Heuristics for estimating the ROI of a book

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daylen
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Heuristics for estimating the ROI of a book

Post by daylen » Fri Mar 24, 2017 2:15 pm

How do you know what to read when? My reading list grows at a much faster rate than my ability to read, so I would like to hear some thoughts on how to make a decision!

For example, one such heuristic is to gradually move away from first principles as you get older (physical science > biological science > social science > humanities). Lately, I have also been narrowing my focus. Before I wanted to learn about everything, but now I am starting to figure out what I enjoy (systems theory, pure math, continental philosophy, theoretical physics, social anthropology, behavioral economics, ecology) as opposed to what doesn't interest me as much (applied math, chemistry, biology, medicine, computer science, accounting, meteorology).

Picking a subject is the easy part (whatever sounds interesting at that moment), what is hard is trying to distinguish between several related books. Sometimes I read the first chapter of each to get a sense of writing style and scope; that helps. Anyone have any quick classification heuristics for this situation?

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Re: Heuristics for estimating the ROI of a book

Post by George the original one » Fri Mar 24, 2017 3:11 pm

My criteria:
1) Is it available at the local library?
2) Is the price more than a movie? If not, then the purchase price probably doesn't matter unless I'm buying more than a couple per month.
3) Is there any reason to believe the book contains something that I can't get elsewhere? Unobtainium means there are only a couple copies available for sale at any one time, it is likely out of print, and often the price is approaching exhoribitant. Unobtainium gets priority. A good chunk of the favorites in my personal library are unobtainium.
4) If I decide the book is not worthwhile after reading it, is their a market for resale?


Some examples from my world of automotive racing:

"Sports Car Graphic" magazines from the '60s are available on eBay. They're desireable to me because they usually contain technical information, sometimes mentioned in little tidbits, that just isn't available on the web (e.g. Paul Van Valkenberg's road tests include aerodynamic data) and are otherwise lost to time, so I collate the information for use in simulations/recreations. Best way to buy them is in lots rather than as individual issues. The market for resale is there and it's all in how you market it on eBay. Alternatively, for mildly damaged issues, you can cut out the ads and/or car reviews to resell to automotive enthusiasts on eBay.

"High Speed, Low Cost" by Allan Staniforth. The author built a 140mph race car using a Mini's engine/transmission mounted in the rear of a homemade chassis. That's an interesting story, but the clincher is his string computer for analyzing suspension design. Unfortunately it has been out of print for about 40 years and the author passed away a few years ago, so it is a bit of a cult classic with an elevated price. Subsequent books by the author are usually still in print and cheap on the market.

"The Porsche 904 906 & 910 in the Americas" by Jerry Pantis. Out of print coffee table picture book and compendium of every chassis that came to North & South America from 2007. Amazing reference book, not likely to be reprinted any time soon, so the prices on this book are rising.

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daylen
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Re: Heuristics for estimating the ROI of a book

Post by daylen » Fri Mar 24, 2017 3:28 pm

I was thinking more along the lines of the opportunity cost of time and the ordering of what to read. The money part is nearly always worth it (though I always check the library and prioritize free classics). I find the ordering of what is read to be extremely important for what to get out of the book. There is a "right time" to read every book it seems, and the trick is in figuring out when that is. Part of this timing has to do with prerequisite knowledge, but another important component is your own motivation.

I also just remembered the idea that older books that have survived the test of time are more likely to be worth reading.

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Re: Heuristics for estimating the ROI of a book

Post by Fish » Fri Mar 24, 2017 4:02 pm

@daylen Did you see this post by Jacob in the One Million book thread?

http://www.forum.earlyretirementextreme ... 43#p139643

Also, Jacob has mentioned somewhere that the resale price of a book is an indicator of its information value. For example as of this writing the ERE book is $18.95 new on Amazon while the lowest used price is $18.53! Very little depreciation.

For many overprinted/popular classics this won't be the case, but you'll have heard of them (i.e. know what to expect) and can get them at the library or near-free at any used book dealer or thrift store. For the less common stuff the used price (in an efficient market like Amazon) is often directly proportional to value. And if you didn't get much out of the first reading, if most other people are giving it 4-5 star reviews maybe hold onto it and reread later in case you weren't personally ready the first time.

Edited to add: Also the size of the market is inversely proportional to level of mastery (the market is largest at beginner-level), so when you're starting off in a subject that might favor the more popular books, and as you gain competence then you can read the more obscure titles when you're in need of depth. This is just going off of intuition, not experience.

