Arnold Kling  

The Reading Class

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In The New York Times, Harriett Rubin writes,


It took Dee Hock, father of the credit card and founder of Visa, a thousand books to find The One. Mr. Hock walked away from business life in 1984 and looked back only from his library’s walls. He built a dream 2,000-square-foot wing for his books in a pink stucco mansion atop a hill in Pescadero, Calif. He sat among the great philosophers and the novelists of Western life like Steinbeck and Stegner and dreamed up a word for what Visa is: “chaordic” — complex systems that blend order and chaos.

In his library, Mr. Hock found the book that contained the thoughts of all of them. Visitors can see opened on his library table for daily consulting, Omar Khayyam’s “Rubáiyát,” the Persian poem that warns of the dangers of greatness and the instability of fortune.


The article is about the eccentric reading habits of CEO's. Back when I had my relocation web site, we got hold of some zip-code level marketing data. When I looked for purchases that correlated with affluence, hardback books was one of the strongest.

Rich people read. Books.

I have actually increased my reading of books in recent years. I've cut back on the time I spend with the newspaper (typically less than 5 minutes now, when it used to be at least half an hour). My magazine reading has shifted. I used to get tech/business porn like Wired and Fast Company. Now, I get Claremont Review, The New Atlantis, The Atlantic, and MIT Technology Review. TV is pretty much limited to the Super Bowl and the World Series.

Unlike Tyler, I have little taste for music, foreign travel, or the arts. I'm really boring. I'm surprised my wife hasn't left me.

UPDATE: Then there's this.


Since the fall of 2005, Google has joined several large West Coast companies such as Microsoft, Starbucks and Yahoo in hosting authors for weekly, sometimes daily, book-selling events that were once the sacred realm of bookstores. Although writers have long given lectures at universities and community centers, growing demand for them at the office is forcing publishers to rethink the traditional author tour and inducing booksellers to create ties with the corporate campus next door.

Hello? Aren't the Google minions eager to meet the author of Crisis of Abundance? Get to work on it, Hal.

Pointer from Tyler Cowen.

UPDATE:
Michael Leddy reports,


70% of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.

80% of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year.


Pointer from Melissa Clouthier.


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CATEGORIES: Business Economics



TRACKBACKS (3 to date)
TrackBack URL: http://econlog.econlib.org/mt/mt-tb.cgi/738
The author at Instapundit.com (v.2) in a related article titled http://instapundit.com/archives2/007660.php writes:
    IN LIGHT OF YESTERDAY'S POST ABOUT TV, ARNOLD KLING SENDS THIS: Back when I had my relocation web site, we got hold of some zip-code level marketing data. When I looked for purchases that correlated with affluence, hardback books was... [Tracked on July 28, 2007 7:51 AM]
COMMENTS (23 to date)
Your wife. writes:

"I'm surprised my wife hasn't left me."

Me too.

Michael Sullivan writes:

If you were looking at zip-code level data, I'm not sure you can zero in on "rich" people, at least for notions of "rich" as held by a typical middle class professional. Even looking at the wealthiest zips in the country, median family income is still 100-200k -- I'd guess the lion's share of people who live there are just high paid professionals: profs, engineers, investment bankers, salespeople, small business owners, executives, lawyers, doctors, etc. They make more money than most of us, and to the real have-nots they almost certainly look 'rich', but their lives are not terribly dissimilar to mine, they just have more money.

When I think "rich", I think of people who could live the high income lifestyle without working (i.e. 5-million+ NW), or who make so much money they could easily get there from scratch in 10 years.

Rue Des Quatre Vents writes:

As a writer for Technology Review, I'm flattered you consider us one of your media mainstays. Thanks!

Biomed Tim writes:

"Now, I get Claremont Review, The New Atlantis, The Atlantic, and MIT Technology Review."

That's fascinating. I would've never guessed. Now I'm interested in what magazines other readers of Econlog subscribe to.

Mine:
1. The Week
2. New Yorker
3. Economist
4. New Scientist

Steve writes:

The Economist
Car and Driver (although it was better before)

Eric Hanneken writes:

I currently don't subscribe to any magazines. The web has plenty of information, and it doesn't clutter my home.

larry writes:

The Atlantic
The Economist
Consumer Report
Penthouse

Karl Smith writes:

I don't subscribe to any magazines though I often read the Economist when my fiancee and I go to B&N.

Blogs are my only mental candy. The rest of my time is on a few books but mostly Google Scholar.

Mitch Oliver writes:
If you were looking at zip-code level data, I'm not sure you can zero in on "rich" people, at least for notions of "rich" as held by a typical middle class professional.
The perception of being rich is different than actually being rich. If someone is looking for those who actually are rich, what most people perceive as being rich is not relevant.
When I think "rich", I think of people who could live the high income lifestyle without working (i.e. 5-million+ NW), or who make so much money they could easily get there from scratch in 10 years.
People with great wealth (actually rich, not perceived as rich) do tend to live in the same zip-codes. I remember one wealthy man I knew (the president of a company at which I worked) remark about an estimate for basement work that, "they saw your zip-code and multiplied by 3."
Now I'm interested in what magazines other readers of Econlog subscribe to.
I'm with Eric Hanneken. Print news is dead; long live the interweb ;-)

Of course, you'll have to pry my books from my cold, dead hands.

Jason Devitt writes:

To be precise, your market data suggest that rich people buy books.

A library of hardback books still has great signalling value, regardless of whether any of them are read.

