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Books and Blogs

April 20th, 2006

Brian Weatherson at CT raises the question of blogs turning into books, and commenters give lots of examples. However, any addition to the supply of books generated in this way needs to be offset by the books that would have been written if their potential authors weren’t writing blogs instead.

Update Sarah Hepola makes exactly the same point, announcing in Slate that she is shutting down her blog to write a book. Coincidence, or the mysterious workings of the BlogGeist

I’ve been blogging for four years and have maintained a pretty good output of journal articles, book chapters newspaper articles, and so on. On the whole, the blog is a useful complement to this work. But my last book came out in 2000, and I can’t see myself finding the time to do another one any time soon. The time that I might put aside for a long-term project like a book is now devoted to blogs.

This may be discipline-specific. There’s no great professional payoff for books in economics (I once read a study estimating the relationship between academic salary and publications that found that one page in the Journal of Political Economy was worth the same as a book published by Cambridge University Press. Things are presumably different in other disciplines, where books count for more.

Similarly there’s no real financial payoff either. In fact, in financial terms, I would have done better to review my policy-oriented books (newspapers pay a reasonable rate) than to write them. There’s money in undergraduate textbooks, I’m told, but I’ve never looked into that.

The seminars we’ve run here suggest possibilities for useful interactions between blogs and books.

Still, I suspect that on balance books and blogs are substitutes rather than complements both in production (more time writing blogs means less time writing books) and consumption (more time reading blogs means less time reading books).

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  1. April 20th, 2006 at 23:32 | #1

    Bhagdad Burning has been published as a book and has been nominated for a large British literary prize.

  2. R J Stove
    April 21st, 2006 at 09:08 | #2

    About a year ago, US pundit Hugh Hewitt produced a book called
    Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation That’s Changing Your World.
    The basis of this production was, broadly speaking, that blogging is the modern counterpart to Luther’s use of the printing press to further Protestantism. Hewitt didn’t bother to explain how the Catholic Church, 489 years after Luther’s 95 Theses, is still around. Nor did he bother to explain why he was publishing all this stuff in book form, instead of just blogging it.

    I’m old enough to recall the days when desktop publishing was credited with endless subversive potential against the Murdoch-Packer empires’ print hegemony. Uh, right. Oh yes, and cheap camcorders were going to turn us all into Eisenstein-type geniuses too. There seems (at least in media matters) to be no form of powerful technological innovation which can’t be hyped out of its little head.

  3. April 21st, 2006 at 16:43 | #3

    That is very interesting RJS. In documentary, the use of domestic cameras has revolutionised the medium in ways which we never imagined. It would make a fascinating PhD for someone. And no, it didn’t create any Eisensteins, and yes, it is basically the same old same old people at work – but the projects, the working conditions, the relationship with the audience is very different. Two words: reality TV.

  4. April 21st, 2006 at 22:36 | #4

    Thanks Mr Tiley. Reality TV is certainly a good counterexample, and one which I should’ve thought of myself.

    But I think my overall point still stands, and would stand even if we left TV altogether from the discussion. Namely, that grossly exaggerated claims are routinely made about the transformative powers of media-related hi-tech novelties. Any Martian who came to earth and read Hugh Hewitt would wonder why Rupert Murdoch – or any other print-media tycoon – hasn’t simply committed suicide. In fact, as Mr Tiley says, it “is basically the same old same old people at work.”

    I see that The American Conservative‘s review (not, apparently, online) of the Hewitt book in the April 11, 2005 issue makes a very similar point to my own about the falsity of Hewitt’s “blogging = Protestant printing press” analogy.

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