"If we have to buy our way into readers’ attention, maybe it’s time to stop writing.”
Being Number One . . . It's a coveted title not only in the secular world, but in the Christian world. More and more it seems writers who identify themselves as 'Christian' are describing themselves as being a "New York Times bestselling author'. Perhaps some achieve this feat the old-fashioned way — by earning it — but we now know that a number of 'Christian' authors have bought their way to the top of the NYT bestseller list.
For those of you who have never heard of this scheme, our friend and fellow blogger Tim Fall, who hails from Northern California, has written an excellent parable that illustrates these shenanigans. (see below)
The Mega-Pastor and the Best Seller List – a parable (link)
There once was a man who wrote a book. This man was a pastor of a church with thousands of people. He wanted his book to be read by even more people, so he asked for help.
He found help, but it didn’t come cheap. For $200,000 the people helping him would make sure his book made it onto a bestseller list, and that way millions of people would know he wrote a book.
The helpers also needed to make it look like they weren’t helping at all. They needed to make it look like thousands of people were buying the man’s book all on their own. They told the man to give them addresses they could use to make it look like lots of people were buying his book.
The helpers also needed to make sure the payment for these books didn’t look like it came from them. They told the man they could do this easily; the helpers have over 1,000 credit cards, debit cards, and other payment types they would use to make it look like lots of different people were buying the books.
The reason the helpers needed to make it look like lots of different people were buying the man’s book is that journalists who publish best seller lists disregard bulk orders in their analysis of book sales. They won’t call a book a best seller if one person or company buys thousands of copies all at once. Like the helpers were going to do.
The man agreed, had his assistant sign a contract that laid out all these terms, and paid the helpers over $200,000.
The helpers got to work, put in orders for the man’s book, used lots of different addresses and payment sources, and the next thing you know the book appeared on a national newspaper’s best seller list!
The man was happy. He said all of this gave glory to God.
This is an apt description of how Mark and Grace Driscoll's book Real Marriage rocketed to the top of the NYT bestseller list for one measly week.
When Mark and Grace were basking in the limelight back in 2012, I made a trip to the local Barnes and Noble to see how they were hyping the Driscolls' 'bestseller'. I scoured the bookstore, looking for a display table piled high with Real Marriage books. None was to be found. Instead, the Christian section had a mere two copies of the Driscolls' book available for purchase. I remember phoning Dee while still in the bookstore. It was at that moment we suspected something wasn't right about the NYT ranking.
Then in March 2014 WORLD (Magazine) published an article entitled Unreal Sales for Driscoll's Real Marriage. Here is the lowdown (from the article) on how they achieved the Number One ranking:
Seattle’s Mars Hill Church paid a California-based marketing company at least $210,000 in 2011 and 2012 to ensure that Real Marriage, a book written by Mark Driscoll, the church’s founding pastor, and his wife Grace, made the New York Times best-seller list.
According to a document obtained by WORLD, ResultSource Inc. (RSI) contracted with Mars Hill “to conduct a bestseller campaign for your 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.”
The marketing company also promised to help place Real Marriage on the Wall Street Journal Business, USA Today Money, BN.com (Barnes & Noble), and Amazon.com best-seller lists.
Once this explosive information became known, Mark Driscoll issued an apology in a letter to his congregation. Here is the pertinent excerpt:
First, a marketing company called ResultSource was used in conjunction with the book Real Marriage, which was released in January 2012. My understanding of the ResultSource marketing strategy was to maximize book sales, so that we could reach more people with the message and help grow our church. In retrospect, I no longer see it that way. Instead, I now see it as manipulating a book sales reporting system, which is wrong. I am sorry that I used this strategy, and will never use it again. I have also asked my publisher to not use the “#1 New York Times bestseller” status in future publications, and am working to remove this from past publications as well.
As soon as this marketing scheme was exposed, ResultSource scrubbed its website. All that is left can been seen in the screen shot below.
We believe this revelation (of using ResultSource), along with charges of plagiarism against Mark Driscoll, significantly contributed to the collapse of the Mars Hill empire.
Around the same time that ResultSource was working its magic for the Driscolls, Perry Noble was also utilizing its services to propel his book Unleash! to the top. You may recall that Driscoll and Noble were involved with The Elephant Room 2011 (link). Perhaps they discussed the benefits of using ResultSource during this time. Both Driscoll and Noble had books published by Tyndale House in 2012, and if you check out the endorsements of Unleash! you will see some interesting names. Here is one of them (see screen shot below).
THERE IT IS! –> Mark Driscoll, NY Times #1 Bestselling author
Earlier today Dr. Warren Throckmorton published an interesting post entitled Perry Noble’s New Spring Church Used ResultSource to Market Unleash. It reminded me of a post written last March by Dr. Jim Duncan (who blogs at Pajama Pages) called NewSpring and Perry Noble are also Result Source clients.
You may recall that some years ago folks at NewSpring Church did some horrific things to Dr. Jim Duncan (a professor at Anderson University) and his family, which you can read about in Holy Rage at the Spring: How NewSpring Church leaders motivated and monitored a campaign to destroy a critic and his family. If you are not aware of what happened, please read this painful account!
What triggered recent discussions about manipulating one's way onto the NYT Bestseller List was probably an article in Christianity Today entitled Is Buying Your Way Onto the New York Times Bestseller List Wrong?
This portion of the article particularly stood out to me:
“If I can plop down $25,000 and get a bestseller, that seems a little self-serving,” said independent publicist Don Otis. “I hope I’m doing something that makes use of the gifts God has given me, but when you manipulate people, it crosses the line.” . . .
There is something ominous about Christian authors who manipulate the system through questionable methods, says author Don Aycock. The Florida pastor cites Paul’s admonition: “‘Everything is permissible’—but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible’—but not everything is constructive” (1 Cor. 10:23).
“Writers want to get their words into the hands of readers; I certainly do,” Aycock said. “But shouldn’t we authors stick to both ethical behavior and faith in the God we keep saying is in control? If we have to buy our way into readers’ attention, maybe it’s time to stop writing.”
AMEN, Pastor Aycock!
Lydia's Corner: Exodus 5:22-7:25 Matthew 18:21-19:12 Psalm 23:1-6 Proverbs 5:22-23