Jason

Brad Hutchings writes:

Arnold, funny post -- "tech/business porn" is a very funny phrase. When I used to travel on business a lot, I would always have Wired, FC, or Forbes with me for both reading and as a signaling mechanism. They'd often spark up interesting conversations. My favorite mag now is James Glassman's "The American". It's the magazine of a retrenching libertarian right, not so concerned about politics, but looking around at what's interesting. I kinda hope it's a signal of a post-political era, but either way, it's interesting "market porn", if you like that analogy.

Jason: Read Taleb's "The Black Swan"... You'll learn that the best libraries consist exclusively of unread books ;-).

Steve Sailer writes:

Fortunately, America isn't importing millions of poor people from one of the least book-reading countries on earth!

Oh, wait ... we are. Never mind ...

Michael Sullivan writes:

People with great wealth (actually rich, not perceived as rich) do tend to live in the same zip-codes.

Yes, of course they do, most of the time along with a lot of other people who do not have great wealth, but who merely represent the top end of the upper middle class (or who are perhaps on their way to being very wealthy). I would guess that there are very few zip codes whose residents are predominantly rich in the sense you mean.

I live in an area (Connecticut) where a number of zip codes contain a lot of actually rich people, but I do not think they represent the majority in any of these communities. Perhaps in places where there are not lots and lots of upper-upper middle class folks (i.e. away from big metropolises like NYC or LA) there are little zip codes that the actually rich people have colonized whole and kept out the riff raff who have to work and only make a couple hundred thousand a year, but I'm not aware of any places like that around here. It's much more likely to go by neighborhood.

Barbar writes:

[Comment deleted for supplying false email address. Email the webmaster@econlib.org to restore this comment.--Econlib Ed.]

Horatio writes:

"Fortunately, America isn't importing millions of poor people from one of the least book-reading countries on earth!

Oh, wait ... we are. Never mind ..."

Why do you believe Mexico is "one of the least book-reading countries on earth"? I would expect them to be about average, but certainly well below the U.S. and the rest of the west.

8 writes:

Seinfeld: "I read!"
Elaine: "Books, Jerry!"

1. Forbes
2. First Things
3. New Criterion
4. American Rifleman
5. Caijing

Michael Sullivan writes:

People with great wealth (actually rich, not perceived as rich) do tend to live in the same zip-codes.

lets also strike to the roote of a ridiculous assumption here. There is no objective definition of just how much wealth or income is required to be "rich". You can make one up if you want, but you'd have to specify exactly what you mean, you can't just say "rich" and expect people to know what objective standard you are using.

Since Arnold is at least a middle class professional (and possibly quite wealthy, I don't know), I assume he means something by rich that is close to what you or I mean.

I was merely trying to be clear since the term is not specific. To a typical Nigerian, pretty much anyone in the US or europe with a decent job is rich, and I feel quite sure that you too would consider that "actually rich" if you were in their place, as opposed to the "perceived as rich" guy in town is who has a wooden house and eats meat every week.

Joshua Holmes writes:

If al-Qaida could get recruits as obsessed with jihad as Sailer is about immigration, this country would be in deep shit.

Steve Sailer writes:

"Why do you believe Mexico is "one of the least book-reading countries on earth"?"

Because I've read books about Mexico, which say exactly that. Try "Distant Neighbors," for a starter.

Further, the annual list of "Most Literate Cities" in America always ends up with the entire Bottom 10 being heavily Mexican-American cities like El Paso and Santa Ana.

Adam writes:

If you're interested in how the internet is changing the author tour, check out famed author of the Long Tail Chris Anderson's new project, BookTour.

Authors create their own page (biography, books, tour dates and availability) and any group looking for speakers can find them and contact them directly to arrange for an appearance. Relevant information for both authors and venues can be added in minutes through a simple fill-in-the-blanks interface. Connecting authors with potential audiences then becomes as easy as searching (by geography, book titles, subject, dates of availability) and sending an email.
For authors, BookTour.com serves as a one-stop tool for book promotion, allowing authors at all levels of their careers to locate receptive live audiences. For readers and audiences, BookTour.com makes finding when a favorite author is coming to your town as easy as checking the weather.

Bill Hobbs writes:

Arnold, I think you would enjoy reading The Catalyst Code, by David S. Evans and Richard Schmalensee.

The book's website, with blog, is catalystcode.com.

I will arrange to have a review copy sent to you if I can locate an address for you. (You may email me your mailing address.)

Bill Hobbs
MeshMediaStrategies.com

Stephen writes:

Magazines: I subscribe to too many magazines, so I let subscriptions lapse, wait for a we-want-you-back deal, resubscribe, etc. Magazines that I am in the habit of subscribing to: Atlantic Monthly, Consumer Reports, Economist, Forbes, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated, Time, and Wired. I also receive magazines from a number of educational institutions, and the quality and depth of their articles have noticeably improved over the years.

Wealth by Zip Code in the SF Bay Area: while the super-rich cluster in Atherton and Hillsborough, there are very wealthy people scattered throughout the Bay Area. In my neighborhood which still has a lot of under-$1 million homes, there are several decamillionaires. Perhaps they have a freer life living quietly in a safe middle/upper-middle-class community?

On Buying Books and Magazines: I have purchased too many books and magazines because I aspired to read them, not because I really wanted to. Well, I'm sated with Shakespeare, done with Dickens, and finished with Faulkner. As for National Geographic---never again!

Jim C. writes:

Jason Devitt writes: "To be precise, your market data suggest that rich people buy books."

Exactly. It's been years since the Chicago Public Library (among many others) has put their catalog online and added reservations and delivery to my local branch. In my case, the result is that I've curtailed my modest book-buying and replaced it with even more book-borrowing. The exceptions are a very few very recent or non-mainstream things I'm interested in that even the library doesn't have.

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