book prices in England about 1670

Price differentiation among books in England about the year 1670 was considerable.  Among 1090 titles priced in a catalog of books printed in England from 1666 to 1672, the median price was 2 shillings.[1]  The lower quartile was 1 shilling, and the upper quartile, 3.5 shillings.  Hence the interquartile range amounted to 125% of the median price. Among bound books of large-octavo size, the interquartile range amounted to 60% of the median price.

Book prices increased sharply with book size for volumes octavo size and larger.  The median “price bound” for a small octavo was 1 shilling, while the median price bound for a quarto was 4 shillings. The median price for a folio-sized bound book was 12 shillings.

Binding costs account for a significant share of the bound price.  Octavo was the most frequent title size. For a large octavo, a binding in calf skin would have cost about 30% of the price bound.  A binding in sheep skin would have cost 15% of the price bound. Hence even these common binding variations significantly affected the retail book price.

Book prices also varied with book subject.  Law books and books in Latin had median bound prices of 4.5 shillings and 3.5 shillings, respectively, while poetry and school-books had median bound prices of 1.5 shillings.  The relatively high median price for architecture books (8 shillings) probably reflects more illustrations in these books.  Relatively high prices for law books and books in Latin may reflect higher page counts in those books.

The reduction of the per book material cost to zero with ebooks continues a much longer trend of falling book material costs.  In England before about 1670, nearly all paper was imported from mainland Europe.  Paper was the single most expensive capital outlay for producing books.[2]  Today, paper cost is only a small share of book production costs.  Book production has become a service business, not a materials business.

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Data and statistics: book prices in England about 1670 (Excel version)

Data source: Robert Clavell (1673). A Catalogue of all the Books printed in England since the dreadful fire of London, in 1666, to the end of Michaelmas Term, 1672.

General information on term catalogues and their limitations

Read more:


[1] The median (middle) price is less sensitive to outliers than the mean (average) price.  Titles would need to be weighted by exemplars purchased to measure median or mean price for book purchases.

[2] James Raven (2007).  The business of books: booksellers and the English book trade, 1450-1850 (New Haven: Yale University Press) p. 308.

COB-61: bureaucratic tranquility


Big, immobile stones in a shady, moist atmosphere support a beautiful matrix of moss, lichen, ferns, and other greens. The same is true for organizations and bureaucracy.  Even with the sound of a tremendous waterfall nearby, bureaucrats remain as placid as moss on stone.  There are no better models of peace and tranquility than moss and bureaucracy.

Among key bureaucratic issues this month, Research in Motion (RIM) Senior Management recently had to deal with a panicky open letter from a RIM employee warning of dire dangers for the company.  RIM Senior Management responded:

RIM recently confirmed that it is nearing the end of a major business and technology transition. … it has become necessary for the company to streamline its operations in order to allow it to grow its business profitably while pursuing newer strategic opportunities. Again, RIM’s management team takes these challenges seriously and is actively addressing the situation.

This response is a model for bureaucratic excellence. The “it has become necessary” phrase has a tranquility that surpasses that of many passive constructions.  Moreover, its referenceless “it” encompasses the cosmos.  Note also that the above text would remain just as effective if RIM were replaced with another organization’s name.  Responses that foster easy re-use make bureaucratic organizations more efficient.

Additional open letters from RIM employees have subsequently appeared.  These letters indicate serious weaknesses in bureaucratic swimming skills:

Whenever something goes wrong (incident, problems, even non-customer impacting) a lengthy and involved process of finger pointing starts, and without fail, a new process is born. And, sadly, since the announcement came out about the financial problems and layoffs, it’s become worse. Many of the managers are saying we need to rely more heavily now than ever on process. To those of us who need to deal with this process, which consumes days of work generating documents that no one will read, it’s an obvious case of CYA on the managers part. If they say ‘but we followed the process!’, they seem to hope their heads won’t be on the line. We are no longer a company that is innovative and energetic, we are drowning in paperwork.

Employees well-trained in bureaucratic swimming will not drown in paperwork.  A good start for such training would be careful study of RIM Senior Management’s model bureaucratic response.

JoelBlog documents an intricately and exquisitely engineered registration process for AT&T DSL.  A commenter explained the secret to this work:

What is called AT&T now is actually SBC, a Baby Bell with a penchant for out-sourcing. SBC bought Cingular, AT&T, Pacific Bell, lots of other companies. … SBC brought with them metric tons of bureaucracy, all running in IE {Internet Explorer}.

If you want to build web forms that fully exploit the special powers of IE, you need to develop massive bureaucratic muscle.

Feral farting camels produce a lot of methane.  Australia’s Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency (DCCEE) has proposed to cull the camels.  Culling farting camels is a common-sense approach to reducing emissions.  A more excellent bureaucracy would have developed attachable bags and a network of collection centers to put that natural gas to use.

That’s all for this month’s Carnival of Bureaucrats. Enjoy previous bureaucratic carnivals here.  Nominations of posts to be considered for inclusion in next month’s carnival should be submitted using Form 376: Application for Bureaucratic Recognition.

why SEC filings don't contain semantic, queryable data

Public companies doing business in the U.S. are required to file electronically SEC-mandated public financial reports.  These reports are available on the web through EDGAR.  They are digital text documents that contain tables of data.  You cannot readily use database software to query the data or aggregate data across filings or companies.  EDGAR, in short, contains a huge, important dataset of badly structured, non-semantic public data.

These badly structured, non-semantic public data in EDGAR are one segment within a larger economy of data work.  First the data are extracted from structured, queryable databases within companies and formed into text tables for the public SEC financial reports.  Other companies then take the reports filed with the SEC, extract the public data into a useable form, and sell it.  The net result is a waste of resources and limited access to public data.

Some reasons for this inefficient data economy:

  • Companies want to control the presentation of their financial data.  Formatting the data in way that makes the data difficult to manipulate gives companies more control over data presentations.
  • Companies don’t want their data to be readily compared over time and across companies.  Publicly disclosing data in inconvenient forms effectively lessens the extent of public disclosure.
  • Managers present reports to directors and stockholders.  Presenting data to computers (via databases and APIs) is a less valued activity.

Improving the efficiency of the data economy requires weakening interests in having an inefficient data economy.

Update:  The SEC is providing machine-readable, computable financial reports.

Hair Cuttery Radio points to future of media

Hair Cuttery plays its own music channel, with whatever promotional matter it wants to insert, in its shops.  That’s Hair Cuttery Radio.  It’s the musical equivalent of airlines’ in-flight magazines.  Advertising networks that broker ad inventory from channels like Hair Cuttery Radio surely will emerge, if they don’t exist already.  Expect more of such media in the future.