Home » Bestsellers, Big Publishing » Firm That Helps Authors Buy Their Way Onto Bestseller Lists Goes Into Stealth Mode

Firm That Helps Authors Buy Their Way Onto Bestseller Lists Goes Into Stealth Mode

20 April 2014

From Forbes:

For years, it was an open secret in the book publishing industry that any author willing to spend enough money could nab a spot on the major bestseller by engaging the services of a company called Result Source Inc. Now that secret is a little less open.

A few weeks ago, the San Diego-based firm quietly scrubbed most evidence of its existence from the web. Its website, which previously contained numerous case studies describing the many campaigns it has executed for authors, has been reduced to a bare-bones landing page with a logo and a contact form.

. . . .

Curiously, all this comes more than a year after an expose in the Wall Street Journal revealed Result Source’s business model for what it is: Basically, the company requires authors to make bulk purchases of their own books, then breaks those orders up into small increments to make them look like organic retail sales. For this service, authors or their publishers pay tens of thousands of dollars, on top of the cost of the books whose purchases Result Source launders. The total price tag can approach $250,000.

WSJ’s reporting prompted a strong response from Amazon, which declared that it would no longer do business with Result Source. Yet according to the Wayback Machine, which takes historical snapshots of websites, Result Source’s full website was still online as recently as Feb. 3, 2014.

. . . .

The timing suggests it has to do with a scandal that’s been unfolding in the evangelical community over the past six months. Result Source started out as a marketing firm catering to Christian authors, and they still make up a large part of its client roster. Several well-known pastors, including Steven Furtick, Mark Driscoll and Perry Noble, have recently been accused of using their congregations’ funds to pay for bestseller campaigns.

. . . .

Duncan and others have floated the idea that the IRS should get involved, arguing that the pastors in question have been exploiting their churches’ nonprofit status for personal enrichment.

. . . .

All of this seems to have led Result Source to the belated realization that everything it does makes everyone involved look pretty bad.

Link to the rest at Forbes and thanks to Randall for the tip.

Here’s a link to what Result Source looks like today and what it looked like in February of this year (sort of).

Bestsellers, Big Publishing

30 Comments to “Firm That Helps Authors Buy Their Way Onto Bestseller Lists Goes Into Stealth Mode”

  1. Oh, lovely! The two most repulsive entities in this country working together to cheat people.

  2. Did Cosmo buy Forbes? Half the articles have numbers in their titles. ‘Five reasons…’ ‘Twelve sure signs…’.
    Or do all their writers take eZine courses?

    • List articles presumably have higher click-through and responses than others. I don’t know how true it is altogether, but I’ve seen that commonly believed in web writing circles.

  3. “All of this seems to have led Result Source to the belated realization that everything it does makes everyone involved look pretty bad.”

    That is a beautiful sentence.

    They went into it with their eyes open, to scam the system – and it never occurred to them this might be bad? Nonsense. Where they went wrong was not in their business model – similar to politics: buy what you want – but their arrogance in putting it up on their own website as advertising.

    People don’t forgive arrogance. And don’t like being told they were easy to trick.

    Too bad there probably won’t be retribution. Not in this world.

  4. In the past didn’t vanity pubs charge authors for print runs?
    If so, were those ‘purchases’ counted as retail?

    Dan

  5. So this is what happens when the authors buying reviews make it big. I don’t think ARC reviews are a whole lot different than this. Hey, just my opinion!

    • Maybe I’m naive, but how is offering advance copies for people to review the same as buying reviews? I’m not trying to be snarky, just asking an honest question.

      • I think most of us will agree that buying your way onto the NY Times list gives authors an advantage. ARC reviews also give an author an advantage, or they wouldn’t be done.

        Why is one accepted, but the other isn’t? How come one is considered good marketing, while the other is seen as taking an unfair advantage?

        • What makes an unfair advantage? By this logic, it seems that any promotion at all could be considered an unfair advantage.

          The dividing line for me is honesty. If one is gaming the system, or buying reviews (spending money for guaranteed positive reviews, as opposed to soliciting honest ones), then it is indeed unfair.

          Like most moral questions, it’s up to each of us to ask the hard questions, “Is it fair? Is it right?” and answer honestly.

