The 11th edition of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary introduces a significant innovation in dictionary publishing. For the first time, the popularly priced standard edition of the dictionary is not a print product alone.
Each copy is bundled with a CD-ROM edition and a one-year subscription to Merriam-Webster Online, a premium Web site offering exclusive access to the online edition and other reference sources, all built atop the same database.
Nothing like this has been done before in dictionary publishing, and for good reasons, known as "the three C's": cost, cannibalization, and cross-platform development.
Cost for a dictionary is usually thought of as PB&B–paper, printing, and binding–but we would now be adding CD-ROM replication and insertion costs.
Cannibalization is the very real possibility that, while increasing the attractiveness and sales potential of one product, another product suffers as a result. In this case, sales of the standalone CD-ROM, and the new subscription-based Web site, would theoretically be at risk.
Cross-platform (i.e., cross-media) development is simultaneously building multiple electronic products using the same content database. This term is often applied to software development, such as creating a single product that runs on both Windows and Macintosh platforms. We faced this, plus we had the added challenge of building completely new print and online products.
In our view, however, the three C's are trumped by a fourth C: convergence. Coincidentally, "convergence" has a new definition in the 11th edition of the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary. It is "the merging of distinct technologies, industries, or devices into a unified whole."
Convergence has variously been seen as the Holy Grail or the broken promise of the information age. At Merriam-Webster, convergence was a natural evolution. We have been print publishers since the 1830s, CD-ROM publishers since the 1980s, and Web publishers since the 1990s.