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Saturday, June 10, 2006

The Value of Books

Interesting post today by Brad DeLong on the relative value of books in the 18th century, late 15th century, and early 13th century. When the University of Naples was established in 1224, books functioned as collateral for student loans, which of course only makes sense if the economic value of books is quite high:
There will be loans given to students, based on their needs, by those who are designated to do so, with their books pawned as collateral, which books will be temporarily returned to the student after receiving appropriate guarantees from other students. The student will not leave the city until he has paid back his debt, or has given back the pawned books returned to him temporarily. Such pawns will not be requested by the creditor as long as the student remains in school...
DeLong estimates that "back in the thirteenth century, a book copy sold for the same share of national product that $14,000 is today." That's the equivalent of about four 50" plasma, high-definition televisions today. Not even Cambridge UP's prices are that high.

  • At 6/10/2006 04:41:00 PM, Blogger Flavia wrote…

    Am I right in thinking that this is often how early universities (the physical structures) were built, too? I seem to recall reading that the monks would put up a book or two as collateral with the city fathers, builders, or whoever.

     

  • At 6/10/2006 04:43:00 PM, Blogger bdh wrote…

    Being fair, (1) at least CUP usually releases paperback editions of its titles; and (2) you're ignoring the fact that thirteenth-century books were copied by hand, and presumably still on vellum (I'm sure paper arrived later, the medieval Arabs had it from the Chinese long before the West did). Also, how big was the gross national product back then?

     

  • At 6/10/2006 05:10:00 PM, Blogger Hieronimo wrote…

    at least CUP usually releases paperback editions of its titles

    They do? My sense of CUP is that they almost never do simultaneous paperbacks. Recent advances in print-on-demand technology have enabled them to produce paperbacks more easily, and so they're doing more paperback reprints of older titles, but only after the hardback run has sold out, I assume (since some of the title are more than 10 years old). There are very few CUP lit titles I can think of that came out in simultaneous paperback (Masten is one, there are a few others, but not many that I can recall...)

     

  • At 6/10/2006 05:32:00 PM, Blogger Flavia wrote…

    I'm with Hieronimo on the lack of CUP books in PB--at least when it comes to the books that I actually want copies of!

    My new strategy is to whore myself out as a reviewer for all those books I see in the catalogue that I want to own. One's in the mail right now, in fact...

     

  • At 6/10/2006 06:01:00 PM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    you're ignoring the fact that thirteenth-century books were copied by hand, and presumably still on vellum (I'm sure paper arrived later, the medieval Arabs had it from the Chinese long before the West did). Also, how big was the gross national product back then?

    These three factors--the cost of producing a book, the cost of paper/vellum, and GDP in the 13th century--haven't been ignored but instead help explain why books were so much more expensive in medieval Europe.

     

  • At 6/11/2006 12:31:00 AM, Blogger bdh wrote…

    Flavia: I'm a review whore as well for that very reason : )

    H: Well, if not simultaneously, then eventually. I'm thinking of CUP in contrast to publishers like Ashgate which don't even offer paperbacks (at least not to my knowledge).

    Simplicius: Agreed, perhaps "ignored" was the wrong word.

     

  • At 6/11/2006 02:57:00 AM, Blogger muse wrote…

    I think CUP is planning to release more paperbacks. And they have this whole 500-800 copies, with no color illustrations thing going, supposedly to cut costs. The two editors I've spoken to at CUP were cautiously optimistic about their efforts to cut costs and to keep on publishing.

    But the main problem with academic monographs today is not the cost of publishing but the fact that libraries are publishers' biggest customer, and a number of them have ceased buying books completely (I think Linda or Sarah at CUP mentioned Maryland as one library that no longer buys any books, but don't quote anyone on that as I'm not sure).

    So if libraries fund the academic publishing industry, and getting published "funds" our careers, then are we not that different from late medieval universities? The main difference being, of course, that libraries are no longer buying books, it's getting harder and harder to publish, and scholars are getting fewer and jobs. There are rumors that the Bodleian will cease to be a library, become a kind of university museum, and that its book buying funds will be diverted to the sciences.

    Oh, drat.

     

  • At 6/11/2006 05:39:00 PM, Blogger Inkhorn wrote…

    The problem, as I heard it explained by someone from U Cal P, is that the cost of the science journals -- in which all science research is published -- has gone up to the millions per year, since the 1980s; the academic libraries have cut back on their monograph budgets because, if they want to have any science departments at all, they have to keep those journal subscriptions. In other words, monograph-driven departments like English are basically subsidizing the big science departments like Physics and Chemistry -- the departments that also, you may know, function via huge grants from various research foundations and corporations. The poorest, in other words, are funding the richest.

    Sound familiar?

     

  • At 6/12/2006 02:10:00 AM, Blogger bdh wrote…

    Most libraries are also cutting down on printed journal subscriptions in favour of online access through Project Muse, ProQuest, EBSCO, JSTOR, PAO, etc. The cost of producing printed journals is also making many editorial boards consider the option of going digital completely.

     


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