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Published: Tuesday, 8/31/2010

In praise of print

At a time when information is routinely gathered from electronic libraries or other sources on the Internet, and when printed books are a threatened species because of the Kindle or iPad, those who love the glory of ink on a printed page are left to consider whether the latest news is the inevitable march of progress or the final march to doom.

The Associated Press reported that the publisher of the Oxford English Dictionary, the bible of the language, said it is uncertain whether it will continue printing its famous bound edition in light of the popularity of its online subscriber service. Nigel Portwood, chief executive of Oxford University Press, told the Sunday Times in London: "The print dictionary market is just disappearing. It is falling away by tens of percent a year."

This isn't quite the apocalyptic news that it may seem, because other dictionaries are still in everyday use, including at newspapers, at schools, and homes. What is threatened is an exceptional tome - the Oxford printed edition dates from 1989, weighs 130 pounds, and comes in 20 volumes. Some 30,000 sets have been sold. Still, when a flagship is swamped on a strong changing tide, that conveys a message to every ship in the fleet.

The publisher did say that a printed version would be considered if there is sufficient demand. Let's hope so. While change is inevitable, it would be as shocking for a great dictionary to disappear from print as for the Holy Bible to be found only in electronic form.

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