How Change Happens one year on – the stats, the suffering and the power of Open Access

October 27, 2017

     By Duncan Green     

It’s a year to the day since How Change Happens was published (I made the mistake of putting ‘narcissistic peak’ in my diary, and my wife Cathy saw it – never heard the end of it). Here’s what’s happened since.

First the stats: the headline figure is that in the first year, the book has had approximately 40,000 readers. Of these roughly 6,000 bought paper copies, 1,000 bought the ebook, 11,000 downloaded the pdf and 22,000 read it online. I say approximately, because on the downside, people may have downloaded the pdf and not read it, and on the upside, they may have circulated the pdf, which wouldn’t register in the stats. An audiobook is also available, but I have no stats on sales.

I’m happy with the numbers but most interesting from a publishing point of view (and because this is Open Access week) is Oxford University Press’ willingness to go Open Access. That has meant far greater take up, and the ability to disseminate the book’s arguments in places without established book distribution systems. By continent the split for online readers is 39% Europe, 27% North America, 19% Asia, 6% Australasia, 6% Africa, and 3% South America (118 countries in all). Interestingly, OUP reckons that Open Access has not harmed overall sales, and may even have helped (several people have told me they downloaded the pdf, skimmed it, and then ordered the book). It’s also made it possible to discuss the book on numerous webinars and they tell people where they can download it – much more dignified than lamely trying to persuade them to order the book.

Shifting books is a bit like selling your music – if you’re a musician, you need to shift the merchandise at endless gigs, and I’ve spent much of the last year launching the book in the UK, Australia, Denmark, Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland and the US, and next week am off for one last heave to the US West Coast and Canada. (Public events in San Francisco on 2 November and lots in Canada the following week). These events have been primarily at Universities, Government Development Departments (Australia, NZ, UK, US, Sweden, Norway), Foundations and NGOs (both international development and, increasingly, other sectors – environment, domestic). I’m particularly excited about the increasing number of conversations with non-aid types, eg social activists in the UK.

The conversations at those launches have been great – top questions include ‘do you believe in the perfectibility of

mankind?’ and ‘do you lie a lot?’ They have helped me hone the narrative and see where the energy and interest lies for future work (eg on positive deviance). They have broadly confirmed the arguments in the book (at least that’s what I heard!), along with some great critiques from the likes of David Kennedy and Brian Levy.

Despite the generally positive reception, that level of sustained exposure and scrutiny is pretty bruising in more subtle ways. The endlessly repeated arguments of the book start to sound trite and obvious; the occasional criticism registers 100 times louder than any praise. It wears you down a bit. I’m proud of the book, and deeply indebted to Mark Fried for a great editing job, to the Aussie government for funding the research, and to everyone at Oxfam for their amazing support, but now I really need to move on.

But it won’t be just yet. Translations have been agreed and are under way into Chinese and Spanish, and discussions are taking place on an Arabic translation. Discussions are under way with publishers in a number of other countries – it helps that HCH has a Creative Commons Licence that does not require publishing licensees to be non-commercial or to release their translation as OA (unless they want to), so we can talk to commercial and non-commercial companies alike. The book is the course text for the forthcoming Making Change Happen MOOC co-designed by Oxfam and the Open University, and for a module I am currently writing at the London School of Economics, where I teach.

I’d welcome any feedback from HCH readers – what has/hasn’t been useful, whether/how you’ve applied the book’s arguments etc. Can’t see many of you coming up with stories as good as Wesam Qaid’s. His vehicle broke down while crossing the Yemeni desert, leaving him with nothing to do but….. read How Change Happens. He tweeted ‘I met a 10 year old with a machine gun at a check point in Abyan. Got me thinking lawless doesn’t = power vacuum’ and then tweeted this pic. He arrived safe and sound, by the way.

There are lots of interminable videos of launches on the web, but here’s the shortest, from RSA

October 27, 2017
Duncan Green