Jonathan Band and Jonathan Gerafi have written a survey of papers estimating Wikipedia’s Economic Value (pdf), where Wikipedia is all Wikipedia language editions, about 22 million articles total. I extracted the ranges of estimates of various types in a summary.
Valuation if Wikipedia were for-profit:
- $10b-$30b based on valuation of sites with similar visitor and in-link popularity
- $21.1b-$340b based on revenue if visitors had to pay, akin to Britannica
- $8.8b-$86b based on potential revenue if Wikipedia ran ads
One-time replacement cost:
- $6.6b-$10.25b based on freelance writer rates
Ongoing maintenance cost:
- $630m/year based on hiring writers
Annual consumer surplus
- $16.9b-$80b based on potential revenue if visitors had to pay
- $54b-$720b based on library estimates of value of answering reference inquiries
Conclusion: “Wikipedia demonstrates that highly valuable content can be created by non-professionals not incentivized by the copyright system.”
Though obvious and underwhelming, it’s great to see that conclusion stated. Wikipedia and similar are not merely treasures threatened by even more bad policy, but at the very least evidence for other policy, and shapers of the policy conversation and environment.
They don’t do this through just the creation of great content. To fully appreciate “highly valuable” here, consider that Wikipedia is also popular — the first, best, only example of peer produced free cultural relevance that I can think of. That is what is needed to compete with products which depend on and further bad policy, not mere creation of good content.
Much about the ranges above, the estimates they include, and their pertinence to the “economic value of Wikipedia”, is highly speculative. Even more speculative, difficult, and interesting would be estimates of the value due to Wikipedia being a commons. The winning online encyclopedia probably would’ve been a very popular site, even if it had been proprietary, rather than Wikipedia or other somewhat open contenders. Consider that Encarta, not Wikipedia, mostly killed Britannica, and that people are very willing to contribute freely to proprietary products.
A broader (than just Wikipedia) take on this harder question was at the core of a research program on the welfare impact of Creative Commons that was in very early stages, and sadly ended coincident with lots of people leaving (including me).
How do we characterize the value (take your pick of value value) of knowledge systems that promote freedom and equality relative to those that promote enclosure? I hope many pick up that challenge, and activists use the results offensively (pdf, slideshare).