How Many Pages Would it Take to Print Wikipedia?

atkins-bookshelf-booksWhile many teachers and librarians frown upon Wikipedia as a reliable research tool (like any written work, especially one by millions of contributors, it inevitably has biases and errors), it is one of the internet’s top destinations for students and anyone looking for information quickly. Each day Wikipedia gets more than 600 million page views. But what is truly impressive is that Wikipedia is comprehensive beyond any encyclopedia the world has ever seen. As of March 30, 2016, Wikipedia includes a staggering 5,122,039 articles in English, growing at a rate of 800 new articles per day. Wikipedia in all other languages (currently 293 languages) contains more than 40 million articles, consisting of more than 27 billion words.

One cannot help but wonder, if one were to print out the entire contents of the English version of Wikipedia in book form, how many pages would it be? Let’s begin by ascertaining the amount of information based on data that Wikipedia has provided (a specific snapshot, as it were, in time). As of March 5, 2016, Wikipedia contained 5,121,791 articles, containing 3,021,856,690 words, which in turn contain 18,131,140,140 characters; the average article, therefore, is 590 words per article. (In comparison, the last print edition of Encyclopedia Britannica published in 2010 contains 228,274 topics, 44 million words, in 32,640 pages, across 32 volumes.) To calculate the number of volumes, the Wikipedia staff assumes a book similar in size and layout to the Encyclopedia Britannica (8.4 x 11.1 inches by 1.5 inches thick). The assumption is that each Wikipedia volume is 9.8 inches high, 1.9 inches thick, has 500 two-column pages, with 80 rows per column and 50 characters per row. Thus, each volume is approximately 8 million characters long, equivalent to about 2,259.9 articles. Therefore, to print the entire contents of the English version of Wikipedia would take 2,267 volumes, equivalent to 1,133,500 pages — and that would take a lot of sturdy bookshelves to hold!

Of course, it is one thing to calculate how many volumes and pages it would take to print the contents of Wikipedia, and it is another thing to actually do it — the endeavor is sheer genius or madness; Herculean or futile. But that is exactly what artist Michael Mandiberg did in 2015 — his “Print Wikipedia: From Aaaaa! to ZZZap!” art project, exhibited during the summer of 2015 in New York City, printed out the entire contents of the English version of Wikipedia (without the images) as it existed on April 7, 2015. The project was daunting but not impossible: the upload to of all the content took 24 days, 3.3 hours. The printed version encompasses a total of 7,600 volumes — a total of 5.3 million printed pages. The main articles take up 7,473 volumes, consisting of 700 pages each. The table of contents, listing the 11.5 million articles, takes up 91 volumes. The list of 7.5 million contributors to Wikipedia takes up 36 volumes. And the cost for the entire contents of Wikipedia? $500,000 (shipping and tax not included). Sadly, the edition was obsolete as soon as it was printed.

Read related posts: Wikipedia by the Numbers
How Many Articles on Wikipedia?

Serendipitous Knowledge
Best English Dictionary
How Long Does it Take to Read a Million Words?


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