[update 5th April 2012 – more details here]
The latest newsletter of the Association of American Geographers has a piece by Doug Richardson on a new project – the tentatively titled International Encyclopaedia of Geography: People, the Earth, Environment and Technology. It’s planned to be fifteen volumes, 9-10,000 pages, 5 million words. It will also be available online. Entries are substantial, of up to 10,000 words. It will be undertaken over four to five years, edited by a large team, and published by Wiley-Blackwell.
But do we need it? There was the huge International Encyclopaedia of Human Geography published by Elsevier in 2009; a Sage Encyclopedia of smaller scope; there is the long-standing Dictionary of Human Geography, now in its fifth edition; and countless companions, readers, etc. etc. Those are of different lengths and audiences, but the Elsevier one looks like a major competitor to the AAG one. Okay, this one covers geography, and not just human geography, but there are doubtless existing physical geography collections comparable to the human geography ones I’ve just mentioned.
The market has to be university libraries, given the costs of such things. Someone must have done some market research and decided that it would sell sufficiently to cover the doubtless large costs. There is also the question of overlap between entries – having written for a few of these kinds of projects before, I’d struggle to write anything different on the same topics, and, especially for specialist topics, the pool of potential writers gets quite small.