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Wikipedia’s EPUB export feature

This DIY ebook construction tool could have much broader potential

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I recently watched a couple of episodes of The Men Who Built America on The History Channel. Although I learned a lot about John D. Rockefeller, for example, I wanted more. I thought about looking for a good ebook about Rockefeller but decided instead to head over to the Wikipedia.

Like most historical icons, Rockefeller’s Wikipedia page is fairly extensive. It offered more than I was able to read at that moment and there were other people in the series I wanted information on as well. That’s where the Wikipedia’s EPUB export feature came into play. If you haven’t heard about this it’s probably because it didn’t generate a lot of buzz when it launched a couple of months ago. I think it’s one of the most under-appreciated features of the Wikipedia and offers plenty of lessons for all content producers and distributors.

In a few very simple steps I was able to quickly and easily create my own EPUB file featuring bios of John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and Thomas A. Scott. You can download my custom ebook here. I copied it over to my Nook and have been reading pieces of it each evening as time permits.

It’s one thing for someone to go in and create their own custom Wikipedia ebooks but what I don’t see through this service is a way to share your creation with others. The Wikipedia should offer a site where users can discover and download other custom ebooks created by others who have similar interests. Think of it as a Wikipedia playlist.

When will the book publishing industry offer something like this? You could argue we already have it with a service like Valobox.  Their pay-as-you-go model is terrific but (a) not many publishers have warmed up to it yet and (b) the content isn’t 100% freely available before you buy. With the Wikipedia model I can read as much as I want online before I ever bother splicing together a custom ebook. It’s still free to download, of course, but what if the Wikipedia introduced a modest fee for downloads (99 cents)? Or, what if they inserted ads in those downloads and monetized the content that way? Why couldn’t a traditional publisher do the same?

A platform where your content is totally free to access online and includes a self-service option to create your own customizable, portable version doesn’t seem like a viable model today. Then again, streaming music subscription models didn’t seem viable a few years ago but look at how popular they’re becoming.

Here’s a thought: B&N should create that Wikipedia playlist idea I mentioned earlier. They could offer all those custom ebooks, just like my Rockefeller/Carnegie/Scott one, to their customers. Creators could set a price for their ebooks but free is a better option. B&N uses the EPUB format so the output would flow nicely into the Nook ecosystem. It would also be a great way for B&N to get some lift from Wikipedia’s traffic, especially if a “send to B&N” button could be added to the EPUB creation process.

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  • http://profiles.google.com/edward.w.bear Edward Bear

    B&N is still trying to be a pure “brick and mortar” store, and the internet and Nook are second-class citizens and bloody nuisances to boot. Their lousy treatment of paying eBook customers alone tells you that.

  • http://twitter.com/wikinihiltres Nihiltres

    Although it’s not as developed for the end user as you might intend such a platform to be, there’s already a category system for existing Wikipedia books, ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Wikipedia_books ), and since Wikipedia books are in their own “Book” namespace, index special pages work too ( http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Special%3APrefixIndex&prefix=&namespace=108 ).

  • hints

    Interesting. Sometimes I do use tools like instapaper.com/readitlater to send long articles to my iPad. This is a lot cleaner/easy than epub files, but epub has the benefit of making it available to e-ink readers too.