April 28, 2014 Last Updated 1:35 pm

The economics book that has them talking, has buyers searching for a hardcover copy

Each Monday, TNM looks at books – either a new book on the publishing industry, or new digital book releases.

Right now Harvard University Press is probably thanking their lucky stars that there is such a thing as an eBook. There are probably also questioning their decision to not sell through the Apple iBooks Store.

Cap-cover-featureIf you are an economics or political junkie, it would be hard to have missed the latest book that has the media world talking. Capital in the Twenty-First Century is an unlikely bestseller, written by French economist Thomas Piketty, and translated by Arthur Goldhammer. The book is an unlikely bestseller as it is an almost 700 page tome on modern economics and the growing concentration of wealth into a few hands. It is a call for progressive taxes, for one thing – and a book much written about, but likely few have actually read.

The book leads the Amazon.com best seller list, but is only 20th on the NYT’s list of combined print and digital editions, 15th on the print list, 18th on the eBook list.

As we concern ourselves only with publishing issues, a review of the book itself is not forthcoming (besides, I haven’t read it!) but here is a little background:

Piketty’s argument, as expressed in interviews, is that inequality is damaging to democracy. He argues that when the accumulation of wealth by the elite grows at a faster pace than overall economic growth than inequality grows. He believes that the economic growth seen following World War II was unique, and that we are now back in a period where inherited wealth is creating an oligarchy.

Amazon reader reviews are five star or one star, with very, very few in between. One doubts most reviewers have read the book, or at least completed it. Many negative reviews are like this one from a reader from Texas:

Someone sent me a link to this book… I read the intro, saw the author’s creditials, so I dropped $22 for the Kindle version. My advice… save your money. This is the same old lady in a new dress — Marx redux. You can read Marx for free on the web, don’t waste your money on this book.

The book has received a lengthy review by NYT economics columnist Paul Krugman, who loved it, and a snarky pan from columnist David Brooks.

For Harvard University Press, it all must be coming as a shock, as few large economics books can expect to get this much attention. Clearly Capital has hit a nerve. As a result, Amazon.com has sold out of the hardcover copy and readers are turning to Kindle Editions, priced above $20 to access the book. According to what the publisher told The Washington Post, the book has sold 48,000 hardcover copies and around 9,000 eBook copies, though one guesses that number will climb now that the hardcover version is sold out on Amazon.com.

Attempts to contact the publicity department at Harvard University Press were unsuccessful, despite numerous attempts to reach them via email and telephone.

One question that I would have asked, and they may be asking themselves, is why the book is not available on Apple’s iBooks Store. The publisher sells eBooks through Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble and Google Play (where there are, interestingly enough, only four reviews – three five star and one negative predictably calling the book “banter by a socialist liberal.”)


TNM looks at books about publishing, and developments in digital book publishing every Monday. To have your book or eBook considered for this feature, contact TNM through the Contact page or by emailing TNM at talkingnewmedia (at) gmail.com.

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