    • I hope you’re not implying that all ARC reviews are dishonest. I know some are, but it’s a stretch to say they all are. Most of my reviews are of ARC’s, and while I don’t like writing critical reviews, I do.

      Honest reviewers dislike the fake ones as much as you do – or more. I’ve got to the point where I almost feel bad writing a five-star review, worrying that someone is going to think it’s fake simply because it’s five stars.

  6. You don’t need any writing talent or specialized knowledge. You can buy a manuscript ($5,000 is a decent offer, I’ve heard) and then spend enough money on a campaign (like a politician) and you too can be a NYT bestseller.

    I have a hunch that Result Source is not the only company that does this. Their company is one that was so brazen about what they were doing that the plan backfired (it hurts their clients). I am sure there is no shortage of creative entrepreneurs that know how to take advantage of a great business opportunity.

  7. Jay-sus. Boggles the mind. Not really.

  8. Phyllis Humphrey

    I might be missing something but the difference between sending ARCs to reviewers is a whole lot cheaper than what Result Source charges. Comparing less than $100 to $250,000?
    And reviewers who get a free ARC are not required to say they like the book.

    • So it’s just about cost then? If we could get the Result Source package for, oh, maybe a couple hundred bucks it’d be alright?

      Both give authors an advantage, is one unfair while the other isn’t, and if so, why?

      You’re really getting into ethics, unless you want to add the legality in there as well. Have any laws been broken? Kind of sounds from the article that they’re still doing business, or at least will once this whole thing blows over.

      And if they don’t, I’m sure others will, or at least will try. Many more are doing the same, just on a much smaller scale, I’ve no doubt about it at all.

      Who’s to say what’s acceptable and what’s not in marketing? Readers? What if they don’t know? We’ve already seen how ethical some authors can be when it comes to reviews. Seems like a Pandora’s Box to me.

      • The word you’re looking for is “fraud”.

      • ARCs are sent out to newspapers that have a book review page. Very few do. The publisher sends ARCs for all their authors. There is no unfair advantage. The reviewers do not review all submissions. They review what strikes their fancy or is likely to interest the paper’s audience. Books from bestselling authors are frequently reviewed. Out of the rest, books that somehow stand out for their subject matter or theme get reviewed. Again, there is nothing unfair about this (it isn’t any more unfair than a publisher’s choosing one novel over another.) Add to this that reviewers have a reputation to maintain for fair reviewing. They are in a very different category from Amazon customers.

        The reviewing system worked. Alas, there are hardly any reviewers left.

        • Why is one fair and the other isn’t? Many of you can’t seem to answer this.

          • Possibly because we’re having a hard time wrapping our heads around the question. Publishers (and indie authors) send page proofs or reading copies to reviewers in hopes of getting a review. Most don’t, and the reviewers re-sell the books to second-hand stores. No-one profits except the reviewer, and then just barely. The publishers do not pay the reviewers in anything besides an ARC worth a couple of bucks in re-sale money. The reviewer writes a review, which is honest if the reviewer is. End of story. So you asking somone to prove a negative–why ARCs are NOT considered an unfair advantage, or even in some way dishonest, unethical, or fraudulent–probably doesn’t compute for a lot of us here.

            • Exactly. There’s nothing dishonest or fraudulent in saying, “Want to read my book? Can you tell people what you thought about it?”

            • I find it hard to believe no one is profiting off those reviews. If the author wasn’t profiting, it simply wouldn’t be done.

              • Then none of us should be offering our books for sale? After all, we’re profiting from them. Maybe I’m not understanding your objection. Clearly something about the system bothers you .

              • Publishers (traditional or indie) spend money in hopes they will profit from a book review garnering more sales for the book. It ain’t rocket science, and it’s not some kind of conspiracy. Advance reading copies MAY lead to reviews that whet readers’ appetites for a book around the time it’s published. Even an indifferent review puts the title out in front of readers–not altogether a bad thing.

                The reviewer MAY be paid by a media outlet (newspaper, magazine, website…) for the review, or may do it for free. And if you’re following the money, that about covers it.

                • Considering that logic, then why is buying reviews bad? I mean, that’s spending money in hopes they’ll profit from a book.

