Beyond Agglomeration? The Role of Spatial Proximity and Social Interaction in Literary Production

Sara Mitchell, TU Dortmund

This paper explores the ‘black box’ of agglomeration effects provides evidence of potential channels through which these gains occur in the context of literary production. In particular, this paper determines how spatial and social proximity to peers affects productivity by investigating the effect of the concentration of literary activity, the average quality of co-located authors, living in the same city as a ‘superstar’, and the co-location of socially connected authors. It also examines these effects by heterogeneity of own-quality, as own-quality may impact ability to form useful social connections. This study utilises a unique dataset with information on the birth location and lifetime migration, productivity (number of publications), quality and demographic characteristics of 370 prominent authors in the UK and Ireland born 1700–1925. The dataset also identifies social network connections between authors in the dataset. This purpose-built dataset was constructed by manually transcribing unstructured information from encyclopaedia entries to a structured environment. This paper constructs age-productivity profiles to determine the productivity gains associated with the geographic concentration of authors and of social connections on literary output and estimates the heterogeneity of returns by the quality and productivity of co-located peers and social connections. Individual fixed effects are used to control for spatial and group sorting. The within estimator reveals that the concentration of co-located authors has a modest negative effect on individual productivity, while the number of social connections has a positive effect on productivity. For London-based authors, the average quality of co-located authors has a negative effect on productivity. There is no evidence of a ‘superstar’ effect. The analysis reveals substantial heterogeneity of returns by own-author quality. This analysis provides quantitative evidence that literary production was a highly-competitive industry and that social connections played an important role in literary success.

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 Presented in Session 4. Ideas, Language, and Media