It is the slacker writers who need agglomeration most of all

Do note the latter part of the last sentence, but the entire thesis is interesting:

This paper utilises a unique, purpose-built panel dataset on prominent authors in the UK and Ireland born 1700–1925 to estimate the productivity gains associated with agglomeration of an industry with few capital requirements and no apparent need to cluster geographically. I find the average author experiences productivity gains of 11.94% per annum when residing in London, the only major literary cluster – a gain not associated with living in any of the minor literary clusters. I find evidence of negative selection with respect to productivity, indicating the results are not driven by the self-selection of highly productive authors to London. I find heterogeneity of returns to living in London by birth cohort and Impact Index quartile (a measure of author quality) and that the cohorts who receive the greatest gains from locating in London are those for which there is the strongest evidence of negative selection with respect to productivity.

That is by Sara Mitchell in the Journal of Urban Economics, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.


The article here:

Footnote #2 : "Total number of known publications includes any type of publication: novel, collection of poetry or short stories, anthologies, contributions to literary magazines, plays, memoirs, etc. All publications were given equal weight. We have no measure of the quality of individual publications".

1700-1925? The golden age of the penny dreadful was 1830-1890. The serialized novels, for example the ones from Charles Dickens, are also from the 19th Century. Do every episode in the series count as an individual publication?

The article does not provides a discussion about serial publications. Thus, it's not known what "number of publications" is actually measuring, and this is the main variable for the estimation of productivity.

What's productivity for an author? Is it finishing manuscripts or getting them published or getting them bought or getting them read?

I can imagine productivity in terms of finishing a work is higher outside of London, but productivity in terms of getting publishers to buy your work and getting newspapers to promote your work is higher when you are in London.

Evelyn Waugh, for example, generally had to go to the country to finish his novels, but going to parties in Mayfair was good for both getting his work talked up and for getting ideas for his next piece. The public liked to read Waugh's accounts of Mayfair parties (e.g., his first bestseller, Vile Bodies) and he could have profitably spent much of his career churning them out (but he had to go to the country to actually write them up).

Writing is overrated. These days it is all about comic books. Marvel turns out to be a better buy for Disney than Star Wars,

I'm sorry to break you heart but comic books are not movie scripts. Those are still done by a team of fiction writers. Those one-liners need to be polished to perfection.

One-liners would seem quaintly witty and civilized compared to today's one-worders

Marvel seems to demonstrate and prove that modern audiences basically want spectacle and funny fake improvised dialogue, while not caring too much about coherence of the "universe" being depicted or coherence of plot or characterization. Nothing in Black Panther, Avengers, etc. makes any sense in terms of how their worlds work, or their rules (their economics or their "physics"), or in terms of how they're plotted (How much deus ex machina teleporting can you fit into a movie's denouement? Avengers: Infinity War seems determined to test the limit. The plot is openly driven by macguffin magical stones. And so on.) Neither are the characters in the movies hugely consistent from one to the next, nor to the extent they are, do these characterisations follow clear and compelling arcs or have interesting internal conflicts.

(To any of those who object to the above, they're fun movies, but let's be real about their shortcomings.)

Star Wars is based on an era which gave some value to coherence of universe, plot, and characters, and in which Lucas tried to say something (perhaps anodyne, but something) through his talk of the force. Disney can't do much other than rehash this or take it down terrible SJWish fan service paths, so they are at fault there, but we can't really fault them too much that the audience isn't that discerning about the positives that Star Wars has to offer.

Chewbacca died. Jar Jar Binks lives. Sad. I guess there is still R2D2.

Now do Game of Thrones.

Seriously. A quick precis of the principal source of its popularity. (I'm not dissing it at all! I've just never seen it, or even a trailer for it - I don't even know *where* you see it. Kinda like I totally missed "Breaking Bad.") I've just been surprised how much passionate discussion it generates (online, I mean).

Game of Thrones hit the sweet spot of being a fantasy drama that can be watched seriously. If they played up the fantasy elements too much, it would be an R-rated Harry Potter or something on the Sci-Fi channel, which isn't bad, but not what grownups will be talking about. By instead focusing on the characters and their development, all of whom are morally dubious, with the polish of an HBO production you get hooked into it like you would with other HBO classics like the Wire or Sopranos.

Thanks, that's helpful. I had wondered if it was somehow filling a void in the lives of the Harry Potter generation.

It sounds pretty good. If Raylan and Boyd were in it, I'd definitely tune in.

