Buying Your Way Up the Bestseller List

First, it was the book reviews. News broke last year that authors could buy five-star reviews for next to nothing, helping to boost their sales while duping potential readers into thinking this was a not-to-be-missed read. Shortly after, unscrupulously business-minded authors discovered they could also pay those same reviewers to spit out one-star reviews on the title that directly competed with their books, dropping the overall ratings. That is compounded with the popularity contests behind some of the mega-reviewers who are apparently on a mission to hold the record for most book reviews, spitting out dozens of so-called reviews per day.

Fortunately, readers could trust the major bestseller lists, especially now that indie authors were finally getting the credit some of them deserve. Until it came to light that authors can also buy a spot on the bestseller list, that is.

ResultSource, a company that doesn’t even attempt to hide its purpose in allowing authors to buy their way onto the New York Times or Wall Street Journal bestseller lists, including upon debut for the right price, is  coming under fire for this practice. By basically having the author pay for them to buy his book in massive quantities and pay ResultSource a hefty five-figure fee to do so, the book sales reflect on the list. A tagline from ResultSource’s own website states: “Imagine: Your book launch massive and seamless — simultaneously debuting nationally in front of your audience before the ink dries.”

Is this illegal? No. Authors are allowed to purchase their own titles. In fact, many readers are not aware that the author must buy his own titles if he wants them, as publishers cannot afford to just toss unlimited quantities of  free copies to their authors. So what harm is this doing? It’s misleading readers, who are going to therefore spend money on what highly reputable institutions have just been deceived into declaring to be a bestseller.

An article in The Wall Street Journal actually detailed how dark this story has turned. One title debuted on its bestseller list, only to have a 99% drop in sales the following week. Another title hit the bestseller list, only to have more copies of the book returned than sold only a week later. This process allows them to return-for-refund all the books that initially caused the title to climb the charts. To add further insult to injury, ResultSource openly lists on its website a number of high-profile titles that have bought these “launch campaigns,” as though this practice of buying a spot on a bestseller list is not devious.

Where does that leave readers and consumers? Fortunately, the single most effective source of book discovery according to a large-scale survey by Goodreads is still word of mouth recommendation by ones own circle of friends. With reviews and bestseller lists being transformed into nothing more paid for marketing scams by people looking to make a quick buck, hopefully that word of mouth can travel far enough to make a difference.

Mercy Pilkington (1982 Posts)

is a Senior Editor for Good e-Reader. She is also the CEO and founder of a hybrid publishing and consulting company.

  • BigD

    I find Goodreads very suspect these days. Too many authors are on it, and there are cliques of “readers” that do each other favours by swapping 5 Star reviews. Furthermore, they’re quite happy to submit bad reviews to competing books. I’m in this situation and find it soul-destroying! The fact is they’re not even buying or reading the books, just pretending. One partial solution would be to force GR reviewers to verify their purchases.

  • Erica Lucke Dean

    I think it’s a damn shame. I want my book to hit the NYTimes Bestseller list because it deserved it, not because I paid my way in. It wouldn’t mean anything if I didn’t earn it. Some people just don’t get it.

  • Mercy Pilkington

    Unfortunately, ResultSource bills itself as being aimed at businessmen who wrote a business book. It doesn’t matter if people actually buy and read the book, all that matters is getting “bestselling author of the book BLAH BLAH BLAH” on your speaking fee or letterhead. They just about say so on their website. It’s using the bestseller list that so many authors, readers, and publishers rely on to pimp themselves to the top of the business world.

  • Mercy Pilkington

    Agreed. I recently had someone review my book on raising my autistic child. The reviewer left a scathing one-star review about how I mistreated my son, how awful I was to that darling little boy, etc…I don’t have a son. The book was about my daughter, and no, she doesn’t have an androgynous name. The troll didn’t read the book, and either was paid to write a nasty review or did it just for the sick pleasure of hurting someone else anonymously. We need a better system of discovery and appreciation for books. One aspect that might help is to do away with the STAR system that so many reviewers–including GoodEReader, to be fair–rely on. Instead of giving a star rating, explain the issues or compliments with the book.

  • WasAmbot ExAmbot

    Here’s currently being worked in the process

    Another title Launching A Leadership revolution was put thro’ the same paces.