Home » Advertising-Promotion-Marketing, Bestsellers, Big Publishing » Paying to get on the New York Times Best Seller List

Paying to get on the New York Times Best Seller List

7 March 2014

From Patheos:

Yesterday, World Magazine published an article by Warren Cole Smith which described a contract between Mars Hill Church (MHC) and ResultSource, Inc. (RSI) for the purpose of elevating Mark Driscoll’s book Real Marriage to various best seller lists.  The arrangement was successful, leading to a week atop the New York Time’s best seller list for advice books. Mars Hill Church does not deny this but spun the arrangement as a means to spread the gospel.

. . . .


. . . .

Apparently, the publisher must be on board with this arrangement as well since the contract requires the publisher to supply the proper number of books. I have asked Harper Collins Christian for comment but they have not replied as yet.


Link to the rest at Patheos and thanks to Eric for the tip.

PG blogged about this practice last year.

Advertising-Promotion-Marketing, Bestsellers, Big Publishing

37 Comments to “Paying to get on the New York Times Best Seller List”

  1. “Apparently, the publisher must be on board with this arrangement as well since the contract requires the publisher to supply the proper number of books.”

    Wait, what?

    I’m as shocked as you are.

  2. The contract has a pretty good how-to guide on how to do it.
    Now anybody can play RIG THE BESTSELLER LIST.

    I suppose all the books they bought in the process will get ebay’ed to minimize the cost of the campaign.

    • More than likely they will be sold at “REAL MARRIAGE” seminars of some kind, or included, at suitable markup, in the seminar materials. Waste not, want not.

      I wonder how much it would cost to get a book bumped to the Amazon #1 spot in erotica? Hmmm…

      • I suppose if they’re being given away at the seminars, the cost of the book can be written off as a marketing expense, which means taxpayers get to subsidize a church’s scam. I guess to the Mars Hill Church, the “10 Commandments” is more like the “10 Options.”

  3. Oh, so this is how a meritocracy works!

  4. Maybe we should launch a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to get us all on that bestseller list.

    It’s always been about the money. Pay to play.

  5. Frankly, one should track the correlation between the full middle page ad in the Sunday NY Times book section and where the book ends up on the bestseller list. Does paying over $90,000 for that ad influence the list? I’m sure the NYT will say no, but a casual check says otherwise.

    Reporting stores, no proof of sales required, etc. etc. Seriously?

    • For years I’ve been asking someone to find a correlation between books reviewed by the NYT, whether the review was favorable, and how much NYT advertising space the publisher bought that year.

      So far, no takers.

    • It does make you wonder, doesn’t it?

  6. Indie authors move up best-seller lists because their friends write glowing reviews–all six of them. (or so the argument goes) But if you grease the wheel using corporate services, then it’s called industry-insider knowledge and of course, that’s the way capitalism is supposed to work.

    • lol, true. Now those accusations against Indies are put into a better light. They just assumed everyone did as they did.

  7. How to game the bestseller lists has been discussed in vague terms in the past, but to my knowledge this is the first time the dirty laundry has been aired quite so publicly. However the NYT, WSJ and others respond, their hallowed lists appear likely to fall a bit in status.

    Per comments in the OP, Mr. Driscoll paid for this campaign using tax exempt donations and tithes. This, when the sales of the book flow not to Mars Hill Church but to Mr. Driscoll himself. His defense of “just spreading the gospel” is not going to wash with most Christians. Comments in the OP compare him to the moneychangers in the temple. Mr. Driscoll has a megapastor’s arrogance– I’m sure he will double down instead of backing down– but it’ll be a job wriggling out of this latest ethical bind.

    Thank you, PG, for a delicious double dose of schadenfreude with my morning coffee.

    • I have no problem with bulk buying to make a book a bestseller, because I see that as a type of advertising that some folks can do, when they can’t do what trad pubs can. However, as a person of the same religion as Mr. Driscoll (who irks me no end for relying time and again on gimmicky and iffy displays for attention), using church monies for this ticks me off.