                  So as long as your asking for a review but not paying for it, it’s alright. But if you pay, it’s not.

                  Who decides this?

                  • If I’m running for office and I go out and shake hands and ask people to vote for me, that’s expected and honest. Some will vote for me, some won’t. They’re not obligated either way, but if they do vote for me, then the handshaking worked to the advantage of my campaign, but I haven’t broken or even bent any laws. My harshest opponent couldn’t find fault with me saying, “Hey, I’d appreciate your vote.”

                    If I promise money to people if they vote for me, it’s dishonest. It I give money in expectation of making them feel obligated to vote for me, it’s dishonest. So my point is, if you don’t see a difference between paying for reviews in the expectation of tipping the reviewer towards a favorable one and asking for a review and taking what you get, good or bad, we’re speaking different languages. It happens.

            • Being someone who has received ARCs for reviews (formerly when I was a book reviewer at a newspaper, now for my website and when I feel like it), there’s essentially an unspoken agreement between publisher / author and reviewer.

              You send the book; I review it. If you don’t like it, tough.

              This relationship gets abused, of course. Harriet Klausner reviewed books in the ’90s on the DorothyL listserv, then moved over to Amazon where she became the #1 reviewer by sheer dint of prolific reviewing. It was the same pattern: three paragraphs, lots of plot descriptions, and praise for the book.

              So it still comes down to the reviewer’s word and reputation that carries the day. I can’t imagine anyone believing Klausner’s word after reading one review, and certainly not after three. What you can pick up from her work that’s legit is “author A” has a book out and this is what it’s about. So on that basis, she performs a service.

              When you look at my book reviews, whether on my web site or on Amazon’s, you’ll find raves and pans. You’ll find detailed descriptions of the story and what I thought about it. Sometimes, especially in the early days, I fell prey to the “write it like a blurb” in the hopes I’ll see it reprinted in the paperback version, but never shaded a review because I got a free copy.

              At least back then I could give the book to the library and take the tax break (in cash that amounted to 1/3rd of the cover price). That was my payment for spending three hours reading and another hour or two writing the review. Throw in all the books that I didn’t review, however, and I was probably cutting my tax bill by several thousand dollars a year. And I still kept a lot of books for my library.

  9. I guess the point is that there’s probably a place for marketing firms that target self-pub. However, they have to market according to good business ethics, instead planning ahead to rip off somebody (writer, consumer, search engine, etc.)

    • What is “good business ethics?”

      • Like others, I’m confused as to why you’re confused, but if you seriously cannot separate the two concepts, I’ll try to illustrate the differences here.

        An example of good business ethics would be basing sales numbers of books on actual reader purchases. An example of bad business ethics would be this:

        “Basically, the company requires authors to make bulk purchases of their own books, then breaks those orders up into small increments to make them look like organic retail sales.”

        In other words, touting yourself as a bestselling author when you were the one who bought all the books is not how a bestselling author is defined and as such is misleading to the public. It’s the literary equivalent of insider trading. Which, in case you were wondering, is legally and ethically wrong.

        An ARC (which is often uncorrected and does not have the final cover) given to a reader FOR FREE in hopes that the reader will review the book on some platform is not ethically wrong. No one is obligated to do anything. No money exchanges hands. And if the reviewer does not like the book, the author has no control over where, when, and how the review is posted or printed. Some reviewers may even choose not to review the book at all. There are no guarantees that either party will be satisfied.

        It’s the equivalent of a business giving away free samples to drum up word of mouth on a product and to increase their customer traffic. For example, a new pet store in town gave me a bag of their homemade doggie treats even though I didn’t purchase anything. Neither I, nor my dog, was obligated to tell people that the treats were delicious and I was given no monetary compensation nor any incentives to do so. However, Thor was thrilled with the mailman-shaped bones and I not only purchased items from the store on a return visit, but told others about their homemade, organic treats that my dog enjoyed.

        So an ARC is the literary equivalent of a free sample. Not a thing wrong with that.

        I hope that clears things up for you.

  10. I can’t even believe this is a discussion.

    Offering an ARC = hoping for a legitimate, positive review; still a crapshoot, as the reviewer might hate the book.

    Paying for a good review = PAYING FOR A REVIEW YOU KNOW WILL BE GOOD.

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