Blogs and books

by John Q on July 7, 2009

Blogs kill books. At least, that’s what I always thought. Between 1988 and 2000, I wrote four1 books and edited a couple of volumes. In 2002, I started blogging, and I haven’t done a book since then.

But, in the mysterious way of things, it turns out that blogs generate books, or at least book contracts. In comments here not long ago, Miracle Max wrote

The discredited ideas theme really needs a book, and JQ appears to be the ideal person to write it.
I will even contribute the title: “Dead Ideas from New Economists.” No charge.

Brad DeLong picked it up, and a couple of days later I got an email from Seth Ditchik at Princeton University Press suggesting that it really would be a good idea. Now, we have a contract, and we’re going to use Max’s suggested title.

Of course, it’s much easier to promise to write a book than to actually write one, and I still have a more-than-full-time commitment to work on climate change and sustainable management. So, I have to find some spare time, and the blog-book conflict reappears. My brilliant(?) solution is to focus my blogging on the “discredited ideas” theme, and leave blogging on other topics for another day.

I plan to pop up various snippets as blog posts, crowdsourcing the task of pointing out, and hopefully correcting, my numerous errors. Past experiences suggests there are legions of commenters eager to do this free of charge and unsolicited, but I’m going to use my allocation of free books to reward the 10 commenters who do most to save me from error or steer me in the right direction. Of course, Miracle Max will get the first one.

1 Actually five, if you count my self-published book of satirical songs and verse, Bobby, I Hardly Knew You



Tomas 07.07.09 at 9:22 am

Great news! Now write like the wind!

Preorder available when?


Tim Worstall 07.07.09 at 10:36 am

“it turns out that blogs generate books”

Well, yes, few years back I was hired to do a book, an anthology*, of other people’s blogs. Much easier than having to actually write your own blog posts to be turned into a book.

*(Sales of 1,350 and not rising. Ho Hum.)


JoB 07.07.09 at 11:21 am

New Ideas from Dead Economists was already taken, I guess.


JoB 07.07.09 at 11:27 am

Ah, I checked: reserved by Krugman, Paul.


alex 07.07.09 at 11:37 am

One is hoping, presumably, for extra sales amongst the slightly dyslexic, then? Still, I suppose Marx started it with The Poverty of Philosophy


Eszter Hargittai 07.07.09 at 12:33 pm

Congrats, John, this sounds neat! And Seth is great so this should be fun!


Michael Pereira 07.07.09 at 1:17 pm

There are certainly a lot of blogs that allow and open up discussion among scholars who are doing similar research in their field and proliferate their thought and criticisms without a mediator. However, what I wonder is if and (the more likely question) when blog URLs will be admissible in conventional academic culture as references.

I’m an endnote fanatic and I love to enter all the papers and books and newspaper articles that I have read in case I may come to reference it one day. I wonder however if there should be a convention as to ‘referencing’ a blog. Clearly there are some issues about editing and ‘last accessed date’ being fields of data about it; other fields would be absent like publisher and city published.


Salient 07.07.09 at 2:02 pm

crowdsourcing the task of pointing out, and hopefully correcting, my numerous errors

Sounds like tremendous fun, especially over comments threads where it’s possible to read everyone’s pointers and counterpointers even when one can’t contribute. I’m hoping this crowdsourcing idea takes off over time and becomes more widely used by writers with ambitious projects and busy schedules. :)


Jerry 07.07.09 at 3:12 pm

Shouldn’t the title really be Dead Ideas from Live Economists?


ajay 07.07.09 at 3:57 pm

5: possible other titles in the series:
The Effluent Society
The Great Crush
The Theory of Moral Sentinels
The Nations of Wealth
The Species of Oranges


Bloix 07.07.09 at 4:20 pm

The title is so wonderfully bitchy that I can’t imagine PUP will allow you to use it. But maybe they’ve decided that edgy is in. Congratulations and good luck.


Salient 07.07.09 at 4:48 pm

The Species of Oranges is particularly inspired. :)


ingrid robeyns 07.07.09 at 6:39 pm

I think I said in that same comments section that I would buy it… and so I will. Congratulations, this is fantastic for you, and great for everyone who can read English.


Miracle Max 07.07.09 at 10:35 pm

The best and unmatched part of my blog was always the headlines.

FYI, the title is a play on the annoying Todd Bucholz and his “New Ideas from Dead Economists.”

Get to work, Quiggin. N0w we have to get a book out of Davies.


vivian 07.08.09 at 1:55 am

Let’s get Daniel and Ajay to write a species of oranges is not the only fruit.


John Quiggin 07.08.09 at 3:48 am

I’m tempted a bit by “Dead Ideas from Live Economists”; not quite as good a play, but maybe better for the target market, most of whom probably won’t be aware of Bucholz.

Anyway, I’m typing as fast as I can, or I would be except that I foolishly supported an inquiry into the financial system and have been deluged with media ever since.


JoB 07.08.09 at 7:35 am

MM-14, you’re not kidding! Don’t know about Todd as a writer but his title rocks. Should give him credits.

John, so what about the IPR if, say, lemuel brings a good insight here … will you stick to naming or actually reverse crowdsource the income?


David Brake 07.08.09 at 11:42 am

Blogs turn into books often enough these days that a boutique publisher specialising in finding book-able blogs was bought up by HarperCollins:

The connection between social media and conventional publishing is one I intend to take up now that the PhD is done…


John Quiggin 07.08.09 at 11:48 am

#17. Looking at the contract I’m about to sign, a free copy for an insightful comment will be a pretty good deal, I think. Unless sales are stratospheric, I’m looking at about 20 cents a word.

Then there are the career benefits which in this case, I think, will consist of rendering me (more) unemployable at Chicago, Harvard, and any place that cares about what Chicago and Harvard think.


ajay 07.08.09 at 4:22 pm

12: can’t remember who came up with the Sellars and Yeatman-ish “Elocution, or the Origin of Speeches”…


JoB 07.09.09 at 8:02 am


Hmm, we’re not able to see the contract you’re about to sign so we’ll have to take your word for it (& is the free copy offered including the shipping charges?). Say the book & shipping charges are worth 10 USD then the maximum return per word will be less than that of your own words if the contribution is one of 50 words or more (and it seems difficult to make contributions of less than 50 words). In other words, you stand to take a ‘word agent’ margin which is substantial.

And what will you do when sales are stratospheric? More free books?

But more importantly what about the career benefits of the non-John contributors? Would you be willing to invest in an on-line platform that gives them the chance of reaching the audience in a direct way? Thus dispensing with the need of middle men – aren’t they always men outside of a romantic comedy setting? – and building up credibility via the standard channels (I assume that the non-John contributors have an access issue here which is very to the point given the targets of on-line crowding vis à vis traditional access rites used in academia and what have you).

Of course I’m not serious (and I do hope you get access to Chicago, I do!) but isn’t there a dead idea somewhere in all of this?


JoB 07.09.09 at 8:04 am

I’d also propose a ‘philosophical poetry’ anthology: “Tides, or the Origin of Beaches.”

No, don’t work further from ‘beaches’, please.


Tim Worstall 07.09.09 at 10:20 am

David Brake: The Friday Project went bust in spectacular fashion (err, they were my publisher) and what got bought was the name and the rubble.

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