The reason for hollywood decline is the international audience in which no hero can be produced in real world context, of sufficient scale to bring people into theaters. So, just as Tom Clancy stated, it became impossible to create more books of the scale of Red October because there were no credible threats. Movies have a worse problem: there are no heroic circumstances other than comic universes, science fiction universes, or zombie universes, and the jewish favorite, the nazi universe, to produce a movie for international consumption of sufficient scale and interest to bring americans into theaters. Acts of heroism (mythos) require an us and them. The us in the west consists of all of us as one. The us in the east is the family. And the us in the middle east it's family or religion. And every variation in between. So, this is why we get nonsense comic characters on one end, and on the other end thrillers about having children kidnapped or family members threatened - because the family is the lowest common denominator of heroism - and not heroic enough to fill theaters. Good movies requires nationalism. (Campbell and all that.) Ergo the movie industry is a dead man walking other than for clown worlds.

Writing is overrated. These days it is all about comic books.

In the movie theater -- sadly, yes (for the most part, anyway). But on Netflix, Prime, HBO, etc? Definitely not. There's plenty of demand for good script writing. In fact, on the small screen, writing predominates over both special effects and 'bankable' stars. If you have just a few weeks to earn a profit in a global theatrical run, stars and spectacle are important. But if a show can build an audience over time, they're not really necessary.

It's an odd framing for this article to suggest that "slacker writers" who are negatively selected on productivity are beneficiaries. It's probably most likely to be writers who are not inspired by their upbringing and who were inspired by London who moved to London.

Assuming this is not simply an economic artefact of closeness to the publishing centres as Sailer suggests. And in terms of "need", literary productivity as measured by weight of books and words, it is among the most dubious of measure of productivity to equate with utility.

Re; upbringing, poor word choice, read instead "whatever province they came from before London".

A few years ago, Tom Wolfe let Michael Lewis read through his old letters to his parents. Lewis reported that Wolfe, who was from Richmond, VA, was a pleasant but rather dull young man at Washington & Lee college, which he found congenial to his Southern conservative tastes. But Wolfe suddenly turned into the brilliant satirist we know when he arrived in the liberal Northeast.

Wolfe wrote four novels, all consciously chosen to be interesting places -- Atlanta, Miami, and and elite North Carolina college. But the best was set in the biggest city: New York. For this genre of quasi-Great American Novel, New York is the best place to set your story.

I noted the last sentence, entered it, spun, dizzy, it threw me out confused.

Hanging around bars in Pasadena, gave me the impression that everyone in Southern California was working on a screen play. On the average it's doubtful that many were making it to the silver screen or even a DVD.

The kids at my elementary school forty years ago fell into two camps: those from the single-family neighborhoods of mostly stable families thereabouts, and more transient kids from the vast sprawl of apartment complexes that were thrown up in a period of about ten years. One of my temporary 3rd grade schoolfellows from the latter group, with whom I was friendly for the few months I knew her, often boasted of the "screenplay" her father was working on (a new term for me, we being far from California; far from America in some ways).

Then one day, she brought a several-inch thick typewritten manuscript to school with the instruction that her father said I was to take it home and read it.

This was a bit bewildering.

I saw that it was very profane. I believe it gave off a Sam Shepard vibe, though I of course didn't know that at the time. Dreary adult stuff.

I gave it back to her - unread, obviously - as soon as seemed polite, and assured her it was indeed very good.

How is it children instinctively know when a loser, at least when it's not their own parent, has entered their orbit? Still, I wouldn't exactly call it slacker-ish, to put down all those words. Even to make something bad is work of a sort. And who knows, maybe it was a great achievement, unappreciated far from London!

"[P]rominent authors in the UK and Ireland born 1700–1925" would therefore include Richard Doddridge Blackmore (b. 1825), Victorian novelist who died the year before the Nobel Prizes in Literature commenced (by Wikipedia Blackmore is cited as "one of the most famous English novelists of the second half of the nineteenth century", while the Oxford Companion to English literature [4th ed.] urges readers to consider Blackmore's novel Springhaven [1887], "a pleasant tale of adventure and romance centering in a small southern port in the days of the Napoleonic wars, and presenting Wellington, Napoleon, and George III"--as opposed to Blackmore's arguably better-known novel Lorna Doone [1869]).

Both litterateurs and hacks might see that Blackmore's present career as "one of the most famous English novelists of the second half of the nineteenth century" has suffered negative selection with respect to--plot development? characterizations? literary history? grammar, syntax, or semantics? (I do pick on RDP a little: I don't know how popular a Victorian novelist he remains in the UK or ever became in the US).

I suppose one thing I might mean: what could this cited economics alert warn writers of that knowledge of British literary history itself fails to convey? Even passing acquaintance with 18th cent. Brit lit includes awareness of the notoriety of Grub Street (in LONDON!) as immortalized by Samuel Johnson among others.

Contemporary economists may yet well lack the apt categories they might want to use with which to say anything intelligent or substantive about literary enterprise.

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