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Re: Heuristics for estimating the ROI of a book

Post by daylen » Fri Mar 24, 2017 4:19 pm

@Fish I did see that post, but I did not catch the depreciation part. Thanks for the input!

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Re: Heuristics for estimating the ROI of a book

Post by jennypenny » Fri Mar 24, 2017 6:18 pm

@daylen -- It's worth it to learn how to read faster to increase ROI. There are some good techniques you can learn. Also, squeeze reading into whatever free time you have. I'm never without reading material. I read constantly, even during mundane chores like cooking. I use audible for less intense reading material so I can listen to books while I'm working out, driving, doing housework, gardening, etc. I manage to consume quite a bit of reading material.

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Re: Heuristics for estimating the ROI of a book

Post by Scott 2 » Sat Mar 25, 2017 8:30 am

IMO, for learning, books are obsolete. Experts are online, giving the store away for free, in podcasts and videos. The next step is to do the thing and solicit feedback and/or instruction from those same experts. Even better if you can find a community context to do this in. Even better if it's in person.

Our educational system romanticised books, but we've come a long way from the printing press. Look at this forum, you can literally ask the man who wrote the book.

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Re: Heuristics for estimating the ROI of a book

Post by George the original one » Sat Mar 25, 2017 8:50 am

Scott 2 wrote:IMO, for learning, books are obsolete. Experts are online, giving the store away for free, in podcasts and videos.
IMHO, that's only true for shallow subjects. Try finding solid aerodynamic data and applying it to a simulation, though at least there's good info on building a wind tunnel.

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Re: Heuristics for estimating the ROI of a book

Post by Scott 2 » Sat Mar 25, 2017 1:35 pm

I'm very ignorant on the topic, but maybe here is a starting point:

http://blogs.solidworks.com/teacher/201 ... art-i.html

I'd look for people collaborating on models together, learn from them.

Knowing facts and having knowledge are different. I think the American educational system overemphasized the former, and bred a generation that thinks if they just read more, they'll finally be good enough.

Real learning requires doing, IMO.

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Re: Heuristics for estimating the ROI of a book

Post by daylen » Sat Mar 25, 2017 3:58 pm

Maybe for you subjectivly, but not everyone learns the same way. I develop knowledge best by reflecting on what I read with thought.

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Re: Heuristics for estimating the ROI of a book

Post by DSKla » Sat Mar 25, 2017 7:40 pm

Nassim Taleb likes to cite the Lindy effect, wherein the projected lifespan of a work (in this case, a book) is double its current age. So on average, a book that is two years old can be expected to be read for another two years, while a book that is 500 years old can be expected to maintain relevance for another 500 years.

The longer something has survived--especially if it's been preserved across multiple cultures, languages, and knowledge-eating dark ages--the more likely it is to be worth something. Very few of the books published each year will have any lasting value, so why not read mostly classics? Obviously, if you want to learn technical scientific information, you will be better off ignoring Lindy and keep abreast of the latest research. But I would argue that holds true msotly for the hard sciences, whereas in something like nutrition you can read a thousand new and conflicting studies each year, most of which are garbage and will be replaced in short order. In that case, you'll also be beter served by Lindy. Any ancient Greek can tell you to avoid rich foods and overindulgence, and to occasionally fast.

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Re: Heuristics for estimating the ROI of a book

Post by FBeyer » Sun Mar 26, 2017 1:16 am

daylen wrote:How do you know what to read when? My reading list grows at a much faster rate than my ability to read, so I would like to hear some thoughts on how to make a decision!
Set up an Eisenhower matrix. Once you found the books in the upper left quadrant, set up an Eisenhower matrix for those as well. If you're emotionally disturbed by what your rationale tells you to read, then read the book that feels better. At least that one will be both urgent and important.

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Re: Heuristics for estimating the ROI of a book

Post by Scott 2 » Sun Mar 26, 2017 9:35 am

I am a reformed member of the cult of book. Jennypenny is right about learning to read faster. I used the book breakthrough rapid reading to do it maybe 15 years ago. The techniques work and made a couple open book finals very easy for me in college. Now I'd attend a course, btw. The trade off is reading becomes hard work.

I loved digging through Amazon reviews to find the "best" book on a topic.

The problem I ran into, is while I might be able to get very deep into a single concept, it also might be a really poor approach to the problem I faced. Think optimizing an investment portfolio to pay off your credit card debt. I found myself making that class of mistakes in the regular, then confusing those who might help me with my "expertise" or even worse, dismissing their broad and highly useful experiential knowledge base, because their memory bank of niche facts didn't come close to mine.

