literary reading & the status of men in social communication

Dana Gioia, serving as Chairman of the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), released in 2004 an NEA study entitled Reading at Risk.  This study, which surveyed a representative sample of the adult U.S. population, found that 37.6% of men and 55.1% of women had read a work of literature in the past year.  The share of men and women reading a work of literature fell 11.5% and 7.9% respectively over the previous two decades.  The Gioia-led NEA emphasized the grave public danger of the decline in literary reading.  The NEA downplayed the large difference between men and women.  If literary reading has great public importance, then programs to encourage more men to read literature would seem to be sensible policy.  The male Chairman of the the NEA, deeply concerned about the extent of literary reading, seems to have been uninterested or unable to express concern about ordinary men.

Lisa Jardine, CBE, Centenary Professor of Renaissance Studies at Queen Mary, University of London, formerly Head of the School of English and Drama, and Dean of Arts, now Director of the Centre for Editing Lives and Letters, also led an examination of literary reading.  The Orange Prize for Fiction, a prize that explicitly excludes male authors, commissioned Jardine for the project.  Jardine first focused on women.  In 2004, she and her colleagues surveyed “400 women from the worlds of academia, arts, publishing and literary criticism … including many previous judges of the Orange Prize.”  The results of this survey, called “Women’s Watershed Fiction,”  appeared in a press release and twenty-nine newspaper article references. Three years later, Jardine did a similar survey of “400 men from the worlds of academia, arts, publishing and literary criticism.”  This survey was called  “Men’s Milestone Fiction.”  It differed from the earlier survey of women primarily in alliteration.  This study also generated a press release and seven newspaper article references, as well as some carefully posed attention from scholars on a literary blog.

Professor Jardine’s statements reported in a newspaper article on “Men’s Milestone Fiction” provide an interesting counterpoint to the NEA study of literary reading. According to the newspaper article, Jardine and her colleagues were shocked by the sex differences that they found:

“We were completely taken aback by the results,” said Prof Jardine, who admitted that they revealed a pattern verging on a gender cliche, with women citing emotional, more domestic works, and men novels about social dislocation and solitary struggle.

For a post-modern creationist unaware of the social construction of the social construction of gender, these results would indeed be shocking. But they probably wouldn’t shock any scholar who had read the results of the NEA’s research three years’ earlier. Even a rudimentary appreciation for evolutionary biology makes sex difference in communication likely.  Comparative anatomy and ethology across primates is consistent with sex differences in communication.  So too is considerable human behavioral data.

Jardine’s communicative behavior differed significantly from Gioia’s.  According to the newspaper article, Jardine declared:

Prof Jardine said that the research suggested that the literary world was run by the wrong people. “What I find extraordinary is the hold the male cultural establishment has over book prizes like the Booker, for instance, and in deciding what is the best. This is completely at odds with their lack of interest in fiction. On the other hand, the Orange prize for fiction [which honours women authors  – Guardian editor] is still regarded as ephemeral.”

Jardine was Chair of Judges of the Orange Prize in 1997. She declares that her survey supports more power and honor for the organization that commissioned her work and for persons like her.  But Jardine also has broader public interests:

“On the whole, men between the ages of 20 and 50 do not read fiction. This should have some impact on the book trade. There was a moment when car manufacturers realised that it was women who bought the family car, and the whole industry changed. We need fiction publishers – many of whom are women – to go through the same kind of recognition,” Prof Jardine said.

Perhaps she would like fiction publishers to publish more works by women authors.  That would benefit the relatively small share of women authors in the overall population of Britain.  It might also lead to women reading more fiction, and men, less.  Perhaps that would also benefit women, or at least women not interested in having relationships with more imaginative men.  Like Gioia, Jardine doesn’t seem interested in encouraging men to read more fiction.

Gioia and Jardine exemplify elite behavior deeply rooted in human male and female evolutionary psychology. Men’s lives tend to be less valued than women’s because the fecundity of human communities has been more positively correlated with the number of women than the number of men.  In modern democratic societies, elite men gain their status by out-competing other elite men and elite women in delivering goods to ordinary women.  Elite women gain their status by out-competing other elite women and elite men in delivering goods to ordinary women. That the fate of ordinary men is of relatively little concern to either is a deeply rooted psychological problem that societies may eventually have to confront.

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Read more:

the dilemma of the front page


The Newseum, that stunning monument to the investment priorities of the leaders of traditional news media, features on its front facade the front pages of newspapers.

The front page of a print newspaper is commonly considered to be important news: “front-page news.”  But news that’s important to you depends on you. Why take seriously what some group of persons whom you haven’t selected and who know nothing specific about you proclaim is important to you?[*]

Knowing what others are reading is important to you.  But many persons get information from the Internet, which has millions of dynamic front pages.  Looking around your social network on Facebook, looking at most read and most emailed article lists on a content site,  and checking search keyword trends and Twitter trends provides much better information about what relevant others are reading than does looking at articles on the front page of a print publication.

Vanity Fair’s recent double-cover issue featured a cover photo of Michael Jackson and a cover photo of Farrah Fawcett.  The text on both covers is exactly the same, but the text layout and font sizes are re-arranged in accordance with the photo featured. Both versions of this issue were side-by-side in the magazine rack at a supermarket where I shop.  So shoppers could choose the magazine with the cover that they preferred.

But offered in this way, the front cover loses value.  How important can it be that Michael is on the front cover if you choose him to be there? What’s the public significance of Farrah being on the front page of your magazine if Michael is on the front page of the other gal’s mag?

