World Magazine today dropped a bomb by revealing that Mars Hill Church entered into an agreement with ResultSource to arrange purchases of his book Real Marriage in order to land on various prestigious best seller lists. The methods described in the World article seem designed to game the system, and make it appear that a book is broadly popular when in fact the sales are being arranged to give a false appearance. According to World, Mars Hill Executive pastor Sutton Turner signed the agreement.
Mark Driscoll’s book Real Marriage was on the New York Time best seller list for exactly one week during the week of Jan. 22, 2012.
Besides paying ResultSource’s fee, one way Mars Hill may have helped Driscoll is to provide the information needed by RSI. One aspect of the scheme described by World is the use of individual purchasers who do not actually pay for the book directly but are used by Result Source to simulate individual purchases. From Warren Cole Smith’s article:
“RSI [ResultSource] will be purchasing at least 11,000 total orders in one-week.” 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 make up of the 6,000 individual orders include at least 1,000 different addresses with no more than 350 per state.”
Where could all those addresses come from? While I can’t prove this, I can speculate that they were collected on Mars Hill website via a Real Marriage donation promotion in December, 2011. Visitors to the website were asked to give a $25 or more donation to Mars Hill and in exchange the donor would get a copy of Real Marriage. The purchase was made through realmarriagebook.com (a site no longer in operation). However, via the Internet Archive, we can get a look at it. Presumably, the individual would make a donation and enter an address where the book could be mailed. The $25 would provide enough money to cover the $18-20 needed to purchase the book with some left over for either Mars Hill or to help pay ResultSource. If I am speculating correctly, the addresses would be used by ResultSource’s nationwide network of buyers (RSI bragged that they have such a network with multiple payment sources – credit cards, gift cards, etc.) to purchase the books and deliver them to the donors.
I could be wrong but it appears that Mars Hill had to supply these names within the parameters specified by RSI in order to make the purchases effective for the purposes of securing the right kind of reportable sales. If this is correct, then at least some of those books went to people who wanted them. It is hard to say where all of the bulk orders ended up. They may still be in a Mars Hill store room somewhere. In any case, the whole episode pulls back the curtain on a practice that may make the term “best selling book” a less stellar designation.