      Not to worry. He must answer to a higher authority (as the old kosher hot dog commercials reminded us.) I don’t think this is what Christ or the apostles had in mind when they asked us to give and donate and take up offerings.

      Advertising is a business expense. Driscoll should have paid for it out of his own pocket if he was going to do it. Or, better yet, be a little above it. If God wants the book to sell, it will. Oh, thee, Mark, of little faith.

      But as I told a couple agents on FB, trad pubs have the “old pub’s network” akin to the Old Boy’s Clubs to schmooze and pull strings and put up ads and get spots in places. Indie authors don’t have that clout, pull, advertising cash, etc. BUT..if an indie author has 20K lying around and wants to use it to buy books to then resell or give away and use that as “advertising”–ie, visibility on the charts–I don’t care. I don’t use NYT bestseller lists or USA Today, etc, to decide what to read.

  8. I am not shocked at all. This is how business is conducted. Let me say that there is a big difference between art-writing, and commerce-publishing business. One is or wants to be immaculate, the other is dirty. One creates art, the other creates money. The author-published is almost like being a priest, he serves God, and money is at the root of all evil. But money is much welcome, builds the church, and keeps the church running.
    A while back everyone was up in arms when they found out that John Locke paid for reviews. He used his business know-how to make his books successful. From the business point of view he did what was needed, and so do the trad-pubs. Nice guys finish last.
    I, the writer/author, am appalled by the practices the trad-pubs undertake. I, the Indie-pub, wish that I would have the money and the power to do what they do. But I have limited funds and cannot buy even a fake review. I guess I’ll have to try harder. 🙂

    • Acceptance of unethical business practices begins with “what did you expect?” I hope never to go down that slippery slope.

      John Locke can keep his money, in return for his trashed reputation. He will always be a slimebag.

      • Perhaps so Bill, and it seems unfair. But do the readers care? I checked some of his latest books and he seems to be doing fine, with plenty of five star reviews.
        But this was not the point I tried to make. Trad-pubs are playing by the commercial set of rules and no one bates an eye. Why? Because the author is not involved in those practices?
        Why are we the Indie-Author-Publishers shackling ourselves in the name of righteousness? Business is business, and the one who is best at business wins. It doesn’t mean that that business has the best book out there. The best mouse trap is not the best seller. The best seller is the one best marketed.

  9. It makes the “reviews scandal” on Amazon look pretty tame.

  10. Despite trade-publishers gaming bestsellers lists, self-publishers had managed to climb onto them anyway. I imagine that must anger and scare the trade-publishers quite a bit.
    Trade-publisher: “Those pesky barbarian taking the slots we paid dearly without spending a dime for them, how dare they?”
    literary agent: “Sir, we could accuse them of buying reviews and using sockpuppets.”
    Trade-publisher: “Yeah, yeah, that will show them.” 🙂

  11. Ugh. Mars Hill Church.

  12. Did you notice the year? This was from 2011 (over 3 years ago). I guess Amazon doesn’t work with Result Source any longer and of course Borders is out of business (as mentioned in this deal memo letter). That was also before there was an eBook New York Times bestsellers list so you don’t even need to go through all that much expense or hassle.

    But you do need to get all your fans to buy the eBook during a one week window to hit the list, they say.

  13. I see it as a very positive sign that this information is, as Barron noted, being aired in big bold public terms, and in such detail.

    It means the old power structure continues to fade away. People are no longer intimidated and afraid to speak – and are holding Big Publishing increasingly accountable, as well as starting to dismantle the ways it maintained its power.

  14. Whether it is done by a publishing house or an individual author, this sort of thing is disgusting and should be publicized to warn customers.

    • Customers should not be basing their buying choices on “oh, a lot of other folks bought this during this week.” In this day/age when folks can read blurbs, reviews (real ones) and samples of books, there’s no excuse for NOT being happy with what you buy. WHere it is on a list is irrelevant.

