31 August 2010

Oxford English Dictionary With Pages to Turn?

Britain's venerable Oxford English Dictionary third edition will very possibly not be printed, but Oxford University Press is not making a definitive statement about how things will be in 10 years when the new edition will be ready. Who knows how we'll be reading and seeking answers then! Prophecies pertaining to the publishing practices post 2020 are not particularly precise from this perspective.

"The print dictionary market is . . . falling away by tens of percent a year," Nigel Portwood, the chief executive of Oxford University Press, told London's Sunday Times. Asked if he thought the third edition would be printed, he stated his personal opinion: "I don't think so."

The dictionary has been available online for more than 10 years to subscribers who pay an annual fee of about $372. A 20 volume hard copy version of the OED is available online for $1,290US.

I found my old two volume set in a bookshop in Auckland and will hold on to it. Most of the words I need to look up are somewhere between those hard board covers. Most new words I can either spell, don't need to know, or the spelling won't matter. Then there's always the online versions via my phone or laptop.

According to Simon Winchester, author of books I highly recommend, "The Surgeon of Crowthorne" and "The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary," the switch towards online formats was "prescient."

"Until six months ago I was clinging to the idea that printed books would likely last for ever. Since the arrival of the iPad I am now wholly convinced otherwise," Winchester said.

"The printed book is about to vanish at extraordinary speed. Books are about to vanish; reading is about to expand as a pastime; these are inescapable realities."


Tim Carmody of WIRED Magazine describes it thus, "The 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary is the bibliophile’s equivalent to the movie geek’s high-end home theater setup. It’s a mighty, totem-like symbol of mystical multiple-shelf-spanning lexicographic power. But when the third edition is completed sometime in the next decade or so, there might not be anything physical on the bookshelves to show off." Read More

The description of the first one to pop up in an eBay search today:
• This is the full text of the 1971 edition of the 12 volume OED with a 13th appendix volume. It has been micrographically reduced and is presented with a special magnifying glass to aid reading. • It is presented in 2 volumes in a sturdy case with a top drawer containing a special magnifying glass. In very good condition. • Please note that this is a very heavy boxed set of almost 10K, so please contact me before bidding if you wish to have it sent outside the UK
Imagine all of that on a Kindle. With Amazon already selling more ebooks than hard copies, will we really think to get up and walk across the room to turn the pages of a large dictionary on it's own pedestal? Will we not just SELECT, CLICK and SCROLL to the desired definition feature in our ereader? Will we really call those old things with pages dead-tree books?

I've just used my spell checker on this post and was able to change pedestal so you wouldn't see how I typed it in the first time. Would I prefer it any other way?

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