Today, we seem to be facing a decline in the popularity of printed texts as people begin to favour their digital counterparts, whether these are eBooks, news apps, online magazines or research publ
Today, we seem to be facing a decline in the popularity of printed texts as people begin to favour their digital counterparts, whether these are eBooks, news apps, online magazines or research publications. However, the recent revelation that the Oxford English Dictionary could disappear from our shelves and exist only as an online database is surprising.
The dictionary, after all, seems to be a pretty standard and commonly used text. If any publication is going to remain in print, surely the most comprehensive guide to one of the most widely spoken languages worldwide is a pretty strong contender?
Is it internet ready?
As such an iconic and highly regarded text accepts the possibility that it may not be able to sustain itself in print, we are forced to ask yet again whether printed books have a future. There seem to be so many arguments in favour of digital publication—its price and convenience, the accessibility of a wider variety of texts, and its environmental benefits, to name a few.
Even the most avid of bookworms would struggle to deny that this is a fairly convincing case. We are all guilty of typing ‘define…’ into Google rather than looking the word up in a dictionary, or trawling online journals from the comfort of our bedroom to avoid a trip to the library.
The OED editors have put forward similar ideas to explain why the printed edition may become a thing of the past, and this is completely understandable. The size of the text means it takes considerable cost and effort to print, and the constant evolution of language means an easier way to make changes and additions is surely beneficial.
The chief editor of the OED, Michael Proffitt, has also argued that the internet is the perfect place for the text, as its centrality to modern research means the dictionary can be fully integrated into the research process.
The essential paperback
It seems, then, that book lovers do not need to start mourning yet—the OED is unique in its size and purpose, so its reasons for coming out of print will not necessarily be applicable to other texts. What’s more, there are possibly distinctions to be made between books we read for leisure and books we use for research.
Many stress the comfort, familiarity and experience of holding a paperback book as being essential to reading for pleasure, but perhaps this is not a necessity when we are not reading for relaxation.
Nevertheless, if the OED does go out of print, it will undoubtedly be a hugely important point in the history and culture of the printed word, establishing yet another move from print to digital publication, possibly even one of the most significant changes, along with milestones such as the creation of the eBook.
Perhaps we should embrace this change—as Proffitt has explained, the principles and content of a text remain the same, only the format is changed, a positive step which allows these principles to be communicated more widely and more efficiently.
Despite this, it seems that it will always be a blow to see beloved texts disappear from the shelves, suggesting the printed word is still well loved and valued.
What do you think? Do you value the printed word over an eBook? Have your say in the comments section below.