Since its release in January, Tyler Cowen's The Great Stagnation has been one of the most talked-about books of the year, both for its thesis -- that America's economy has largely stalled since we used up the low-hanging fruit that propelled our growth for centuries, while we have pretended that those easy resources are still there -- and for how it was published, as a $4 eSpecial.
Cowen is a professor of economics at George Mason University, where he is general director of the Mercatus Center. He blogs at marginalrevolution.com, where you can find a recent TEDx talk he gave on his book.
The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All the Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better comes out in hardcover tomorrow, June 9.
INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS TIMES: You've said you consider the electronic edition the real book, yet many people wanted a physical version. Do you think it's just a matter of time before that dynamic shifts, and people primarily conceptualize e-editions as real books?
TYLER COWEN: Lots of books will be eBooks only, including short tracts and articles, but I don't think regular books will ever disappear as a major force. The tactile and visual elements are too much fun. As the eBook rises, I would sooner say that the whole category of a book becomes muddy and ill-defined, rather than that eBooks define what a book is.
IBTIMES: What have you learned about the economics of eBook publishing since January?
COWEN: I have learned that many more authors will have a crack at the field, but also that lower book prices mean lower $$ returns for a lot of writers. Most writers. [The Dutton hardcover's list price is $12.95.]
IBTIMES: What has most surprised you about non-economists' responses to The Great Stagnation?
COWEN: I am surprised how much attention the book received. But I suppose it came along at the right time, at a time when the United States was not recovering from its recession very rapidly or very effectively. The book predicted that, but I also consider it to be a bit of luck (bad luck for the world, though) for the timing of the book.
IBTIMES: You say that communications, the Internet and cell phones is the one sector that has really blossomed and been very innovative in recent decades. Are there lessons there that businesses in other sectors can take away, modify and implement themselves to drive their own growth?
COWEN: Other sectors will need to build themselves around the Internet, and around cell phones, in a more fundamental way than they have been doing. Right now those new technologies are so often treated as add-ons. Just look at higher education. It does use the Internet for sure. But it has yet to revolutionize the basic structure of the sector, which it will.
IBTIMES: Do you intend to publish your next work as an eBook first?
COWEN: I genuinely do not know, but for sure that is not a definite plan on my part. The odds are no.
IBTIMES: How long have you been liberating books? Where are your favorite places to leave them?
COWEN: I enjoy leaving books in airports, and also in hotel rooms and on park benches on the street in well-known or beautiful places. I've been doing this for maybe 30 years? Maybe more. I'm 49 years old.
Edward B. Colby is the Books section editor of the International Business Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.