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Re: Heuristics for estimating the ROI of a book

Post by jennypenny » Sun Mar 26, 2017 11:44 am

I want to +1 FBeyer. Don't procrastinate because you aren't jazzed about reading the book you think you *should* be reading. It's more important to develop reading habits and skills, so reading whatever turns you on at the moment is better than not reading at all.

There have been books I avoided for a pretty significant length of time even though I thought I should read them. Sex at Dawn was one of them. I finally circled back to it recently and read it straight through, not because the subject matter interested me more than before but because I was so sick of not getting the references to it in other reading. I still haven't read YMOYL or 4HWW.

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Re: Heuristics for estimating the ROI of a book

Post by 7Wannabe5 » Sun Mar 26, 2017 6:35 pm

Obviously, you should prioritize reading whatever books would allow you to have the most time freed up to spend reading more books. To determine this meta-maxi-reading list, you could attempt either a top-down or bottom-up approach. For instance, you could brainstorm a list of all the problems and people that might intrude upon you while you are attempting to make your way through your stack, OR you could just start reading and then observe what problems or pests arise.

For instance, if you have young children seeking your attention while you are trying to read, the next book you might read would be something like "Busy Toddler, Happy Mom" which might suggest an activity such as finger painting with pudding in the bathtub as likely to give you another 45 minutes of uninterrupted time to devote to Zweig's "Beware of Pity" (Yay!)Or, perhaps, you have just settled down in the comfy armchair you found at the curb and neatly repaired with duct tape, plate of crispy nutmeg cookies and cup of tea by your side, eager to crack open your fresh copy of Polanyi's "The Great Transformation" when your landlord comes a knocking at the door in need of the rent. Then, you might have to work your way through a small stack with titles such as "Small Time Operator", "Discards: Your Way to Wealth" and "Japanese Candlestick Charting Techniques" before you can make your way back to your chair (sigh.) A scene from Doctorow's "Ragtime" may effect you in a manner that might compel you to add the how-to manual "Bang" by Roosh V to your meta-maxi-reading list before you can relax and return your focus to core activity (...aaaah)....etc. etc. etc.

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Re: Heuristics for estimating the ROI of a book

Post by jacob » Sun Mar 26, 2017 6:57 pm

It shouldn't take long to estimate the density of insights a book generates in the person reading it. Reading speed can then be increased to skimming or decreased to studying accordingly. One can even stop reading entirely. This should maximize the ROI in terms of time. Of course, what you really should focus on is absolute numbers. You want to maximize R... not R/I ... and R is best increased by increasing I.

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Re: Heuristics for estimating the ROI of a book

Post by Dragline » Sun Mar 26, 2017 7:39 pm

On the practicalities, I agree with jp -- carry reading material everywhere and read whenever you have to wait. Especially the stuff that does not require much concentration.

After that, its a question of prioritization. Don't read things because they are popular. Read because you are interested. The best things to read are those cited in other books you have read as the basis for a thought or idea -- the older, the better.

And remember, just because you start reading something does not mean you need to finish it. Go read "How to Read a Book." it is pedantic and overkill, but has some useful insights if not taken to extremes.

I also find that reading, viewing and listening are part of the same "pot" of "learning new information" time. Viewing (like TV or YouTube) is the most inefficient and is only superior when pictures are involved. Listening is often superior about new books or popular works -- authors now do rounds on podcasts and you can get the gist of the book from those without reading it and then decide whether it is worthwhile. And you can listen while doing something else, like moving from place to place. Reading is best when you know the author/work is related to something you are already interested in via citation or reference by another work.

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Re: Heuristics for estimating the ROI of a book

Post by DSKla » Mon Mar 27, 2017 10:59 am

Another thing I do to maximize my limited reading time is to read ~6 books at once. I found that when I did have time to read, I often wasn't in the mood for the one book I was reading, so I didn't read. Now, I will be in the middle of roughly half a dozen books of different subjects and difficulties at any given time. So if my brain isn't firing on all cylinders, I can read one that is easy or exciting, or at the very least short. If I'm patient and curious, I can tackle something harder.

This way, I never skip reading due to mood, and I read far more pages per day on average, though each book takes a little longer to finish. You'll just have to set up your categories appropriately for your tastes. When I finish a book in one of my categoris I start a new one in that same category, and I try to never have two of the same type going at once. For example, finish a history book before starting another history book.

