Books, books, books

The Publishers Association just published its 2016 figures for the UK book trade, so it’s time for my annual post about (a) how well the publishing industry has innovated its way through the wave of digital disruption compared with the music industry and (b) it isn’t always obvious which goods and services are susbstitutes and which are complements.

From the figures, it looks like digital is becoming steadily a platform for academic and professional texts, and those formats where it is inherently part of the product (audio) – consumer ebook sales have peaked and are declining. This is the substitutes-complements point: it’s always wrong to assume that a new technology will completely replace an old technology, and hard to tell a priori which will settle down to be the majority version in use. It is particularly the case that communications technologies tend to complement each other: on the whole people want more of all, although some do become redundant (telex).

Interestingly, sales of fiction have declined substantially in recent years, while children’s books and non-fiction have increased. This supports my theory about the demand for understanding in uncertain times, although probably it will turn out the growth was mainly stars’ memoirs and recipes….

As for the innovation, there has been experimentation with formats – for example, the popularity of short books (such as the excellent Perspectives series 🙂 – a new one, Before Babylon, Beyond Bitcoin by Dave Birch, will be out soon. Click here to pre-order for a signed copy at a discounted price!). But a key one has been to focus on the inherent distinctiveness of books: their physical bookness. The design and quality of books has improved enormously, in my view.

Of special interest to the academic world, academic and professional sales were up by 10% to £2.4bn. The sales of books rose 9% to £1.1bn,  total income from journals rose 10% to £1.2bn, and the share of journal income from subscriptions fell 1 percentage point to 79% of the total while income from Open Access article processing charges increased by 46% to £81m. For the time being (until government policy irrevocably damages one of the UK’s most successful sectors through a deranged approach to overseas students, and the impact of Brexit on employment and research funding), the UK accounts for 10% of journal article downloads and 12% of citations, and produces 16% of the world’s most‑cited journal articles. Only the US does better, the Yearbook says.


Knowledge as a public good – honest!

Yesterday was the meeting of the European Advisory Board of Princeton University Press, of which I’m a member along with some very distinguished people from other disciplines. It’s always inspiring to see the Press – my own publisher – making such a success (in terms of numbers of books sold, revenues and global reach) of high quality, peer reviewed books with an emphasis on accessibility to non-academic readers. (In fact, on the tube on the way there as I stood looking around the carriage, there were at least half a dozen people within sight reading books. I think physical books are baaaack bigtime, and the figures seem to agree.)

We had a discussion about the obvious: what do Brexit/Trump/dislike of facts and experts imply both for universities and for a scholarly press? David Runciman made the point that we academics see ourselves as producers of knowledge, a public good in a knowledge economy. The votes suggest half the public doesn’t agree, whether they are right or wrong.

He also strongly criticised the ‘impact agenda’ which is now part of the Research Excellence Framework. I somewhat disagree with this, as it seems entirely healthy for academics to have to think about the outside world and how their work meshes with it. I do agree with David’s point that the way ‘impact’ is interpreted in practice favours the London universities, Oxford and Cambridge, as people are often expected to demonstrate their ‘impact’ through contacts with “elite networks of influence” (in his words). In the UK, they are massively London-centric. However, if so many citizens fail to see any positive spillovers from academic work – knowledge production – it’s all the more important to think about how to improve and demonstrate impact in ways that don’t centre on influencing Whitehall and Westminster.

An eminent political scientist, David said the book he was turning to to understand political trends is Democracy for Realists. I must add it to the ‘to read’ pile.41pmvn6eael


Because we all need more books to read…

Friday evening is a time for settling on the sofa with the magazines and catalogues that have arrived during the week, and last night it was the next season’s catalogue for Harvard University Press. There are some terrific upcoming offerings. Top of my list will be Richard Baldwin’s

. His papers on the successive ‘unbundlings’ in production driving global trade are wonderful.

