Last Updated Aug 31, 2010 1:09 PM EDT
Sales of the upcoming third edition are down, Oxford University Press argues, because of online competition. OUP chief Nigel Portwood doubts the third edition, set to be complete a decade from now, will even be printed in full form. Instead, it would just print the severely truncated Oxford Dictionary of English and offer the full dictionary online.
Digital media is definitely taking over, but the Oxford University Press has too narrow of a vision to succeed in either print or online. In short, OUP should go big or go home. Here are the issues with the tentative plan:
- Not considering print-on-demand: The only thing worse than book sales being down is not offering any book sales at all. Creating a set print run is so last millennium. If OUP was really interested in updating the format, it would create a limited edition or, better yet, print on demand system for the full dictionary. It could charge more for each set, too.
- Online sales are already weak: The second edition, released in 1989, has been dropping in popularity, despite having an online presence. According to the Telegraph, "The most recent OED has existed online for more than a decade, where it receives two million hits a month from subscribers who pay an annual fee of Â£240", or about $370. Of course the popularity has dropped off. At this very moment you can visit Dictionary.com, Urban Dictionary, and countless other free online services. How many web users need OUP pinpoint accuracy as opposed to a brief detail? I suspect not many.
- Confusing digital with online: The big jump in growth isn't happening online, but in digital media. The Apple (APPL) iPad and upcoming flood of tablets, the blossoming of Google (GOOG) Android-run mobile devices, and the best-selling Amazon (AMZN) Kindle represent the future OUP wants -- an area that is, at this moment, unpolluted by free dictionary offerings.