It's been in print for over a century, but in future the Oxford English Dictionary, the authoritative guide to the English language, may only be available to peruse online.
Publisher Oxford University Press has said that burgeoning demand for the dictionary's online version has far outpaced demand for the printed versions.
By the time the lexicographers behind the dictionary finished revising and updating the latest edition - a gargantuan task that will take many more years - publishers are doubtful there will still be a market for the printed form.
The online Oxford English Dictionary now gets 2 million hits a month from subscribers. The current printed edition, a hefty 20-volume, US $1,165 set published in 1989 has sold about 30,000 sets in total.
"At present we are experiencing increasing demand for the online product," a statement from the publisher said. "However, a print version will certainly be considered if there is sufficient demand at the time of publication."
Nigel Portwood, chief executive of Oxford University Press, told The Sunday Times in an interview he didn't think the newest edition will be printed. "The print dictionary market is just disappearing, it is falling away by tens of per cent a year," he said.
Although the comments relate primarily to the full-length dictionary, the publisher says the convenience of the electronic format is also affecting demand for its shorter dictionaries.
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