The space of public engagement is no longer a sphere but a huge, messy garden.

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[*] The front pages of different newspapers are not necessarily independent evaluations of what’s important.  Since the early 1990s, the New York Times and the Washington Post have been exchanging front page previews the night before publication. The Washington Times’ front page appears to be designed to contrast with that of the Washington Post.  Having enlarged front pages of newspapers displayed across the facade of the Newseum is a claim to public importance that contasts sharply with the usefulness of services such as Google News.  The newspaper history represented within the Newseum similarly contrasts sharply with objective newspaper history and historically representative newspaper content.


movie negative cost increased 60x since 1929

Some economic aspects of the U.S. movie business have changed relatively little from 1929 to 2007. The number of feature movie releases in both these years was about 700.  The total number of movie screens was 66% greater in 2007.  That’s less of a change than the 148% increase in U.S. population from 1929 to 2007.   The real value of box office receipts, measured relative to the Consumer Price Index, was about the same in 1929 and 2007.

In contrast, expenditure on making movies (negative cost) increased by an estimated factor about 60 from 1929 to 2007. Because this estimate is based on estimates more likely to err on the high side for average negative cost in 1929 and on the low side for averge negative cost in 2007, this estimate is more likely to be too low than too high.  Movie-making costs for feature films have increased enormously since 1929.[*] To cover their costs, feature films now rely heavily on non-exhibition revenue  such as DVD sales, television network distribution fees, and licensing for ancillary mechandise.

The large increase in feature film costs for studios and traditionally organized movie producers creates economic space for new ways of producing  and distributing movies.

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For the data and calculations discussed above, see the online movie economic trends spreadsheet (also available as an Excel file).  I’m grateful to Wayne Schmidt for making available online historical movie data. Check out some of the amazing projects Wayne has undertaken!


[*] No good, direct evidence seems to exist for the change in film distributional and promotional costs from 1929 to 2007 . Promotion costs are much larger than distribution costs.  Total advertising spending as a share of GDP was greater in 1929  (2.8%) than in 2007 (2.0%).  Film promotion costs probably did not increase as much as did film negative costs.

BellSouth communication services volumes, rates, and revenues, 1992-2009

A dataset of units sold, rates, and revenues from 1992 to 2009 for BellSouth’s interstate communication services is now available.  BellSouth, now part of the new AT&T, developed as a regional Bell (Telephone) Operating Company (RBOC) serving customers in nine states in the U.S. Southeast.  This dataset has been compiled from price-cap tariff data publicly filed at the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC). It is intended to foster better understanding of communications industry developments, keener appreciation for the realities of economic regulation, and more informed public policy deliberation.

The dataset distinguishes some types of special access and trunking revenue by state.  From tariff filing years 2000 to 2003, the state distribution of revenue for these services shifts away from states that accounted for a larger share of BellSouth’s revenue (Florida and Georgia) and toward states that accounted for smaller shares (Alabama and South Carolina). This shift in the distribution of special access and trunking price-cap revenue is associated with FCC grants of BellSouth petitions to remove services from price cap regulation (pricing flexibility petitions).[*]

The number of BellSouth rates under price cap regulation increased greatly from 1992 to 2009.  The number of filed rates increased from 1,168 in filing year 1992 to 37,059 in 2007, and then fell to 21,223.  The share of non-zero-revenue rate elements declined from 55% in 1992 t0 12% in 2009. The net effect was that the number of filed rates associated with non-zero revenue fell from filing year 2000 to filing year 2009.  The broad pattern is similar to that for Bell Atlantic price-cap rate counts.  Identifying significant rates is important for efficient use of regulatory effort.

Looking at rates by descending order of associated revenue provides one view of economically significant rates.  Comparing the top-100 BellSouth special access and trunking rate elements in filing years 1999 and 2009 indicates considerable service revenue inertia. The leading rate element in 2009 was a DS1 local channel termination.  A DS1 local channel provides 1.5 Mbits/s symmetric service. It generated about $43 million for BellSouth in  demand-year-2008 revenue. That’s a lot of revenue for an old service which, by current standards, provides rather meager bandwidth.

Customer demands for rapid service installation apparently have increased.  In the 1999 filing, $3.2 million in revenue was associated with a rate element specifying a special access service order interval of less than 4 days.  In the 2009 filing, a special access (SPA) service date advancement generated $13 million in revenue. Customers seeking rapid order fulfillment pay millions to get it.

In the 2009 filing, a “Data-Universal” rate element is associated with $35 million in revenue.  This rate element has been included in filings since 1999, but prior to the 2009 filing, negligible revenue was associated with it.  The nature of the “Data-Universal” element isn’t clear.  However, innovation is vitally important to the future of telephone companies.  Generating $35 million in revenue in 2009 for the “Data-universal” rate element may be an indication of BellSouth innovating.

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Here’s the BellSouth rate-detail dataset.

Spreadsheet data discussed above:


[*] An FCC order adopted on Aug. 5, 1999, set out a procedure (“pricing flexibility” petitions) for removing rate elements from existing price-cap regulation. On Dec. 15, 2000, the FCC’s Common Carrier Bureau granted a BellSouth petition for pricing flexibility.  The order granting that petition apparently isn’t online, but an affirming review of that order, which includes a list of the metropolitican statistical areas (MSAs) to which it applies, is online. Here’s a better formated version of the MSA list.  On Nov. 22, 2002, the Bureau adopted an order granting another BellSouth petition for pricing flexibility.  On May 16,2008, the Bureau granted a third BellSouth petition for pricing flexibility.