How To Sell Finance Books Like Harry Dent

In early-2009, as it seemed like the financial world was teetering on the edge of collapse, I was asked by a family member what I thought about a new book by Harry Dent called The Great Depression Ahead: How to Prosper in the Crash Following the Greatest Boom in History. 

My response to this inquiry was that anything is always possible, but predicting a depression after all of the carnage we had just witnessed in one of the worst recessions in almost 100 years seemed like a stretch. Dent had some buzzwords to back up his prediction — demographic cliffs and such — but obviously, his timing was just a tad off. The book came out in January of 2009, exactly two months before the stock market bottomed. We have since witnessed one of the least volatile economic recoveries in history.

I was reminded about this interaction because Dent is out with another new book this week called The Sale of a Lifetime: How the Great Bubble Burst of 2017-2019 Can Make You Rich. Dent is a successful author based on the number of books he’s sold over the years, but I thought it would be helpful for those looking to profit from his predictions to take a look at his previous titles and timing.

The book that put Dent on the map was called The Great Boom Ahead: Your Comprehensive Guide to Personal and Business Profit in the New Era of Prosperity. This one was released in 1993 and the timing was fortuitous as the stock market and economy both boomed throughout the remainder of the decade. My feeling is the worst thing that can happen to a pundit is that they’re right on a moonshot call like this because it just feeds the flames of their confidence that they can do it again.

Dent’s next call wasn’t quite to lucky.

He released The Roaring 2000s: Building the Wealth and Lifestyle You Desire in the Greatest Boom in History in late-1999, just a few months before the stock market peaked and went on to get cut in half. Dent said that changing demographics would result in Dow 35,000 by the end of the decade. Instead, the stock market was down over the ensuing ten years and the economy experienced two separate recessions.

Instead of taking a breather from the world of financial punditry after a terrible call, Dent doubled down in early-2006 by releasing The Next Great Bubble Boom: How to Profit from the Greatest Boom in History: 2006-2010. This time he said the Dow could hit 40,000 by the end of the decade based on a “comprehensive forecast” that predicted a boom similar to the roaring 1920s. Obviously, this one was just a bit outside as less than two years later we saw the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression.

The script was then flipped for the aforementioned The Great Depression Ahead, which likely kept a lot of readers out of one of the greatest stock market recoveries in history.

Even after a disastrous string of predictions Dent once again doubled down with his 2011 release The Great Crash Ahead: Strategies for a World Turned Upside Down. The book’s description says that this one would be, “outlining why the next financial crash and crisis is inevitable and just around the corner — coming between mid-2012 and early 2015.”

Staying on theme was The Demographic Cliff: How to Survive and Prosper During the Great Deflation of 2014-2019 which came out in 2014.

I’m sure the latest book fails to mention any of these previous forecasts, but it does change the dates of the coming crash from 2014-2019 in the last book to 2017-2019 in this one.

Dent is a New York Times Best-Selling author. I’m sure tens or even hundreds of thousands of these books have been purchased over the years. I should be shocked that they’re still getting published, but I’m really not all that surprised. People are constantly in search of the silver bullet to get rich. There Is No Easy Way to Get Rich Overnight wouldn’t sell too many copies.

After looking back at his titles, here are the lessons I’ve learned about how to sell finance books in this way:

  • Go out on a limb and make extreme predictions. The more outlandish, the better.
  • Promise people you will help make them rich and know what’s going to happen in the future.
  • Make sure that your forecasts are very precise — include the timing of the boom or bust and give nice round numbers for your market targets to get people’s attention.
  • If at first you don’t succeed, just write another book a couple years later and hope that people will forget about your previous efforts.
  • Make use of buzzwords, scare tactics and urgency to get people to read.
  • No matter what happens in your forecasts, tell people that you can help them make a profit.

I get why Dent continues with these types of predictions. You can get a huge rush from being right about the markets, especially when it’s a non-consensus call. It’s also a great way to sell books and newsletters and perhaps get yourself some speaking gigs. Unfortunately, it’s a horrible way to make money for your readers and investors.

One would think that Dent will eventually be “right” with one of these predictions. That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to listen to him. These books may help Dent get rich, but they won’t help investors get rich.

Further Reading:
Beware Stock Picks From Your Favorite Media Pundit
Will Retiring Baby Boomers Ruin Future Market Returns?

 

 

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  • Tickled Pink

    Thanks, I’ll wait for “Honest to God, I Got No Fuckin’ Clue Anymore” by Harry Dent.

  • He’s kind of a Johnny Two-Note, playing a tritone, boom and bust, with demographic predictions where it is convenient. Thing is, demographics are relevant, but it is rare that demographics creates a sharp crisis.

    I’ve reviewed enough books to know what sells, and more often than not with popular financial books the one that sell well are bad for average people.

    • Ben

      And of course books with these types of titles are the ones that draw the attention of the average investor

      • TrumpSucks

        As well as the NYTimes Best Seller label

  • RobS

    It’s interesting that certain people (financial advisors) have a fiduciary duty and we largely agree that being ethical in providing financial advice is important.

    Yet guys like Dent can write bologna for decades and while he makes tons of money profiting off book sales, all his sheep followers are being destroyed in the markets following his advice.

    I know some people rally against this type of ridiculous manipulative behavior that he champions, but I’d expect more would join the cause as he has become a borderline fraudster.

