From today's Inside Higher Education :
'Oxford English Dictionary' May Soon Be Online Only
Oxford University Press officials said this weekend that they may never again publish a full print edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, the Associated Press reported. While officials said that sufficient demand could prompt a change of heart, they predicted that would not be the case. Online subscribers not only have convenience of use, but get updates on new words every three months. Nigel Portwood, chief executive of Oxford University Press, told The Sunday Times that he didn't think the next edition would be printed. "The print dictionary market is just disappearing, it is falling away by tens of percent a year," he said.
This is certainly not a huge surprise. As a lover of books and a student of history, I am saddened by this just a little. The original OED (and its successors) was a monumental labor to create, and the story of its creation, related in a fascinating book by Simon Winchester entitled The Meaning of Everything (Lake Land owns this as a book on CD, BTW - no, the irony is not lost on me) left me with a sense of gratitude to the thousands of people who worked for many, many year to create such a work. As a librarian, I am somewhat ambiguous; the online version is certainly more accessible and allows for use that would be difficult, if not impossible, to recreate in the printed version. As much as I appreciate having the text in hand, it is very, very difficult to argue that future development should NOT be focused on the online edition.
Some would argue that this is the fate for all printed works, and I will continue to take exception with that. While technology has improved greatly for e-book readers (and will continue to do so), it is still true that most people surveyed do NOT prefer to read large amounts of text in electronic format. This, too, may change, but not as rapidly as some would like to believe.