And it’s a lot more interesting and fun to read than a standard text. We started from scratch in producing it, incorporating a lot of economic history, data, experiments, and interesting theory – including social preferences, strategic interaction, incomplete information, incomplete contracts, disequilibrium dynamics, and more.
I’m a book-maker, which, for the most part, means I turn Word documents and Powerpoint slides into books. These days, my team and I also turn them into websites and ebooks. To do it well, we draw on 500 years of book-making craft. And very rarely we get to try to add something to that craft.
The CORE project – specifically, the production of their textbook The Economy – has enabled us to do really exciting, perhaps pioneering, book-making work…
For over fifteen years, book-makers like me have been pulled in two directions: you’re a print person or you’re a digital person. This is largely a practical matter: the skills and tools for each have been completely different. Which meant the workflows for creating each format were completely different, as were their distribution channels… the practical matter of skills has framed the evolution of publishing as ‘print vs digital’, when of course the conversation should be about print and digital. Not just because we’re stuck with a multiformat world whether we like it or not, but because print and digital formats are symbiotic. In ambitious book projects, especially where we want a book to have a social impact, neither can be successful without the other.
Print books generate instant credibility. They carry a sense of permanence and authority that digital formats cannot muster… But print does not scale, and it’s locked into a funding model where the end-user pays for every copy.
Digital formats, and websites in particular, are the opposite. Web publications struggle to muster the authority of a printed book, but they scale instantly and allow for a range of funding models… Books as websites can be public goods in a way that printed books cannot, especially for the poor.
So, when a book needs to make an impact, it simply must be in print and digital formats. It cannot have impact without the authority of print. And it cannot have impact without the scale of the web…
For most book-makers like me, who make print and digital publications, this has meant creating two versions: the print edition and the digital edition. The print edition is usually the master, and the digital version a laborious, post-production conversion.
This is an expensive process, often done by teams of glorified copy-pasters. And since most books need to be corrected and updated after a short time, everything must be done twice, and version control between the formats is error-prone.
Clearly the holy grail for book-production workflows is to produce all formats from one source simultaneously. Many teams have tackled this challenge. Big incumbents like Adobe have tried valiantly to extend their print-production tools to produce ready-to-use digital formats, but their roots in page design are too deep to make this simple or scalable. And, given the nature of the web and the high costs of developing software, digital workflows based on proprietary software don’t spread or become standards.
For print-and-digital book production to grow we need open-source tools that produce high-end, print-ready files and sensible websites. With the CORE project, we are right at the frontier.
There’s some serious disruption going on in economics pedagogy and textbook publishing right now, and it’s exciting to be in the thick of things.