    • Ben

      Unfortunately there will always be an audience for this type of stuff

  • Luke

    I want to ignore what Dent says based off of what you wrote but it’s hard because when he talks about markets he shows where it’s going with his hand, like this….looks pretty official.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/8ba12753a2bf5b448834beabbda758ec9e77091e72c4fa3c909ac5b9975dae05.jpg

    • Ben

      can’t argue with that logic…

    • pricejn2

      Thanks for that Luke. I needed a good laugh today.

  • Keith G

    I really don’t get this. The first time I heard the name Harry Dent, I did a google search on his predictions. Within minutes I concluded the man had no credibility, and wasn’t worth my time. Guys like this shouldn’t exist in a world where quality, free information is a click away.

    • Ben

      you would think so. there’s an old Peter Lynch quote that says people spend more time researching a refrigerator purchase than a stock purchase and there may be an element of that here too

      • alain

        ” there’s an old Peter Lynch quote that says people spend more time
        researching a refrigerator purchase than a stock purchase and there may
        be an element of that here too ”

        Yeah, just ask Bernie Madoff investors. Coca Cola was sold unsuccessfully as a medicine drink, before being sold as an “upscale” soda drink…

  • Govind

    Dent is a huckster who preys on the greedy and ignorant public. But there are elements of that throughout the investment industry. I just researched the performance of some popular investment authors (Meb Faber, Wes Gray, Patrick O’Shaughnessy). Nearly all their funds have underperofrmed their benchmarks since inception, some spectacularly..

    • bubba123

      What’s wrong with Meb Faber? of Cambria right?

      • Govind

        The first ETF they managed, GTAA, did poorly. If you look at their fact sheets for the ETFs they manage now, only one has beaten its listed benchmark. Otherwise nothing is wrong with Meb Faber. He tells good stories.

  • LPL Advisor

    Dent is a “Book Huckster”.

    The Fiduciary Rule should outlaw him – sad.

  • Hype sells.

  • Ben Phillips

    Ben, I always enjoy your writing, but this piece was especially interesting to me because I have had family members and clients bring me copies of various Dent books (along with many other Charlatans) over the past 20 years or so. My advice has always been consistent with what you assert in this piece, but i have never taken the time to research and organize the history of Dent’s various works. This was a very helpful reminder and will be a good bit of reference material for the future. Thanks

  • Minh Tu

    I have seen this phenomenon at work. People have no memory, as if they have Alzheimer’s disease,
    especially management type. Check this out, Dennis Gartman is a commodity expert. On Feb 3 2016
    he predicted oil will never go above $44 in his lifetime.
    http://dennisgartman.blogspot.com/2016/02/crude-oil-could-have-bottomed-already.html
    A month later oil is above $44.
    Well Gartman is still alive and makes the round on all these financial channels because they are not going
    to invite you or me (no name people) while Gartman looks like the authority on oil price.
    This shows the very short term memory that people have. Dent writes a book once every 6 or 7
    years and he looks like authority (NY Times best seller) so people will buy again and again.

  • Chet B

    It may seem ludicrous but Invesco in Canada even came out with a “Harry Dent” fund back at the turn of the century. So much for due diligence on the part of large mutual fund complexes.

    • Ben

      I remember that. I think it only last a few years

  • TrumpSucks

    Like many other marginal authors, Dent probably buys the requisite number of books to get himself on the best seller list. That moniker makes investors think he must be good, so therefore right.

  • Zardoz1

    The boomers started retiring in 2011. The half way point for the boomers retirements is 2020.
    As boomers retire, they downsize their houses, & their heirs sell the houses when the boomers die. The boomers also start drawing Social Security & Medicare, which will cause government exactions to rise & business volumes to fall. Last, the boomers will draw down on their retirement accounts, converting stocks to cash or bonds.

    Don’t count Dent’s predictions out until America feels the full brunt of the boomers’ retirements. And we’re still 3 years from the halfway mark.

  • juergenwahl

    Dent’s error is assuming that projecting demographic trends of the 46-50 year-old age group – people at their peak earnings/spending capacity – forecasts the condition of economic activity. However, past, present, and future, conditions are seldom equal. Dent’s one-trick-pony method fails to account for prevailing moods, net spending versus net saving, variations in government intrusion into the economy, the rates of inflation/deflation, variations in exports versus imports, changing values of the currency, and the structural age of the economy (the characteristic of mature capitalist economies is stagnation), etc. As former chief economist for an organization that had twenty-five thousand employees, I would have loved to see one or a few indicators which would have told all one needed to know to make rational economic decisions in a highly complex, dynamic world. Unfortunately, I never found any. Mr. Dent must be understood as a simplistic “curve fitter,” and his prescriptions viewed in the light of serious caveats!

    • Ben

      Great point. There are so many variables involved here. Obviously demographics do matter, but if it was simply as easy as following demographic trends and investing accordingly, anyone who reads the census every year would be a millionaire.

  • Ray

    Dent is a Flim Flam man, a con artist that uses FEAR to sell his almost always wrong opinions to the masses. Sound familiar? Welcome to the new alt-world.

  • Jim Clark

    I have a bit of a warm spot for Harry Dent because his first book some 20 years ago was optimistic for the next 15 years. Which is what I wanted to hear about investing for retirement. But he has been way off in the 21st century so about the only thing I use him for, and it’s rare, is entertainment.

  • Tom Thumb

    Harry has made A LOT of money predicting the future and selling his books. Harry is also quite the partier. Loves the good things in life and loves to party the night (entire night) away. I was actually featured in a documentary that he was in a while back and when he showed up it was quite interesting. He continues to maintain a home in south Florida and hits the spots regularly.