing. Kudos.
- Category:Wikipedia books and Category:Wikipedia books (user books) - Everyone's books. Any of these can be sent to PediaPress and printed singly. Nice.
The typesetting and covers are simple and academic, and the size is perfect for carrying around and reading (color cover looks very nice):
The TOC is clean as are the page headings (a single line with the article title above), images (b&w), and tables (no layout surprises with unwanted page breaks or improper justification). TOC only offers one level of headings, but there's already a discussion on how to improve that feature. Images are always centered and at the top of the page:
The index is hit-and-miss. Apparently built off of linked articles, cross-references are available yet incomplete and proper names are listed First Last. And, of course, the editor's fine tuning of concept groupings is absent (e.g. no entries for "symphony" or "German influence"). Considering that the web offers greater reference options via wikilink cross-referencing, "what links here" URLs, wiki search, and ctrl+f search, it's unfortunate that the wiki book indexes are inferior to printed book indexes.
The spine only shows the title, and the font size will vary uncomfortably based on the book's thickness. My books were differentiated only by subtitle, so some distinction was lost:
I love that in this era of Kindles, Nooks, and iPads, I'm printing books from the internet instead of downloading them. I was prepared to be let down when I received these, but I was absolutely thrilled holding them and continued to be so after finishing the first one. The flaws don't seem to diminish the overall empowerment of inexpensive printing. The video tutorial on the Help:Books page shows how to create a travel book for a friend. This is definitely a nice way to create unique gifts. When I showed this to a co-worker, he immediately wanted to make a book on zombies. I thought that was a more clever use of Wikipedia than what I did. There are probably hundreds of books on Shostakovich! Maybe now I need a book on Yes, Genesis, Kansas, and rock operas... good luck offering that, Amazon. (Although, buyer beware: there are groups of unscrupulous individuals reselling Wikipedia-printed material on Amazon and elsewhere obscenely marked up.)
I was lucky to be somewhat knowledgeable about this subject before I arranged the articles. If you are looking to learn a mostly foreign subject, I suggest finding an expert. The editors of one of the Wikipedia pages would probably be very happy to put something together (I see a cottage industry here). Even with my knowledge, mistakes were made. Some were minor (now I know that the critic Vladimir Stasov was a key proponent of Russian nationalism) and some were simply baffling (how I completely forgot Rachmaninoff in the 2nd volume I'll never know). I'm working on an addendum that will include these oversights.
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