  15. Wait, there’s more:
    The same author has also been accused of repeated plagiarism.


  16. I think you can google ‘motivational speakers’ and ‘how to get on the bestseller list’ to see that this deceit/conceit has been going on for at least 25 years. In that scam, author contacts all buddies to all buy on same day within tight time period to influence the reporting to nyt or amz for that period. Religious right, repubs and others have used the scheme for years. There are some returns. The scam isnt exactly buying the books, it is a coordinated and ‘secret’ effort to all buy in massive amounts in a reporting period timeframe.

    NYT puts an asterisk after certain ‘bestsellers’ of a religious or political [often far right wing nature] saying something like ‘bulk orders are part of this ranking.’ That’s code for some someones have bought a sh–pile of books all of a sudden and at once with in a single week’s of bookstore reporting period across the usa. This used to, re NYT, push the book in question onto the front of the bookstores where it enjoyed facetiously-won publicity for free as a manufactured NYT ‘bestseller.’ Entire congregations of whatever, have done this for their fav book that they feel is missionary work in a world controlled by da debbil.

    Many of those books suddenly purchased are sometimes said to be ‘ostensibly’ for seminars BOR sales, but many are returned. And, the deceit is clear as buying from the publisher would net a 40% or more discount which makes more financial sense for saying one is going to sell BOR than buying full load from a nyt reporting bookstore. AMZ is apparently easy to scam with similar tactics from ‘public speakers’ who often have huge email lists, and ask their following to all buy newest whatever on AMZ on same day. The motive as I understand it, is sales of other services, being able to say one was a ‘bestseller’ on AMZ, if even only for a day or a week or so. I think it’s unethical as it does not reflect actual readers, and downpushes other books /audios that are by authors who dont use that scam… but apparently some think it’s a-ok.

    There are also deliberate campaigns of granting the books in return for a review. There’s as many strange bumps in the night as there are cunning humans. John Locke had his own scam. Dont know if his paying for reviews was the issue. I thought it was something like he wrote a book about how he sold a million ebooks, and ‘forgot’ to reveal how he actually amassed so many pos reviews by paying for them. Many ways to ‘rise’ apparently.

    All the above, incidentally has nothing, as far as I know, to do with publishers. It appears it is a scam used by authors and possibly someone advising them.

    • I wouldn’t call it “secret”. Isn’t this part of the value of pre-orders and hard release dates? All those pre-orders register as sales on release day, giving the book a big initial push. If the boost is big enough, it hits the lists.

      • Thanks Kat. I think that’s a different phenom.

        The scamming I’ve seen isnt about preorders and release dates. It’s about a sudden ‘campaign’ to overwhelm, sometimes it appears for political reasons’ only… to swamp the ‘list’ in order to high profile a book person about whatever– to literally give them platform and venues as media chases ‘bestsellers’ often enough still. Sometimes the books are published by known names in publishing. Sometimes by small presses that are mayfly presses of the author themselves. Sometimes simply a one-off by author with no prev or future bks forthcoming.

  17. I had a post about another church (Elevation Church) in the news selling their pastor’s book, and how it got on the best seller lists.


    As noted, this stuff has been going on a long time.

  18. How do you think the Beatles got their first number 1 single? Their manager bought all the copies for his record store. The music was clearly good enough to sell and sell and sell, as did every record after that for more than 50 years. Only since recent changes allowing music charts to rely on digital sales and songs not even needing a physical release did this sort of rorting cease, and ebook charts are going to be the way to go.

    • adam, ‘rorting”? Great word, and it means?

      Back in the good ol/bad old days, the scandals about radio recordplaying top 100 was just about as you see it now among certain authors. They called it payola back then. There was more to it back then too, as a way of keeping certain recording artists off the billboard 100 for they were ‘taking over the charts’ and were considered by some in a certain part of the music mogul [sp]industry, ‘the wrong color’ to be in such neck and neck real competition with so and so who wanted to dominate with his own preferences for music, but also for race.

  19. I just Googled Mars Hill Church for an update. He’s come out with a statement kind of, sort of owning up to it. But here’s what gets me. His book is about marriage, right? It’s called Real Marriage, not Real Christianity or Real Church or anything like that. So how is that “spreading the gospel?” What, they’re one and the same?

    I feel like they’re taking me for a fool when they say things like this. And if that’s the best spin they can give it… :p

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