"The print dictionary market is just disappearing, it is falling away by tens of percent a year," Nigel Portwood, the chief executive of Oxford University Press, told London's Sunday Times. Asked if he thought the third edition would be printed, he said: "I don't think so."
Portwood said the dictionary's third edition will probably appear only in electronic form. It has been available online for more than 10 years to subscribers who pay an annual fee of about $372.
Only about 28 percent of the next edition of the OED has been finished with a projected completion date more than a decade away, The Sunday Telegraph said.
Simon Winchester, author of "The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary," said the switch towards online formats was "prescient."
"Until six months ago I was clinging to the idea that printed books would likely last for ever. Since the arrival of the iPad I am now wholly convinced otherwise," Winchester said.
"The printed book is about to vanish at extraordinary speed. Books are about to vanish; reading is about to expand as a pastime; these are inescapable realities."