[amazon_image id=”067466048X” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The Great Convergence: Information Technology and the New Globalization[/amazon_image]

Plenty of others look enticing too.

by Brooke Harrington – a study of the professional advisers who make global inequality possible.
by Harvey Cox looks intriguing, theology meets economics.
by Charles S Maier – “territorial boundaries transform geography into history,” says the blurb.
by Minxin Pei will be a must-read for China-watchers. Also interesting-looking is
by Julian Gewirtz.

[amazon_image id=”0674743806″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Capital Without Borders: Wealth Managers and the One Percent[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”0674659686″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The Market as God[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”0674059786″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Once Within Borders: Territories of Power, Wealth, and Belonging Since 1500[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”0674737296″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]China’s Crony Capitalism: The Dynamics of Regime Decay[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”0674971132″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Unlikely Partners: Chinese Reformers, Western Economists, and the Making of Global China[/amazon_image]

by Ariel Ezrachi and Maurice Stucke will be one for competition policy and IO folks. So too a recent title,
by Mark Patterson.

[amazon_image id=”0674545478″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Virtual Competition: The Promise and Perils of the Algorithm-Driven Economy[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”0674971426″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Antitrust Law in the New Economy: Google, Yelp, Libor, and the Control of Information[/amazon_image]

One for all newshounds,

by James Hamilton. And for all Camus fans, I spotted the backlist title
by Robert Zaretsky.

[amazon_image id=”0674545508″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Democracy’s Detectives: The Economics of Investigative Journalism[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”0674724763″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]A Life Worth Living: Albert Camus and the Quest for Meaning[/amazon_image]


The health of the publishing industry

Yesterday the Publisher’s Association put out the press release on its 2015 figures  with the headline ‘Strong Year for UK publishing industry.’ Total revenues increased by 1.3% (or about £100m) to £4.4bn. With inflation around zero last year, this is a real terms increase. The release highlighted the increase in physical book sales (and particular non-fiction – but I don’t know if this category includes the depressing proliferation of adult colouring books); and the first recorded decrease in digital sales.

You have to buy the statistics, so I’ve only done a few sums on the figures in the press release. This is not helped by the fact that the author of the release was a bit hazy about the difference between millions and billions, so there was a bit of guesswork involved. Revenues from physical book sales were up 0.4% to £2.76bn (an increase of around £12m). Revenues from digital sales were down 1.6% to £554m. Interestingly, then, physical sales continue to be much larger in scale.

And what about the gap? There is a line stating: “2015 was a great year for learned journals sales and demonstrates the strength of academic publishers in driving new innovative business models that contribute towards maintaining the UK’s position as a hub of global research excellence.” Piecing together the figures, it looks like a 5% (or approx £50m) increase to £1.1bn in sales of academic journals.

Export sales were down slightly – the rest of Europe accounts for 35% of the UK industry’s sales. As far as I can tell, the export figures are included in the above three categories (physical, digital, academic journals).

So all in all, yes a good year, pleasing for those of us devoted to physical books. But most pleasing of all to the publishers of academic journals (and not so good for taxpayers and students who fund the library purchases).


Beautiful business

I’m a big fan of small books – this is the era of the extended essay.They fit in a pocket or bag easily, and are just the right length for a moderate train/tube/bus/plane ride.

I’ve just been sent a lovely example in Alan Moore’s

. It is, as one would expect, well, beautiful. It aims to inspire readers to create whatever they create better, whether that’s chairs or websites or a digital start-up. Each piece of advice is a page or two. The book starts with some general principles – why beauty matters, what the right mindset is to design things well. The second part then sets out 14 specific practices, grouped under the headings ‘persevere’, ‘connect’ and ‘aspire’. Two appendices look at business examples, axe-maker Gränsfors Bruk and Yeo Valley Farms. It sounds counter-intuitive to think of businesses being beautiful, certainly when the news is full of rather ugly examples, but it makes sense in this context.

There isn’t a big theory, rather a collection of insights that are intended to add up to a ‘beauty in design’ way of thinking. I’m not usually a fan of how to advice books but I have to admit this one made much sense to me and is simply a wonderful (small) object.

[amazon_image id=”1907974288″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Do Design: Why Beauty is Key to Everything (Do Books)[/amazon_image]