It took 12 years to produce (1988-2000) and cost 4.5 million dollars (according to its editor Richard Talbert). It has a whole page dedicated to listing donors and supporters of the project. It recruited seventy-three compilers, with ten regional editors with ninety-five reviewers and twenty-two cartographers. It is 148 pp. long and with companion gazetteer comes in at $350.00 (if you take the gazetteer on paper — 1,383 pp. — it comes down to $150.00).

This implies a unit price to fixed cost ratio of 1 to 10,000 which is likely to be the rough number of copies they expect to sell. Given the knowledge stored up in this work and that it seems to have been funded up-front to a large extent this seems a very inefficient way to disseminate it. I can’t help wondering what would happen if they made a digital version of this work open, free for anyone to use and reuse.

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Rufus Pollock is Founder and President of Open Knowledge.

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