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Re: Heuristics for estimating the ROI of a book

Post by 7Wannabe5 » Tue Mar 28, 2017 7:55 am

I think we should have a forum reading competition! I found this Free Text Readability Consensus Calculator, and it passed my tests for accuracy. A passage written by David Hume was rated College Graduate Level, and a passage from a Highlander romance novel was rated 7th grade level.

http://www.readabilityformulas.com/free ... -tests.php

So, the competition (or challenge?)could be based on some metric along the lines of (WordCount/1000)(Scaled Reading Level.)

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Re: Heuristics for estimating the ROI of a book

Post by Scott 2 » Tue Mar 28, 2017 9:58 am

I agree with Dragline on the learning through listening - my consumption of podcasts and videos is almost exclusively while doing something else - commuting, working, lifting, eating, getting ready for bed, etc. It takes the place of TV or radio. Headphones have an added "go away" message that a book fails to communicate. For whatever reason, I find it much harder to set aside a bad book than any other medium. I think there's a sense of accomplishment in finishing a book that was instilled in me while young (bookit... Where my pizza???), that I have not been able to shake.

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Re: Heuristics for estimating the ROI of a book

Post by Fish » Tue Mar 28, 2017 9:59 am

@7w5 That's a fun link. I ran 5 random samples of the ERE book, averaged grade level 12.4 (raw data: 14, 10, 13, 11, 14) which is consistent with the reader consensus of "college freshman" on the ERE book page.

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Re: Heuristics for estimating the ROI of a book

Post by 7Wannabe5 » Tue Mar 28, 2017 11:35 am

@Fish: Yeah, I can tell it's gonna be my new toy. Do you think the grade-scale applied without adjustment would do a decent job of approximating ratio of time to read with comprehension, if reader is assumed to have ability to read at post-college-graduate level? For instance, if it took you 12.5X minutes to read the first Y words in "ERE", would it take you approximately 17X minutes attempting the same with "A Treatise on Human Nature", and/or 7X minutes attempting the same with "To Tame a Highland Warrior?" I'm thinking there ought to be a bit of a curve, perhaps fitted to "time to digest candy" towards "time to digest raw mutton" data plot.

@Scott 2: I agree that there are many skills that are much easier to learn by watching or doing. For instance, 5 minutes watching a video on a certain method of grafting is worth more than any amount of reading on the topic. However, I usually find listening to podcasts or watching video lectures painfully slow-going compared to reading the same material. In fact, I often skip watching lectures and just read the transcript when I enroll in online classes. When I am physically doing something, I usually only listen to music.

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Re: Heuristics for estimating the ROI of a book

Post by enigmaT120 » Tue Mar 28, 2017 12:06 pm

7Wannabe5 wrote:
Tue Mar 28, 2017 11:35 am
However, I usually find listening to podcasts or watching video lectures painfully slow-going compared to reading the same material. In fact, I often skip watching lectures and just read the transcript when I enroll in online classes. When I am physically doing something, I usually only listen to music.
Yes, me too. If it's something I want to learn I want to pay attention to it, not have it be in the background. And if I have to pay attention to something I want to do it quickly. I don't learn well from listening anyway.

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Re: Heuristics for estimating the ROI of a book

Post by Scott 2 » Tue Mar 28, 2017 10:34 pm

I push my accompanying task to the background when the media gets good, and vice versa. I agree there are always slow parts.

One thing I find helpful is hearing/seeing how other people interact around the topic. Too often I've wanted to communicate something complex I read, only to find:

1. I can't pronounce the words correctly

2. Something tangential that captured my interest is viewed as largely irrelevant by experts in the field, let alone journeymen. Because books can communicate so much, they often fail to emphasize what's really important.

Traps like this are what make estimating the return on a book so hard. If there's a fixed period where reading is the only option, picking criteria is possible. Most moments offer more flexibility though, and the opportunity cost vs another medium varies by topic.

As much as I prefer to avoid people, I've found for many skills, learning in person can be orders of magnitude more effective.

Rich media sources do have a more shallow depth of expertise, but navigating the deep waters in a topic, without expert guidance, amplifies risk for misinterpretation. I've done that often enough, that it's hard to view the time spent as anything but entertainment.

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Re: Heuristics for estimating the ROI of a book

Post by daylen » Tue Mar 28, 2017 11:39 pm

I kept my definition of return general in the initial post to allow room for discussion, but in my mind I was thinking of return as the enjoyment of gaining an understanding of complex processes (as opposed to financial utility). I agree with your points Scott; to me though, 1 and 2 are less important than actually gaining an internal understanding for how insights fit into my grand scheme of knowledge.

I believe the way I think and what I value are completely different than most others here on the forum due to my personality (INTJ vs INTP, Te vs Ti). :P

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