book price differentiation in early-modern England

Book size and binding type significantly differentiated books in early-modern England.  Book sizes varied by paper size and extent of folding to form multiple book pages.  Common paper sizes were called post, crown, foolscap, and pot; other paper sizes were Imperial, Royal, and demy.  Folding of the paper produced, depending on the extent of folding, folios, quartos, octavos, duodecimos, 16mo, 24mo, 32mo, 48mo, and 64mo.  The largest book sizes were huge: the Imperial folio (30 x 22 inches) and the Royal folio (20 x 12.5 inches).  The smallest books were tiny: the 64mo was 1 5/8 x 1 inches.[1]  Because paper cost was a significant component of book cost, the book price depended significantly on the book size.

Bindings also varied considerably.  Binding prices varied with the size of the book.  In 1669, binding prices for a Bible varied from 1 shilling for Bibles in 12mo and 24mo to 12 shillings for large, folio-sized Bibles.  Binding prices also varied with the quality of the binding.  Standard binding types for binding a quarto Bible varied from 1.5 shilling for a binding with ovals to 5 shillings for a binding with “edges extraordinary.”[2]  In 1785 an English bookseller offered a one-volume edition of Shakespeare in seven bindings with the book price varying from 15 shillings (bound in boards) to 63 shillings (bound in tortoiseshell).[3]  Different sizes for such a volume would imply even greater price differentiation.

The reduction in prices for books over the past four centuries has occurred in conjunction with a reduction in price differentiation for instances of a particular work.  Electronic books could separate books from physical objects and eliminate book-attribute price differentiation. However, most books are bought for the psychic value of purchasing rather than being actually read.  Moreover, the book industry is likely to reap higher revenue with more book price differentiation.  Those two factors create incentives to bind electronic works to price-differentiated objects that offer different perceived experiences of possession.

*  *  *  *  *


[1] For a brief note on early-modern English book sizes and formats, see Stuart Bennett, Trade Bookbinding in the British Isles 1660-1800 (Oak Knoll Press, 2004) p. 168.

[2] See book-binding prices in 1669.

[3] Bennett (2004), cited above, p. 8.


Verizon continues to offer weather information service

Verizon’s weather-forecast telephone service continues to include an announcement saying that, effect June 1, 2011, Verizon will no longer offer weather-forecast services.  The weather-forecast service continues to offer a weather forecast.

That’s a strange operating procedure for an information service.  Maybe it’s an ironic representation of the challenges of weather forecasting.  Maybe it’s a profound depiction of telephone companies’ urgent quest for a new business model.

WordPress for the bigger work

People like to share links and photos and short messages.  But everyone, or at least a large number of persons, also wants to write a novel.  WordPress can be a great platform for that bigger work.

Novels aren’t read from finish to start.  They aren’t written from start to finish, either.  Bigger works consist of smaller pieces — chapters, sections, asides, photo collages, video snippets — not necessarily created in a particular order.  These pieces are sifted, ordered, and stitched together to make the bigger work. Adding such capabilities into the core of future versions of WordPress would help to inspire WordPress users to create bigger works.

WordPress plugins already exist to make bigger works from posts. For example, using postMash (filtered) you could create a category as a bigger work.  All posts placed in a cataegory can be ordered through a drag-and-drop interface.  Easy Post Order provides an alternative, short-code-based means to define an order among selected posts.  Such plugins are useful tools. But they don’t provide as much inspiration as a feature in the WordPress core.

The WordPress core could easily support basic features for creating bigger works from posts.  Using the order-by field used for pages but apparently fallow for posts, the WordPress core could be extended smoothly to allow a custom order for any tag or category.  That would be a useful feature pointing WordPress users toward bigger works.

Read more:

social reality of scholarly peer review

Peer-reviewed publications are currently the main currency for academic advancement.  Like fiat currencies  in general economic use, the value of editorial peer review appears to be largely in its value for economic transactions.  Consider, for example, a scholarly study published in 1982.  The authors created fictitious authors for twelve articles published in twelve highly regarded psychology journals eighteen to thirty-two months earlier.  These articles were then resubmitted for publication to the same journals that had published them previously.  The outcome:

Of the sample of thirty-eight editors and reviewers, only three (8 percent) detected the resubmissions.  This result allowed nine of the twelve articles to continue through the review process to receive an actual evaluation: eight of the nine were rejected.  Sixteen of the eighteen referees (89 percent) recommended against publication and the editors concurred.  The grounds for rejection were in many cases described as “serious methodological flaws.”[1]

A critical article on peer review recently noted:

At the British Medical Journal we took a 600 word study that we were about to publish and inserted eight errors.  We then sent the paper to about 300 reviewers.  The median number of errors spotted was two, and 20% of the reviewers did not spot any.  We did further studies of deliberately inserting errors, some very major, and came up with similar results.[2]

Methodological and statistical analysis of published empirical research has concluded that most published research findings are false.[3]  Another review of empirical evidence on peer review concluded:

At present, little empirical evidence is available to support the use of editorial peer review as a mechanism to ensure quality of biomedical research. However, the methodological problems in studying peer review are many and complex. At present, the absence of evidence on efficacy and effectiveness cannot be interpreted as evidence of their absence.[4]

Surely a central aspect of the methodological problems is that peer-reviewed articles are the primary scholarly assets of scholars today.  If persons were to recognize that editorial peer review has no fundamental value, the scholarly economy might collapse.

In the communicative circumstances of the Internet, publish everything is a good fundamental principle. Classical peer review tends to be understood as a value-creating quality filter for publication.  It is associated with competition to get as many peer-reviewed publications as possible.  An alternative to peer review is open-access competition for attention and approval: “publish everything and then let the world decide what is important.”[5]  The Internet allows a huge amount of information to be made available to a huge number of persons at much lower cost than would be possible with print publications.  That technological transformation fundamentally favors making any symbolic work available to everyone.

However, making any symbolic work available to everyone is not sufficient for a secure, well-functioning scholarly economy.  The effect of social influence on symbolic choices isn’t well understood.  Yet one can reasonably believe that fashions and celebrities are not manifestations of a good process for seeking truth, although they may be an inevitable aspect of any real social process.  “Let the world decide what is important” ignores the reality and importance of human social nature and human institutions.  A good social structures for symbolic competition in truth-seeking is a key challenge for the new Internet world.

*  *  *  *  *

Update: more on reforming peer review


[1] Douglas P. Peters and Stephen J. Ceci (1982). Peer-review practices of psychological journals: The fate of published articles, submitted again. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 5, pp 187-195 doi:10.1017/S0140525X00011183

[2] Richard Smith (2010). Classical peer review: an empty gun. Breast Cancer Research, 12(Suppl 4):S13 doi:10.1186/bcr2742

[3] John P. A. Ioannidis (2005).  Why Most Published Research Findings Are FalsePLoS Med 2(8): e124. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0020124

[4] Jefferson T, Rudin M, Brodney Folse S, Davidoff F.  Editorial peer review for improving the quality of reports of biomedical studies. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2007, Issue 2. Art. No.: MR000016. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.MR000016.pub3

[5] Smith (2010), cited above, p. 3.