I think the book will survive. There is a level of thematic integration that you can get with a book that you cannot get at the level of an essay or blog post. But maybe there will be fewer books and maybe that's good.

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Books have an important role in imparting knowledge. At present I am learning about Russia’s history from 300 AD to the present with the help of two books:

Restless Empire, A Historical Atlas of Russia by Ian Barnes

Russia: Myths and Realities, by Rodric Braithwaite

I am reading both books together, chronologically. You cannot achieve this kind of knowledge by just reading Substack. Moreover, you need the background information in order to make judgments about the current conflict in the Ukraine.

Add to this trying to learn Latin, Spanish and linear algebra and you quickly find life is impossible without books.

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As usual, Arnold presents an interesting proposition; Substacks are better than books because more information dense. But some subjects require a sustained argument that if not in book form would need many Substack posts, and it is certainly much more convenient to have them all collected in one work. The book allows focus and rapid checking back to previous text, helpful and sometimes essential when reading difficult material.

So while I am quite enthusiastic about Substacks, I think it is going too far to see them eclipsing books.

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The main problem is the norm that nonfiction books have ~50,000 words (~200 printed pages).

The concern seems to be that book buyers won't feel like they are getting "their money's worth" for a shorter book, so authors have to pad out their ideas with additional examples, exposition, speculation about the future, etc. to hit the target length.

Maybe I'm unusual, but I would happily pay *more* for a short book with the key information condensed into ~15,000 words or fewer (~50 pages).

I don't find Substack especially information-dense once you account for the time required to find and filter new posts. Many Substack authors start out strong - they have a couple of key ideas that summarize ~decades of thinking and experience. But once they work through their "big ideas", many of them drop in quality or frequency. A common pattern is for Substack posts to become more "reactive" - writing takes in response to news, current events, etc.

Given the quality distribution of posts, I don't think the monetization model really works. A Substack author's best posts might be "valued" at >100x the value of a later link roundup or reaction to the news. But they collected the same $5/$10/whatever for both months.

Substack might be more information-dense if there were:

- An active and reliable ecosystem of "post reviews" (similar to book reviews) and curated lists of the best posts, not just the best newsletters.

- Less friction to buy just the best posts. You can subscribe and immediately churn, but it's a cludgy experience.

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I'm skeptical of non-fiction books, mostly because 95%+ of them are completely made up. There is too much incentive to take a non-replicable pop-science finding and stretch it into 300 pages of entertainment. Maybe I need to get better at selecting non-fiction but I almost always walk away feeling stupider, or at least that I've wasted my time.

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Substack is broader than books, by far, tho also a bit distracting. It's especially good for we "Jacks of all (intellectual) trades". But substack will not allow any to become a master. Books and work on depth in some field do that.

Twitter is especially distracting. In the last week, while mostly lying on my bad back to avoid sitting, I spent more time than usual on Twitter, but it was mostly infoTAINMENT, or even more RAGEotainment, so your critique of Twitter is more true than Tyler's support -- I'm guessing he doesn't quite read the many tweet lines he semi-sees & skips, so doesn't include them in his density calc.

Best book read in 2022 was Wrangham's 2020 book: "The Goodness Paradox" on human evolution of cooperation AND coordinated violence. Great book for discussion.

You, Rob Henderson, Hanania, and many others should certainly consider making a self-published or small publisher book publishing of some 100-150 pages of essays. Your 105 page third edition of The Three Languages of Politics (gift of my daughter!) was excellent, along with another 50 pages of notes, further reading, appendix.

Freddie deBoer's "The Cult of Smart" (one of my 2022 presents , not yet read) is a much longer 243 bigger pages, denser font - almost certainly with more repetition than is optimal. But such books do provide a good amount of "Serious Intellectual" signaling, to many. Probably 99% of the signal, and info (99.9%?), at only 50% of the size would be possible. More substackers doing this would push this along.

I want to nominate Freddie for either or both a book discussion and a live talk. I was about to stop subscribing to him because he's a Marxist, but he recently wrote: "Be Independent! No, Not Like That"

https://freddiedeboer.substack.com/p/be-independent-no-not-like-that so I'm mostly just going to stop reading his negative comments.

Those not smart enough to signal to others that they're smart enough to signal effectively, are most likely not so smart that one misses great insights by not following them. [In "Take No Prisoners", live Lou Reed album, he puts down a heckler: "If you write as good as you talk, nobody reads you."]

Books are almost all more info dense than podcasts, which is why I strongly prefer transcripts.

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On this take I have to disagree with you, Kling. Yes, there is a genre of non-fiction book where they take hundreds of pages where an essay of 10 would have sufficed. Often, academics end up writing this type of book, because they have a bunch of papers they want to publicize and their publisher want a normal length book, not some skimpy rag.

But some (non-fiction) books provide learning and insight that no blog or podcast or journal article can match. Many (auto)biographies are like this. Some economics classics are like this (including Wealth of Nations IMO, some books on history of thought, and books on particular industries).

I (grad student) always look first to the internet (including journals) to do research, but so often it takes a great book to really sort things out.

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This brush is too broad. Some university press books are still very dense. But what one might call "Barnes and Nobles non-fiction" frequently fail to attract my serious attention. They are pretty thin, and perhaps have been trending thinner and thinner for some time now. It's disconcerting to me that so many social science books revolve around the same 50 or 100 papers. Publishers, writers, and readers value thick argumentation about as much as they tolerate equations. "Each equation divides readership by 10".

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For me the form factor of a book goes a long way. I like being able to relax away from my devices. What if Substack published "best of" books in various different topic areas, consisting of top posts (fact-checked and revised) from top bloggers? That could get the best of all worlds.

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The analogue nature of books has too many advantages to die out to Substack. Interestingly, I’ve been reading more books and less Substack lately and found that to be more enjoyable. Maybe I’m less “interested in ideas”, but I feel anxious after reading Substack.

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It is useful here to remember why books were originally designed. They were not designed to be efficient transmitters of information-dense material. They were designed to be a more space and resource-efficient alternative to scrolls. In other words, they only exist because of the logistical limits of the Gutenberg era (and earlier).

Books can not hyperlink; Substacks can. Books often put an overwhelming and distracting amount of information in your visual field; Substacks don't

Books were humanity's greatest repository of knowledge for centuries, and for that we should be grateful for them. But they are not efficient methods of transmitting knowledge. I hope we move on to better means of knowledge-transmission. For that reason, I am looking into working with educators and tech founders to develop a child-friendly alternative to textbooks that works as a better method of learning.

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Non-fiction books took a big step down in my time allocation when podcasts came out. Listening to a thoughtful interview with a n author for an hour got me enough grounding in key concepts that I often felt fine skipping the book. Substack is maybe an in between. So far, big fan.

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Another point, re: “I wish that Tyler Cowen would switch his essays to Substack.”

The search function on Substack is not nearly good enough for this yet. It is much easier to find interesting old posts on MR as currently constituted.

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This is an interesting post. My initial reaction to the headline was "This is wrong," but: you do have a point. Non-fiction books strike me as more information-dense than podcasts. But the concision of your typical Substack post (bar, say, the prolix Scott Alexander) does yield more information density than most non-fiction books.

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Filtering well is more important than ever. For all its faults and biases I still find wikipedia a useful resource and use it at least every other day.

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One recent book that does merit a lot of praise is Richard Hanania’s “Public Choice Theory and the Illusion of Grand Strategy”. I was expecting it to be dry and overreferenced (despite good content) but have been impressed by how much value it added for me on top of his substack writings. Perhaps I need more context on the topic than others or appreciated reading Hanania without the trolling more than others will.

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