To create Oxford Scholarly Editions Online, the publisher has raided its extensive back catalogue, including volumes dating back as far as 1901, and digitised virtually all its texts and scholarly editions of 62 authors active between 1485 and 1660. The data-capture process also means that some of the older out-of-print editions can now be made available again in hard copy through on-demand printing.
OUP, explains project director Sophie Goldsworthy on the home page, "has a long tradition of publishing scholarly editions - something which still sits at the very heart of the programme - and a range and reach unmatched by any other publisher". About a sixth of the material - representing 171 volumes of around 82,000 printed pages - has now been made available, with the rest to follow over the next 4 to 5 years.
A second tranche, covering the writers of the Restoration, will appear next year. The project will then march on towards the present day before swooping back to antiquity and the Middle Ages.
Such editions have the familiar advantages of being able to search across a large corpus of material as well as notes which can be viewed alongside the text rather than tucked away at the end of a printed book.
Should a new letter by Thomas Hobbes or a poem by Ben Jonson turn up, it can be incorporated into the canon almost at once. Despite all this, Ms Goldsworthy says that OUP has also responded to "a strong message from librarians and scholars" who wanted to be able to see the original printed pages for ease of referencing and citation, so readers can access and print out PDF files of them all.
The material is divided up into seven modules devoted to the drama, poetry and prose of the Renaissance and of the early 17th century, as well as a separate one focussing on Shakespeare's plays.
Though they include different amounts of material, individuals in the UK can subscribe to any single module at £25 for 3 months or £70 for a whole year. Institutions will be billed under a complex system, and on the assumption that all 171 print volumes would cost in the region of £15,000.