Vox is five years old this month. Here is an extract from the inaugural column:
“What is VoxEU.org?
Vox aims to enrich the economic policy debate in Europe and beyond. On the supply side, Vox makes it easier for serious researchers to contribute. On the demand side, Vox makes the knowledge of researchers more accessible to the public.
Easier for researchers to contribute
Existing outlets make it costly for most economic researchers to participate in the public discourse. Some outlets (such as books, reports, or articles in journals such as Economic Policy and Brookings) involve massive time commitments. Others (such as newspaper articles or personal blogs) involve a writing style which interests very few researchers. Vox columns are up to 1500 words (twice the length of newspaper columns). Although some will be written in the style of newspaper columns, they can also be written for trained economists rather than the average newspaper reader, thus allowing researchers to use standard economic terminology. Both elements make it easier for researchers to contribute to the public debate. In a Vox column, for instance, there is nothing wrong with using terms like ‘present discounted value’ and ‘median voter’ in a comment on pension reform.
Research-based policy commentary by researchers
The writers of Vox columns are researchers, and most of the columns are research-based. The topics cover the full range of economic policy and political economy topics. The primary intended audience is economists – and users of economic research – in governments, international organisations, academia as well as journalists and commentators specialising in economics, finance and business.”
The first years
I wrote that in early June 2007 for posting on 12 June 2007. That was before the subprime crisis, Lehman Brothers, the global crisis, the Great Trade Collapse, the G20, quantitative easing, and so on.
While Vox was well-read before things blew up in August 2007, nothing brought Vox to the fore faster than the pell-mell unravelling of the crisis from September 2008 – an unravelling that is still ongoing. The world, it seems, had changed in ways that only a few experts understood and even the experts did not see all the pieces. Vox became a vehicle for sharing this knowledge quickly and effectively – without having to write long reports, or trying to dumb down complex ideas, facts, and theories into 800 words for the FT.
Vox’s first birthday column could claim:
“Over 550 economists have written columns for Vox in its first year including some of the profession’s academic greats such as Daron Acemoglu, Alberto Alesina, Tim Besley, Jagdish Bhagwati, Olivier Blanchard, Alan Blinder, Esther Duflo, Francesco Giavazzi, Charles Goodhart, Robert Gordon, Nobel laureate James Heckman, Paul Klemperer, Paul Krugman, Lisa Lynch, Andreu Mas-Colell, Ken Rogoff, Sir Nicholas Stern, Guido Tabellini, Jean Tirole, Michael Woodford, and many more.”
Half the readers were in the US with the big four European nations accounting for another quarter. Back then Vox did not do well in Asia: only about 1.4% of the readers were located in Japan and the same in China; all Asia accounted for just 5.6% of the readership.
The readership has grown steadily as Figure 1 shows.
Figure 1. Daily visitors to VoxEU.org
The peaks correspond to exciting moments in the global crisis or star-columns such as Eichengreen and O’Rourke (2009), which has been viewed 720,000 times.
- Most days something like 35,000 visitors stop by Vox, spend about nine minutes on the site and look at two to three columns;
- For the last seven months, Vox averaged over three million page views per month (all time high was 6.5 million just as the Eurozone crisis started to explode in April 2010).
- 9.4 million distinct IP addresses have accessed Vox since June 2007;
- The total number of visits since the start is 41.2 million.
- About 2,800 authors have posted columns on Vox; we average 80 columns per month now, most of which are co-authored.
The geographic readership has broadened significantly. In Figure 2, the top chart shows June 2008, the bottom shows June 2012. Since these are based on total visitors since 2007, the shift down in the US’s role and the big increase in Asian readership underestimates the true market shares of today.
Figure 2. Where do our readers come from?
Once the site became established, Team Vox gradually expanded. CEPR’s Publications Manager, Anil Shamdasani, started doing most of the posting, then-Oxford student Jonathan Dingel came on board to help with the copyediting and coherence in Vox style (he is now finishing his PhD at Columbia). Behind the scenes, Robert Clark, CEPR's peerless Computer Services Manager, did the original coding; he also guided Vox through its rapid traffic growth and continual expansion of features.
Vox’s innovation of eBooks increased the flow of editing work and created peak demands, so we expanded the team to include Pierre-Louis Vézina, then one of my PhD students (now a post-doc at Oxford), to help with the ever-growing load of copyediting. In November 2009, Bob Denham – a British journalist with a first in Economics from Bristol University – joined. Viv Davies, CEPR’s Chief Operating Officer, started guiding some Vox columns through the pipeline last year, after having successfully introduced the Vox Talks innovation with Romesh Vaitilingam. Stephen Yeo, who is normally overstretched as CEPR CEO, gets even further stretched to help Vox in crunch moments, such as eBooks, eReports, or more recently eCollections. The London-based team, led by Anil, was ably assisted for the last few years by Sam Reid, a role now played by Charlie Anderson.
Thanks to readers
The meeting of writers and readers is beneficial to both, but to be honest, the audience is the really hard part. One of the truly scarce things in this world is a good, big, and accessible audience of readers who are in a position to use economic analysis. The world’s best economists are driven, among other things, by a desire to employ their brains, hard work, and specialised knowledge in the interests of better informing the policy choices that affect people’s everyday lives. The fact that Vox readers include a vast range of government officials, private sector economists, elite business media professionals, and academics is a strong draw for the world’s best, policy-relevant economists. It is thus appropriate to close this column by thanking the readers who make it all possible.
Eichengreen, Barry and Kevin H O’Rourke (2010), “A tale of two depressions: What do the new data tell us?”, VoxEU.org, 8 March.