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 [amazon_link id=”067466048X” target=”_blank” ]The Great Convergence: Information Technology and the New Globalization[/amazon_link]. 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. [amazon_link id=”0674743806″ target=”_blank” ]Capital Without Borders: Wealth Managers and the One Percent [/amazon_link]by Brooke Harrington – a study of the professional advisers who make global inequality possible. [amazon_link id=”0674659686″ target=”_blank” ]The Market as God[/amazon_link] by Harvey Cox looks intriguing, theology meets economics. [amazon_link id=”0674059786″ target=”_blank” ]Once Within Borders: Territories of Power, Wealth and Belonging Since 1500[/amazon_link] by Charles S Maier – “territorial boundaries transform geography into history,” says the blurb. [amazon_link id=”0674737296″ target=”_blank” ]China’s Crony Capitalism: The Dynamics of Regime Decay[/amazon_link] by Minxin Pei will be a must-read for China-watchers. Also interesting-looking is [amazon_link id=”0674971132″ target=”_blank” ]Unlikely Partners: Chinese Reformers, Western Economists, and the Making of Global China[/amazon_link] 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]

[amazon_link id=”0674545478″ target=”_blank” ]VIrtual Competition: The Promise and Perils of the Algorithm-Driven Economy[/amazon_link] by Ariel Ezrachi and Maurice Stucke will be one for competition policy and IO folks. So too a recent title, [amazon_link id=”0674971426″ target=”_blank” ]Antitrust Law in the New Economy: Google, Yelp, LIBOR, and the Control of Information[/amazon_link] 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, [amazon_link id=”0674545508″ target=”_blank” ]Democracy’s Detectives: The Economics of Investigative Journalism[/amazon_link] by James Hamilton. And for all Camus fans, I spotted the backlist title [amazon_link id=”0674724763″ target=”_blank” ]A Life Worth Living: Albert Camus and the Quest for Meaning[/amazon_link] 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 [amazon_link id=”1907974288″ target=”_blank” ]Design: Why beauty is the key to everything[/amazon_link]. 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]

Time for more Keynes

In a blog post yesterday Benjamin Mitra-Kahn – now chief economist at IP Australia but perhaps even better known as the author of a superb thesis on the history of defining and measuring the economy – pointed out that Keynes’s works are now out of copyright. The copyright has been held by the Royal Economic Society, which has published the Collected Writings in a handsome series ([amazon_link id=”1107673739″ target=”_blank” ]The General Theory[/amazon_link] is Volume 7) (RES members can get them online).

[amazon_image id=”1107673739″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The Collected Writings of John Maynard Keynes: Volume 7[/amazon_image]

However, there is no reliable, reasonably priced paperback version at the moment of Keynes’s major works. (Be warned – expert readers say the paperbacks that pop up on Amazon (pirate editions until this week) are poorly produced and full of inaccuracies.)

So as well as Benjamin Mitra-Kahn’s suggestion of putting all of the works and collected papers online – a terrific idea, practical proposals needed – it would be great if a publisher would pick up the need for a paperback classic version so we can get students reading them for themselves again.