Vox is ten years old this month

Richard Baldwin 30 June 2017

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Vox is ten years old this month. A few facts to celebrate the anniversary:

  • We’ve published over 5,800 columns by almost 6,200 authors since June 2007.
  • We get between 150,000 and 200,000 distinct visitors per month, who together view between 400,000 and 500,000 columns per month.
  • The US has the biggest readership – accounting for about a quarter – followed by the UK and the big EU nations; India is now the 7th biggest source of readers.
  • The most popular Vox column by far is “A tale of two depressions” by Barry Eichengreen and Kevin O'Rourke; the column, which compared the Great Depression to the Great Recession, has been viewed over a million times!

Seventeen Nobel Prize winners have authored Vox columns: Robert Lucas, Jr., Robert C. Merton, James Heckman, George Akerlof, Michael Spence, Daniel Kahneman, Finn E. Kydland, Paul Krugman, Christopher A. Pissarides, Thomas J. Sargent, Christopher A. Sims, Alvin E. Roth, Robert J. Shiller, Jean Tirole, Angus Deaton, Oliver Hart, and Bengt Holmström.

The hit parade

Here are the top ten most-viewed columns

Here are the top twenty most-viewed authors

The goal of Vox

Vox is and always has been aimed at bringing research-based commentary and analysis to the worldwide audience of people interested in serious economics. Here, for example, is an extract from the inaugural column that I wrote for 12 June 2007 (Vox Editors 2007):

“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.

“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.”

Brief history of Vox

Vox was inspired by the success of the Italian language site, La Voce, founded by Tito Boeri. La Voce means “the voice” in Italian, and this is what inspired the Vox name (Vox.org was taken at the time by a Facebook wannabe, so we took VoxEU.org). La Voce, however, is a collection of online OpEd pieces. They are short and written for the average newspaper reader. Given the large number of English language blogs, I felt Vox should aim upmarket – that it should become more like a Brookings Papers for the 21st century, thus acting as a bridge between technical, academic economics and the wider universe of people interested in economics.

The first few months of Vox were a success of sorts. This was almost guaranteed given our Founding Contributors: Philippe Aghion, Alberto Alesina, me, Erik Berglöf, Giuseppe Bertola, Tim Besley, Olivier Blanchard, Tito Boeri, Willem Buiter, Michael Burda, Stephen Cecchetti, Daniel Cohen, Mathias Dewatripont, Juan Dolado, Esther Duflo, Barry Eichengreen, Jeffrey Frankel, Francesco Giavazzi, Rachel Griffith, Philip Lane, Philippe Martin, Richard Portes, Anne Sibert, Guido Tabellini, Shang-Jin Wei, and Charles Wyplosz.

But then we got lucky, as the world got unlucky. The Global Crisis is what really gave Vox a large, loud voice in the world of economic research and policy. While Vox was well read before the Subprime Crisis, August 2007 was when our readership really took off. In the autumn of 2007, things seemed incomprehensible to most economists, journalists and policymakers; writers like Steve Cecchetti rode to the rescue by explaining exactly what was happening. His column on it, “Federal Reserve policy actions in August 2007: frequently asked questions (updated)” (Cecchetti 2007a), set a standard for serious economics applied to the crisis, when most OpEd writers were talking about ‘liquidity problems’. You may enjoy reading his prescient November 2017 four-part series, which started with an explanation of why “Financial crises are not going away” (Cecchetti 2007b,c,d,e) .

When Lehman Brothers went down in September 2008 and threatened to take the US and UK economies with it, Vox again shone. The world, it seemed, 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-word newspaper opinion pieces. In late 2008, the crisis turned from a North Atlantic banking crisis into the Global Crisis via a massive trade shock. Vox’s readership reached beyond the North Atlantic along with the crisis.

In 2010, the Eurozone Crisis provided another boost, as did the Brexit referendum and its shock outcome. Vox, in short, does well when economies do poorly.

