Fourth edition might not be out until the summer, but according to a news post by WotC you can already buy a pre-release copy. However, there’s a catch: it costs $5,000, and it’s only open to developers.
Here’s the jist: Wizards of the Coast are to release the 4th edition SRD under a new Open Gaming License in June 2009, one year from now. If you want to publish 4e material before then, there’s a hefty license fee.
This actually makes a lot of sense, and for the most part I think it’s largely a good thing. Third edition’s third party material was characterized by a flood of products which were often mediocre and poorly balanced, and worse yet for Wizards of the cost, competed directly with their own releases. It was bad news for Wizards, and I was very surprised in August when it was announced that the OGL was to be continued, having expected myself that Wizards would instead sell licenses to the major publishers only. As it turns out, both were correct!
Ultimately, this announcement has the biggest effect on small third-party publishers, including the PDF market and Kobold Quarterly. Except for the more established companies (Wizards, Mongoose et al) and online Dragon submissions, small freelancers are limited to 3.5e material for the forthcoming year. The writing community is thus in the interesting situation of writing 3e stuff or nothing at all, even for several months after the launch of 4e. It’ll be interesting to see how this turns out.