Sunday, April 27, 2008

Working paper on books

I like the last line of the abstract, so I put it in italics... ;-)

The Economics of Books
Marcel Canoy , Frederick van der Ploeg , Jan C van Ours
February 2005
The tensions between books and book markets as expressions of culture and books as products in profit-making businesses are analysed and insights from the theory of industrial organisation are given. Governments intervene in the market for books through laws concerning prices of books, grants for authors and publishers, a lower value-added tax, public libraries and education in order to stimulate the diversity of books on offer, increase the density of retail outlets and to promote reading. An overview of the different ways by which countries differ in terms of market structures and government policies is given. Particular attention is paid to retail price maintenance. Due to differences between European countries it is not a good idea to harmonise European book policies. Our analysis suggests that the book market seems quite able to invent solutions to specific problems of the book trade and that, apart from promoting reading, there is little need for government intervention.
The reference to this came from a short piece by Thorvaldur Gylfason, called "When Iceland was Ghana"
When Home Rule was achieved in 1904, most of Iceland’s impoverished population was already literate because literacy had been near universal since the end of the 18th century. Thus, Icelanders were well prepared for the modern age into which they were catapulted at the beginning of the 20th century. Not only is the general level of education made possible by near-universal literacy good for growth, but the social conditions – law abidance, for example – that make near-universal literacy possible are almost surely also good for growth. Exact measures of literacy in Iceland in 1900 are unavailable, but statistical information on the number of books published is available. In 1906, the number of books in Icelandic published per one thousand inhabitants was 1.6, which is more than in today’s Norway and Sweden. By 1966, the number of books published in Icelandic per one thousand inhabitants had climbed to 2.7, the current level in Denmark and Finland. By 2000, the figure for Iceland had risen to seven books published per one thousand inhabitants. It is possible that, with small editions of each book, small countries such as Iceland (population 300,000) have room for more titles. Nonetheless, these are impressive figures, and reading is good for growth.
Amazing that literacy was 100% in 1900 in Iceland (of course, a tiny population back then) while in Burkina Faso today (14 million people) literacy is probably less than 35%. Does make you realize the enormity of the colonial decision to *not* promote education, but also then raises the question that if the first paper suggests the book trade can do just fine on its own (and by implication the market for literacy?) then why did self-literacy did not grow even faster in many African countries, both pre-colonial and post-colonial. Perhaps the colonizers did more (less?) than be passive but rather actively discouraged literacy the way the American slaveowners did? I've not seen any historical studies on this question, but confess I've not looked very hard.

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