New features

Throughout the years, Vox has experimented with new vehicles. Most recently, we started Vox Video. These short videos, usually under four minutes, are quite varied. Some, like many Vox columns, present a particular piece of research. The most popular, however, feature a leading economist speaking to a topic of current concern. The most watched Vox Video is by Kirsten Forbes, who discusses when nations, like the UK, need to act on current account deficits. The video has been watched over 8,000 times on Vox and YouTube. Another popular one is “Advice to young economists”, a three-minute video in which eight Nobel Prize-winning economists share their wisdom.

Our consortium

Right from the start, the intention was share columns with Vox-like sites in other languages, including Lavoce.info and Telos.fr. Indeed, over the years we have help set up the following sites: Hi-Stat Vox, Me Judice (a Dutch site), Nada es Gratis (a Spanish site), Oekonomenstimme (a Swiss site in German), RIETI (a Japanese site with some articles in English), Telos (a French site), and Vox.LACEA (a Latin America site).

Most recently, we have helped set up VoxDev.org, which is very much like Vox but devoted to development issues.

Impact

It is hard to quantify Vox’s impact on the public policy discourse, or the research community. It is worth mentioning, however, that Google Scholar lists over 12,000 citations to VoxEU.org columns in academic work. Talking to policymakers – and especially their staff – it is clear that the site is now a common source of recent research for decision-makers and those who guide them.

Ten years and going strong

The next ten years will throw up many challenges for Vox. One is the proliferation of sites that are inspired by Vox (to put it diplomatically), which tends to fragment the audience. Some, like VoxDev, will likely thrive, as it serves a distinct and very large audience of readers and range of writers. The challenge, however, is mitigated by the large entry barriers created by the network effects. Many Vox-like sites soon fall on the wrong side of the separating equilibrium where people won’t write for the site since no one reads it, and no one reads it since few good people write for it. The editors lose interest and the site stagnates.

A key challenge is the great shrinking of attention spans. Social media and video-based sites are growing rapidly. People increasingly find it difficult to get through 1,500 words. There are some solutions that we will try, but this is, in essence, one of the trends that helped Vox get started in the first place. Something to embrace rather than ignore or fight.

Thanks to our readers

Vox matches interesting writers and interested readers. This is beneficial to both; both gain. But honestly, the audience is the really hard part. One of the truly scarce things in this virtual world of ours is a big audience of readers who are interested in serious economics and are in a position to use it.

The world’s best economists are driven by a desire to apply 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 and media professionals, and academics is a strong draw for the world’s best, policy-relevant economists. That pins down the writer side. The reader side comes – like the chicken follows the egg – with the high-quality columns that Vox authors write every day.

In short, Vox’s tenth anniversary is thus as much a salute to Vox’s readers as it is to our writers. Ten years down the road, Vox has picked up a large number imitators, but our unique proposition remains the size and heft of our readership. Vox works thanks to all you!

References

Cecchetti, S (2007a), “Federal Reserve policy actions in August 2007: frequently asked questions”, VoxEU.org, 15 August. http://voxeu.org/article/subprime-crisis-faqs-revised-updated

Ceccchetti, S (2007b), “Financial crises are not going away”, VoxEU.org, 26 November. http://voxeu.org/article/subprime-series-part-1-financial-crises-are-not...

Ceccchetti, S (2007c), “Deposit insurance and the lender of last resort”, VoxEU.org, 28 November. http://voxeu.org/article/subprime-series-part-2-deposit-insurance-and-le...

Ceccchetti, S (2007d), “Why central banks should be financial supervisors”, VoxEU.org, 30 November. http://voxeu.org/article/subprime-series-part-3-why-central-banks-should...

Ceccchetti, S (2007e), “Does well-designed monetary policy encourage risk taking?”, VoxEU.org, 03 December. http://voxeu.org/article/subprime-series-part-4-monetary-policy-and-risk...

The Editors (2007), “What is VoxEU.org?”, VoxEU.org, 12 June. http://voxeu.org/article/what-voxeuorg

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Professor of International Economics, Graduate Institute, Geneva; President of CEPR; Vox Editor-in-Chief

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