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.