Warren Buffett is back in the news with stakes in General Electric and Goldman Sachs, and advice to buy U.S. stocks. But as Buffett has generated headlines through the years, one factoid has gone largely unnoticed: He keeps an army of book writers busy and the publishing industry hungry for more.
There are 47 books in print, according to Books In Print, that have Buffett's name in the title. Borders Books CEO George Jones says no other living person, aside from U.S. presidents or other major world political figures, is named in so many titles, except the Dalai Lama.
To publishers, the 78-year-old Buffett has been hot for more than 15 years, and is gaining momentum. New books released just this month: Pilgrimage to Warren Buffett's Omaha: A Hedge Fund Manager's Dispatches from Inside the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting by Jeff Matthews and Warren Buffett and the Interpretation of Financial Statements: The Search for the Company with a Durable Competitive Advantage by Mary Buffett and David Clark. Janet Tavakoli's, Dear Mr. Buffett: What An Investor Learns 1,269 Miles From Wall Street, is racing to be the first Buffett book of 2009.
The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life, which was released Sept. 29 to fanfare and fortuitous timing, has ambitions of becoming the best-selling Warren Buffett book of all time. It has 700,000 copies out and ranks near or at the top of most non-fiction best-seller lists.
Snowball's list price is $35, not cheap, but owning the 47-book, 14,178-page Buffett library would cost more than $1,000, and that's if buying the less-expensive paperback versions when available.
Buffett sees it all as simple capitalism at work. "A market system ensures that anything will find a publisher if it can be written easily and will sell some minimum number of copies," he says in an e-mail. "I just wish I had received a royalty on them all." Then the man worth $50 billion adds parenthetically, "That is tongue in cheek."
Buffett has a rare combination of financial genius and Midwestern approachability that offers "the charisma of movie stars" and the genuineness of "your favorite uncle," says Peter Knapp, marketing director of business and finance books for Wiley.
He has hit the sweet spot, and some authors say they have been pressured by publishers to get Buffett's name or photo onto a book jacket.
Invoking his name for the sake of sales
One of the first authors to write a Warren Buffett book was Luki Vail, except that hers really had nothing to do with the chairman of Berkshire Hathaway. The book was first published in 1992 and republished in 1996 as While Waiting to Win the Lottery! The Baby Boomers' Money Manual.
Two years later Robert Hagstrom was out with The Warren Buffett Way, and sales of that book were headed for 1 million copies when someone at Vail's publisher found a reference to Buffett embedded deep inside her personal finance book. It was a one-paragraph anecdote squirreled away in Chapter 25 that had nothing to do with investing. But it was enough to get Vail's 1996 edition renamed without major revision: Invest Like Warren Buffett, Live Like Jimmy Buffett: A Money Manual for Those Who Haven't Won the Lottery.
"Nobody can invest like Warren Buffett. Warren's Warren," says Vail, now a semiretired financial planner in Carlsbad, Calif.