Years ago, Rick Warren finagled his way onto the bestseller lists. Before Purpose-Driven Life came out, Warren had hundreds of churches lined up to buy thousands of copies, all of which he bought through Pastors.com and resold to said churches. It was so effective that Warren’s marketing rep and Zondervan left his job there and wrote a book about the process. Warren vehemently disavowed that he’d done anything unethical. Instead, the 35 million copies he’d sold was not marketing but “God’s supernatural and sovereign plan.”
Nevertheless, as a result of PDL, bestseller lists changed their rules — some removed any book that showed large, bulk sales, while other lists put an asterisk by those titles. Also, they pulled books like PDL off of non-fiction and put them in their own category of “Self-Help and Advice,” since those are often the books with bulk sales.
Authors know that “non-royalty sales” don’t count toward bestseller lists. Those include, for instance, books that authors or their organizations buy at the author discount, usually 40 or 50% off the cover price.
Bestseller lists are important, even today. I once had a book contract that had a $10,000 incentive if my book made the NY Times or Publsihers Weekly list. (It didn’t.) Those lists are meant to gauge how many real, individual readers are buying books.
Now comes word that Mark Driscoll and his church hired a firm that used a thousand different credit cards and thousands of individual names — the names were supplied by the church — to drive Driscoll’s marriage book onto the bestseller lists. As a reward, the firm was paid $210,000 by Mars Hill Church: