On Bad Book Titles And Good Content

On Bad Book Titles And Good Content

On Overstated Book Titles by David Merkel, CFA of the Aleph Blog

I have a problem with book titles.  They are often inflated far beyond what the book actually states or proves.   I have a few in my hands now, and it burns me, because the books in and of themselves are good, but they don’t reflect the title.  The title makes grandiose claims, and then there is not enough in the book to back them up.

I will review in the next few days, The Secret Club That Runs The World.  Great book with a lousy title.  Sensationalistic, and I bet the marketers at the publisher created the title.  Why do I think this?

I have a lot of respect for Larry Swedroe, but I trashed what was a good book in my review of Think, Act, and Invest Like Warren Buffett.  Honestly, I wish I had approached Larry first, before posting my review, because the title was not his idea, but that of the publisher.  The original title “Playing the Winner’s Game” would have gotten a five-star review from me.

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And yet, I am coming to realize that publishers, manipulate people through titles.  Make them sensational.  Make them offer a solution to an impossible problem through a title, and the book does not deliver.  Really it stinks.

But here’s my specific problem: when I write a negative review (usually 3-star) of a good book that overstates in its title, I tend to get a large number of negative votes at Amazon.

To use a term from Cramer, book publishers are in the OPUD game [Over-promise, Under-deliver].  That works for a while, but eventually it dulls people from buying books.  Far better to borrow it from the library, even via Inter-library loan, than pay up for a book where title promises aren’t delivered.

To publishers: honesty is a basic objective of publishing; do not destroy your franchise by creating deceptive book titles.

To the public: look at the books before you buy them, and do not buy books that overstate what they actually deliver.

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David J. Merkel, CFA, FSA — 2010-present, I am working on setting up my own equity asset management shop, tentatively called Aleph Investments. It is possible that I might do a joint venture with someone else if we can do more together than separately. From 2008-2010, I was the Chief Economist and Director of Research of Finacorp Securities. I did a many things for Finacorp, mainly research and analysis on a wide variety of fixed income and equity securities, and trading strategies. Until 2007, I was a senior investment analyst at Hovde Capital, responsible for analysis and valuation of investment opportunities for the FIP funds, particularly of companies in the insurance industry. I also managed the internal profit sharing and charitable endowment monies of the firm. From 2003-2007, I was a leading commentator at the investment website RealMoney.com. Back in 2003, after several years of correspondence, James Cramer invited me to write for the site, and I wrote for RealMoney on equity and bond portfolio management, macroeconomics, derivatives, quantitative strategies, insurance issues, corporate governance, etc. My specialty is looking at the interlinkages in the markets in order to understand individual markets better. I no longer contribute to RealMoney; I scaled it back because my work duties have gotten larger, and I began this blog to develop a distinct voice with a wider distribution. After three-plus year of operation, I believe I have achieved that. Prior to joining Hovde in 2003, I managed corporate bonds for Dwight Asset Management. In 1998, I joined the Mount Washington Investment Group as the Mortgage Bond and Asset Liability manager after working with Provident Mutual, AIG and Pacific Standard Life. My background as a life actuary has given me a different perspective on investing. How do you earn money without taking undue risk? How do you convey ideas about investing while showing a proper level of uncertainty on the likelihood of success? How do the various markets fit together, telling us us a broader story than any single piece? These are the themes that I will deal with in this blog. I hold bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Johns Hopkins University. In my spare time, I take care of our eight children with my wonderful wife Ruth.

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