Robert McCrum joins the campaign to save the historic Scottish publishing company
The Observer, Sunday 25 October 2009
Dictionaries, as I've implied, are literary artefacts from a self-improving age of quires and hot metal, but Chambers survived against the odds until, early in the 1990s, it merged with the reference company Harrap. A second consolidation in 2007 brought another Victorian treasure, Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, into the fold.
All of this signals just one message. Reference publishing has been in trouble since the 1980s. As the online revolution gained momentum, reference-book publishers such as OUP took drastic measures to keep up. Oxford was lucky: it enjoyed charitable status and could invest in its future. Chambers Harrap had no such privileges. Squeezed for resources, it failed to adjust to virtual publishing and ended up as part of Hachette UK, itself a subsidiary of the French company Lagardère. Darwinian laws operate as ruthlessly in the book world as in any South American jungle.