How a centuries old publishing house is making its mark on the digital age

The Oxford University Press (OUP) has been publishing books for hundreds of years. A department of the University of Oxford, the OUP is the world's biggest university press and publishes works in more than 40 languages.

While the organization has been around for centuries, it is not averse to embracing new technology and digital innovation. It publishes eBooks, for instance, and in the 1980s digitized the world famous Oxford English Dictionary.

But in the age of the internet, where almost every fact, article and quote is available online, do we really need dictionaries? "I'm not sure I'd see a place for a print dictionary in this world, but we're more a digital dictionary that functions exactly like the print dictionary did," Casper Grathwohl, president, Global Business Development and Dictionaries Division at the OUP, told CNBC in an interview broadcast on Tuesday.

Change has been a long time coming. Grathwohl went on to explain that he wasn't surprised that some of the first websites to become popular were dictionary ones. "The dictionary itself is an analogue database, it was… built for digital before digital came and so it was one of the first industries to get really disrupted by this new digital revolution."

Technology was altering the way people gathered information online, he argued. "In a digital experience you may want to know the meaning of a word, for example, as you're reading an article," Grathwohl said.

"We realize now, you no longer need to step out of that experience and consult a dictionary website or look something up," he added. People can now, for instance, find out about a word in an online article by scrolling or hovering over it with their mouse.

Looking at the bigger picture, the OUP is also attempting to help preserve languages in the digital era. "One of the things that Oxford's focussing on is something we call digitally endangered languages," Grathwohl said. "You might have a hundred million speakers of isiZulu and those speakers will be experiencing life in a digital sphere in English or another language," he added.

One of the things the OUP had been focusing on was building structured, intelligent language data in languages that were not currently making the "digital jump."

"What we're hoping as we do this is that by developing that structured language data we will be able to provide that to the tech sector so that it can start to use that data as a foundation to develop software, tools and applications in that native language," Grathwohl said.

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