How to Sell an Encyclopedia to an Alien

Have you ever found yourself thinking: “Man, I really wish I had an encyclopedia”?

No? Neither have I.

And yet, there are people who think printing a 1000-volume encyclopedia is a really great idea.

They’re putting it into practice as we speak.

As far as I know, encyclopedias serve two purposes:

1: For people who want to fill out their bookshelves so as to demonstrate how well-read they are (thereby demonstrating they’re not).

2: For itinerant salesmen to have something to sell.

I mean, isn’t it sad?

You go to view a house for rent, it’s all great and empty and clean – nothing lingers of the previous tenants – except for the entire 24-part encyclopedia they left on a shelf.

Ok, so I’m being snide: of course an encyclopedia is useful.

But I’m pretty sure that only a very small percentage of owners will ever open a volume.

Which begs the question: Why the hell would someone want to print out Wikipedia?

No but seriously – a group of folk has made it their mission to murder a small Amazonian rainforest, and print out the entire content of Wikipedia.

1000 volumes. A bookshelf ten meters long and 2,5 meters high.

I learned this a few weeks ago, but I still marvel at the stupidity of it.

What’s the point – is it just to make a statement?

To create a physical testament of the collective public domain knowledge of humanity?

Find a buyer?

Shoot it off into space to show aliens how smart humanity has become?

That should be a hoot – I can just hear the conversation now:

“President Zlorg sir. It’s taken a long time, but we’ve finally decoded Earth language.”

“Ah? What’s in those books then? Must be something really important if they send it across the galaxy.

Tell me man, tell me!”

“Not quite, sir. It appears to be a braindump of their race. There is a lot of information in it to be sure, but most of it is anecdotal, a large part is unproven, and quite a lot of it seems to be there mostly to satisfy a need to gainsay others.

“We did find a large section about their planet and ecosystem. Apparently, their planet isn’t in very good shape.”

“Really?”, says President Zlorg. “Then why did they use trees to create paper? That makes no sense at all.”

“Indeed sir, our systems have as yet failed to compute a rational explanation.”

“Not a very intelligent breed then, I suppose.”

“No sir, it would appear not”.

“Odd. How long have they existed?”

“We’re not quite sure yet – several million years, between various genetic permutations.”

“You wouldn’t say! And they’ve survived all this time? They sound like a hardy kind, if nothing else.”

“Do you wish to issue a reply, sir?”

“Better not, I wouldn’t want to fry their brains. Let them evolve a few thousand years more first.”

“Very good sir”.

Aliens aside (sorry guys): If you’re in business, you can’t rely on navelstaring for your decisions

What you think your audience needs may indeed be what they need, but by the same token you might be mistaken.

You can’t think up a product in a vacuum and then hope people will find you.

Instead, you learn what people need, build something to fulfill that need, and then go look for those people you built it for.

So that, you know, your product or service doesn’t end up dusty on a shelf somewhere, unread and unbought, aimlessly floating through space like a hardcover 1000-volume Wikipedia

The people printing Wikipedia (I facepalm each time I write it) may have their reasons. But a business model it is not.

Gee, this rain has made me grumpy. And now I don’t know how to swerve this sucker into a pitch, so I’ll just give you the link.

It’s only for serious people, who want to build (or have built) something people actually need.

Tally-ho –>

I’m putting on my boots and longcoat – I’m going for a walk. Hello rain.



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