Thanks to Freakonomics Blog Readers (Sort of), the Gneezy and List Book Finally Has a Title

A while back we held a contest for the new popular economics book written by Uri Gneezy and John List. The authors and their publishers picked some of their favorite title suggestions and then we ran a beauty contest to determine which title was most popular among blog readers. The deal was that the person who proposed the winning title would get $1,000. Another $1,000 was to be split between randomly selected beauty contest participants.

Before I tell you which title won, let me tell you about the naming of Freakonomics. We had such an impossibly hard time coming up with a good name until my sister Linda came up with “Freakonomics.” To make a long story short, the publishers hated that name for a long time, but finally gave in. The rest is history. Of course we were all just guessing — it would have been nice to have data, the way Uri and John did.

So what do the data say? The winner of the beauty contest, with 33 percent of the votes, was The Carrot that Moved A Mountain: How the Right Incentives Shape the Economics of Everyday Life. Congratulations to Ivy Tantuco who proposed that title and collected the $1,000 prize.(Congratulations also to Jenna Dargie and Melinda Reiss, who were the randomly chosen beauty contest winners and pocketed $500 each.)

You might think that the story would end there and that you will soon see The Carrot that Moved a Mountain featured prominently in your local bookstore. But here is where things get interesting. Just about every single person close to the Gneezy and List book project, including the authors, thinks that a different title, The Why Axis, is a better title. So what to do? It was a hard decision, but they decided to go with the title they liked over the title the blog readers liked. (And being good people, they also sent a $1,000 check to Mckee Sexton, the blog reader who came up with this title.)

Was it a smart choice to override the public’s first choice to go with the name they prefer? Unfortunately, we will probably never know for sure because we will never see what would have happened if they had chosen the other title. Unless, of course, we run another field experiment…and nobody knows more about those than Uri Gneezy and John List.

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  1. Elizabeth says:

    As a publishing person, I think you made the right choice. “The Why Axis” is short, snappy, and has a great pun in it. The other title is cute, yes… but it’s too long and can’t be easily remembered/shared. If you’re going to market a book, ease of transmission of the title trumps cute/funny almost every time.

    And your book designers will thank you, as well.

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    • Jeff says:

      While I agree that it’s probably a *better* title (short & snappy, as you said), every time I want to recommend the book to someone I’m going to have to say “It’s ‘The Why Axis,’ but W-H-Y, not the letter ‘Y’” and then my friend is going to have to remember THAT. Not sure homophonic puns work so well for word-of-mouth…

      I’m also not sure about the subtitle (don’t know if they’re keeping that), but part of the reason I was embarrassed to read Nudge in public was the subtitle (something about understanding our brains helping with decision-making and happiness) made it sound really self help-y. This one’s not as bad, but still borderline for me.

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  2. Steve Cebalt says:

    I wonder if you could do a test of the two names using E-books with different titles, the way they test magazine covers and direct mail solicitations? In any case, you were blessed to have numerous good choices…a “nice problem to have.”

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  3. John says:

    Super Crunchers used author Ian Ayres used google ad sense to see which title got more click throughs before settling on “Super Crunchers”

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  4. Johan says:

    I would purchase and read “The Carrot That Moved a Mountain.” “The Why Axis?” No, thanks.

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  5. Eric M. Jones says:

    Q: Does the smoothness of the translation of a title into foreign languages play a part in the selection?
    I would think it did here, and I am not sure the right choice was made, nor would the second choice have been good to cultures where “stick and carrot” is unknown.

    Comment?

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    • Nikki says:

      Writers should not be required or expected to write in a way that makes translators’ life easier. It’s translators’ job to handle such tasks, and there are countless examples of books, films, TV shows, etc. whose titles have been changed entirely rather than translated for foreign-language markets.

      (This comment is brought to you by a translator.)

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  6. Brian says:

    You forgot to mention an important part of this experiment. When you voted for your title you were also asked how the prize money should be distributed. I see that $500/$500 was the winner, but what was the margin? Did early voters follow the trend? What were your findings?

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  7. Ivy says:

    Wow! Thanks to everyone who voted :D I rarely win contests and I really thought I lost since it’s been months and I just got notified the other day. I thought my chances of winning was slim since I too, thought my suggested title’s long, as somebody commented. Also, I know that not everyone will not get the carrot and stick reference right away, but at the least, I thought people would be curious enough to try and figure it out. :D

    In any case, thanks to all who voted for the title (for any reason). It’s a big deal to me because as I’ve said, rarely win contests :D

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