I grew up with that book, I know its power…

Oh what a sad day it is.

According to the powers that be (meaning Nigel Portwood, chief executive of Oxford University Press), the latest edition of the iconic Oxford English Dictionary will be completely digital and that there’s a very strong possibility it will not go to print.

Am I actually hearing this correctly??

Apparently I am. Numerous news sources (such as Yahoo news) have already brought the disturbing prospect to light in recent days which in turn has compelled me to toss my two cents worth into the fray. This traces all the way back to a previous blog entry of mine regarding the here-and-now attitude of the human race.

I can see why the Generation Net would appreciate such a prospect. According to  Oxford Press University (longtime publisher of the tome) the online version  gets 2 million hits a month from subscribers, who pay $295 a year for the service in the U.S. In contrast, the current printed edition — a 20-volume, 750-pound ($1,165 ) set published in 1989 — has sold about 30,000 sets in total. Of course there are free online dictionary sites out there like dictionary.com that offer the same level of availability, reference several reputable sources (such as Oxford and Reuters) and is completely free (for now). Why anyone would pay for dictionary service when there are readily available free sources is beyond me but that’s a discussion for another day.

Once again I’ve underestimated the power of idiocy in places of power. I know, one would think I would have learned my lesson by now but so much for having faith in people doing the right thing. My gripe isn’t  with the dictionary being made exclusively available online but more rather the fact that they’re actually serious about not putting it into print.  It’s understandable that lack of sales would be a major deterrent towards mass production of volumes but to consider not printing any at all is both foolhardy and detrimental towards our culture in general.

Written English, in its earliest forms, has been around since 3500 B.C. originating in Eastern Central Europe with ancient writings in a long-dead language called Indo-Hittite. That’s around 5,500 years of history we’re looking at there. How did it survive and grow? Certainly not by means of the Internet. The printed word is an essential and vital facet of our civilization’s growth and development. To hear people talk so flippantly about wanting to phase out the printed word just depresses the hell out me.

I’m not an avid book reader. I’ll admit that. I do like to read though. Really read. Actual book-in-hand reading where you turn actual pages. I’ve tried to do the online book thing but something feels too artificial about it. Even Kindles and such don’t offer that same comforting feeling of propping a book in your palm and wedging your thumb in the spine. Digital books have their place but don’t forsake the medium that made any and all of this possible. It should be an honor to be able to produce printed work and be a proponent towards ensuring the longevity of our society. Unfortunately it appears to be more of a burden than a privilege to do that anymore as we see more and more electronic books and less paperbacks. It would make far more sense to just cut back production as opposed to canceling it completely. Rarity equals value. Limited editions or collectors items would be more than welcome as opposed to nothing at all.

I’m sure there will be at least a handful of prints of the latest edition even if they claim there won’t be. When the lights go out I guess we’ll just have to go looking for them (and others)….

Disclaimer: As always if you are the rightful owner of any image used in this post and want it removed just contact me and it’ll be resolved asap. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy the free publicity.


3 responses

  1. Nothing makes me happier than seeing something I’ve written be published. Anyone can write on the internet…maybe that’s where the love of books is strong for me…

    August 31, 2010 at 2:56 pm

  2. thurtt

    Love your reference of the picture from Book of Eli… Makes me think that if we ever suffer a catastrophic event (and have no power… hence no internet…)will we be able to recover any history that ceases to exist due to being only electronic in nature…

    August 31, 2010 at 1:44 pm

    • Yup. It’d certainly put things we take for granted in a whole new light.

      August 31, 2010 at 2:03 pm

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