Tuesday, September 12, 2006

How are book reviewers like financial analysts?

Over at Asymmetrical Information, "Jane Galt" has an interesting take on the book reviewing business: both financial analysts and book reviewers “write in a way that signals to insiders that a book is a piece of crap, while convincing outsiders that they should buy it, read it, or at least talk earnestly at their next cocktail party about how they mean to read it as soon as the Peterson deal is finished.”

That sounds relatively harmless when it comes to choosing what to read next--unless you value your reading time as much as I do--but you may have no other choice...unless you are prepared to judge a book by its cover. Or by the author's flyleaf photograph.

But the stakes may be higher if you are, say, trying to invest the meager savings of a widow or orphan. "Galt" again:

Professional analysts do not take buy recommendations seriously. But sell-side researchers do not stick them into their reports simply because they have a big square space in the layout that needs to be filled with a chunk of brightly coloured text. They put them in there because some Osteopath in Dallas actually believes that if Merrill Lynch is telling him to buy something, that means that, well, they think he should buy it. He forthwith does.
That sad story, alas, is not history; but it was worse back when the internet bubble was expanding. Cisco, for example, was one highly touted share that fed off these reports back in the day. The osteopaths of Dallas have yet to recover.

The comparison of book reviewers to financial analysts is intriguing enough, but the real reason I'm sharing it here is because I just finished a fine thriller, Death's Little Helpers by Peter Spiegelman. I'm not the only one who liked the novel, either.

John March, Spiegelman's private detective who we first met in Black Maps, takes on the job of finding a Blodget-like financial analyst gone missing.

Click here to read a Q & A with Spiegelman about his novel.

Click here to read a New York Times profile of the author.

For an excerpt from the novel--it opens, "As a husband, he was a lying, selfish prick," Nina Sachs said, and lit yet another cigarette.--click here.

--Marshal Zeringue