18th July 2010: A New GFC Publishing Genre

Source: New York Times

Publishers benefit from ‘hot topics’, speculative bubbles and wild cards.

The pattern I observed with the Bush Administration’s Global War on Terror (GWOT) frame after September 11, and also the 2007-09 Global Financial Crisis (GFC): (1) anthologies and initial assessments; (2) critiques of the status quo and hastily written ‘first drafts of history’; (3) tell-all memoirs from insiders, perceptive outsiders, and investigative journalists who have extensive networks or who are in the right place at the right time; (4) more rigorous and systematic analyses; and (5) historical, multi-archival research.

GWOT books now fluctuate between (3) and (4) whilst in the past 6-8 months GFC books have shifted from (2) to (3). Three observable dynamics on this shift are: (a) the well-known issues-attention cycle; (b) publishing lead-times; and (c) origination markets such as bloggers, magazines, internet sites and primary research.

Dwight Garner’s New York Times review of an anonymous hedge fund manager’s diary (excerpt) illustrates these dynamics and trends. He and his editors choose a (3) tell-all memoir that appeals to a broader audience than financial quants: the review emphasises a range of topics, personalities, and humorous observations. Garner name-drops publisher Dave Eggers and the diary’s source: the online magazine N + 1. “His opinions are rarely blazingly counterintuitive,” Garner notes. “The pleasures of his talk are low-key and cumulative.” In other words: accessible for a quick read and a quick sale before the title gets ‘remaindered’.

Are we really dealing with a new publishing genre? Garner suggests a shift is underway and that more (3) tell-all memoirs can be expected in the future. Investment fund managers may be low-key and operate ‘under the radar’ for clients, deal-flow and trading strategies. They do not however have to deal with national security restrictions that affect GWOT-related memoirs.

It’s also possible that the diary Garner reviews is more like an unreliable narrator than a quasi-experimental clinical record of what actually happened. George Soros and his book The Alchemy of Finance (1994) is one famous example of a quasi-experimental study has sparked wider debates amongst the capital markets, investment and trading communities. For investment managers, analysts and researchers the best lessons from books like the diary are probably what attitudes, values and worldviews they depict. These can be one of many possible inputs into a behavioural finance strategy for backtesting an investment strategy’s possible outcomes on a variety of groups and rational herds.