Aspire to see your book land on the New York Times bestseller list?
With a couple hundred thousand dollars and the services of an enterprising – if dubious – marketing outfit, you can.
That’s according to new reports outlining how Mark Driscoll, an evangelical pastor, paid $210,000 to ResultSource Inc., a professional firm in the business of making bestsellers. The result? Driscoll’s book, “Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, and Life Together,” which he wrote with his wife Grace, skyrocketed onto the New York Times bestseller list before dropping abruptly off.
It’s not the first time we’ve heard of, or reported on, this practice. The Wall Street Journal broke the story about ResultSource in 2013, which we reported on in “How to buy your way onto the bestseller list.”
"Precisely how [ResultSource] goes about [its business] is unclear," the Wall Street Journal reported at the time.
No longer. A recent report in World Magazine gave a more detailed account about how businesses like ResultSource go about creating bestsellers.
According to the report, Driscoll’s church, Mars Hill Church, paid some $210,000 to ResultSource and entered into an agreement in October 2011 for the company “to conduct a bestseller campaign for [the] book, ‘Real Marriage’ on the week of January 2, 2012. The bestseller campaign is intended to place ‘Real Marriage’ on the New York Times bestseller list for the Advice How-to list.”
As it so happens, “Real Marriage” led the Times’ hardcover advice bestseller list on Jan. 22, 2012. The following week, reports the Los Angeles Times, it was gone.
“The spike onto a bestseller list and then disappearance – as opposed to an up-and-down arc, or a high debut followed by a decline – can indicate something other than typical consumer book-buying behavior,” the LA Times reports.
Here’s what ResultSource did to land “Real Marriage” on one of the most sought-after lists in publishing. It started by placing a large order for a lot of copies of “Real Marriage” – 11,000, to be exact, all in one week. And the company went to great lengths to make it appear the books had been bought by individuals so as to fool book sales talliers like BookScan which exist to ensure bestsellers are legitimate.
According to the World’s report, "The contract called for the 'author' to 'provide a minimum of 6,000 names and addresses for the individual orders and at least 90 names and address [sic] for the remaining 5,000 bulk orders. Please note that it is important that the makeup of the 6,000 individual orders include at least 1,000 different addresses with no more than 350 per state.'"
It doesn’t end there. Once it rounded up thousands of supposed purchasers with addresses from across the country, ResultSource made sure the payment systems also appeared diverse and could withstand scrutiny.
According to the agreement, “"RSI will use its own payment systems (ex. gift cards to ensure flawless reporting). Note: The largest obstacle to the reporting system is the tracking of credit cards. RSI uses over 1,000 different payment types (credit cards, gift cards, etc)."
That’s a lot of hoops to jump through – not to mention money spent – to create a bestseller.
And in the case of “Real Marriage,” it’s not simply an issue of an author using dubious means to artificially place his book on the bestseller list – it’s also the case of a religious leader allegedly using his community’s church funds, to the tune of $210,000, to give his book a one-week boost on the New York Times bestseller list.
“Would churchgoing Christians really consider this to be the best possible use of Mars Hill funds?” asks Seattle’s alternative weekly “The Stranger.”
As World Magazine reporter Warren Cole Smith put it, “What we’re talking about here is a quarter of a million dollars that apparently Mars Hill Church spent…This is a very unusual practice … I think many people find the practice distasteful if not immoral.”
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.