An endorsement from Oprah Winfrey. A film deal fromSteven Spielberg. A debut at the top of The New York Times bestsellers list. These are the things every author craves most, and while the first two require the favor of a benevolent God, the third can be had by anyone with the ability to write a check — a pretty big one.
ResultSource, a San Diego-based marketing consultancy, specializes in getting books onto bestseller lists, according to The Wall Street Journal. For clients willing to pay enough, it will even guarantee a No. 1 spot. It does this by taking bulk sales and breaking them up into more organic-looking individual purchases, defeating safeguards that are supposed to make it impossible to “buy” bestseller status.
And it’s not cheap. Soren Kaplan, a business consultant and speaker, hired ResultSource to promote his book “Leapfrogging.” Responding to the WSJ article on his website, Kaplan breaks out the economics of making the list.
With a $27.95 list price, I was told that the cost of each book would total about $23.50 after various retail discounts and including $3.99 for tax, handling and shipping. To ensure a spot on The Wall Street Journal’s bestseller list, I needed to obtain commitments from my clients for a minimum of 3000 books at about $23.50, a total of about $70,500. I would need to multiply these numbers by a factor of about three to hit The New York Times list.
So it would’ve cost more than $211,000, and that’s before ResultSource’s fee, which is typically more than $20,000. Kaplan settled for making the Journal’s list, reaching the pre-sale figure of 3,000 by securing commitments from corporate clients, who agreed to buy copies as part of his speaking fees, and by buying copies for himself to resell at public appearances.
Kaplan expresses significant reservations about taking part in what is essentially a laundering operation aimed at deceiving the book-buying public into believing a title is more in-demand than it is.
“It’s no wonder few people in the industry want to talk about bestseller campaigns,” he writes “Put bluntly, they allow people with enough money, contacts, and know-how to buy their way onto bestseller lists.”
Yet ResultSource’s methods aren’t exactly secret. The company’s website features an endorsement from Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh and a breakdown of the campaign it mounted behind his book “Delivering Happiness,” which included a Groupon offering of 1,600 copies. Via a spokeswoman, Hsieh confirmed that he hired the firm and detailed the services it provided. (You can read Hsieh’s full statement at the bottom of this post.)
Still, Amazon disapproves strongly enough of ResultSource’s methods that it told WSJ it will no longer do business with the company. What about the publishers of the various bestsellers lists — particularly the all-important New York Times list?
The Times’s methodology (which you can find at the bottom of this page) samples sales from a diverse range of retail outlets, a measure specifically intended to weed out books whose sales surge is a product of artificial demand. Books that benefited from bulk sales are supposed to have a dagger icon next to them to denote that fact. Yet when Hsieh’s book debuted on the list in 2009, it had no such symbol.
I called and emailed the Times with several questions, including whether it was aware before today of ResultSource’s activities. Here’s the reply I got from a spokeswoman: “The New York Times comprehensively tracks and tabulates the weekly unit sales of all titles reported by book retailers as their general interest bestsellers. We will not comment beyond our methodology on the other questions.
ResultSource CEO Kevin Small did not reply to a voicemail.
Here’s Tony Hsieh’s full message:
ResultSource booked us for various speaking events in many of our cities during our 2010 book tour, where we went to 23 cities over 3.5 months on the Delivering Happiness bus.
For part one of our trip, see:
At many of those events, people paid to come watch me speak and receive an autographed copy of my book. ResultSource managed the speaking, book ordering, and distribution of the books for us during the tour. We’re excited that the book has continued to do well over the years since the launch, and are also excited that the paperback version of the book will be coming out next month!
Since the book launch, “Delivering Happiness” has spun off into a company, and now has its own apparel line as part of its mission to help spread the Delivering Happiness message: