Crossway Books Condemns Manipulation of Bestseller Lists

Monday and Tuesday, I wrote about three Christian authors (David Jeremiah, and Les & Leslie Parrott) who have used help from ResultSource CEO Kevin Small to attain their publishing success. Mars Hill Church’s contract with ResultSource to elevate Mark Driscoll’s book Real Marriage shook public trust in that church. Perry Noble, pastor of New Spring Church, has admitted to using ResultSource to elevate the position of one of his books. There are other authors of books published by Christian publishers who use the ResultSource schemes.

Until recently, ResultSource’s methods were wrapped in mystery. However, with the disclosure of the contract between Mars Hill Church and ResultSource, the public got a look at the service purchased by authors who want New York Times Bestseller status. Essentially the author pays ResultSource to purchase a large quantity of books which ResultSource will send to addresses supplied by the author. If the author doesn’t provide enough addresses in the right geographic areas, then ResultSource will supply them. ResultSource deliberately uses methods which overcome obstacles “to the reporting system” (i.e., deceives the bestseller list). See the excerpt from the contract below for the details.

I asked three Christian publishers — Tyndale House, Harper Collins Christian, and Crossway — for opinions about the use of ResultSource. Tyndale House’s Todd Starowitz told me he would reply when publisher Ron Beers returned from a trip. However, Tyndale did not respond further. HarperCollins Christian did not respond at all. Only Crossway, speaking generally about list manipulation and not individual authors, provided an answer:

From our point of view at Crossway, the bestseller lists are designed to provide an accurate reflection of the market’s response to an author and his or her book. If an author, agent, or publisher intentionally tries to subvert or distort the intended purpose of the bestseller lists, we believe this would constitute an ethical violation, in terms of standard ethical norms, but even more so in terms of Christian ethics. This would be dishonoring to the Lord (to whom we are ultimately accountable), and it would also conflict with our calling to love our neighbors as ourselves (by not creating a distorted or deceptive picture of reality). Christian authors, agents, and publishers are called to a high standard of integrity as we seek to glorify God, not only in the content of what we publish, sell, and market, but also in the way in which we go about this calling.” — Justin Taylor, senior vice president and publisher for books, Crossway 

I think Taylor cuts to the heart of the problem with manipulation of bestseller lists. The lists should provide a snapshot of the public response to a book. The public at large seems to see the lists as indicating broad public interest and even quality. However, as it stands, what the list provides is unclear. As the extent of manipulation by Christian and non-Christian authors unfolds, the list may be more of a shadowy glimpse into who has sufficient money to purchase their way into a fiction. Taylor calls the manipulation what it is: unethical. Taylor calls the Christian publishing world to a higher standard. The defense that everybody’s doing it is no defense at all.

Back in June, David Jeremiah’s non-answer to Marvin Olasky’s question about list manipulation provided an insight into another bogus rationale.

Marvin Olasky: TheNew York Times for its bestseller list counts sales from a bunch of secular stores; I understand there’s a company that will go in and buy several books in each of these bookstores. The companies that do that spread the release point of these books that are purchased by individuals so they can get attention. Is that legitimate?

David Jeremiah: The bottom line is you’re selling these books and they’re just not getting noticed. If you want the books to be noticed so that you can reach more people with them, you’ve got to figure out how to do that. I don’t know all of the ramifications of it, but I know that you can’t just write a book and say I’m not going to have anything to do with marketing. If you don’t care enough about it to try and figure out how to get it in the hands of other people, nobody else is going to either.

If you want your books to be noticed, you have to do something about it. It is stunning that David Jeremiah, a man who provides daily bible advice about a host of topics, can say unchallenged that he doesn’t “know all of the ramifications of it.” Dr. Jeremiah, fellow Cedarville University alum, let me ask you to read Justin Taylor’s statement about the ramifications. Let me hasten to add that I don’t know exactly how Jeremiah worked with ResultSource. However, given the direct question about manipulation of sales asked by Olasky, it is disappointing that Jeremiah did not answer it directly.

If he is really unsure of the implications of Olasky’s question, then Dr. Jeremiah should also read Jared Wilson’s article, “What’s Wrong with Buying Your Way onto the Bestseller List. Wilson provided five reasons the practice is wrong:

  • It’s dishonest
  • It’s egocentric and lazy
  • It may eventually harm your reputation and will bug you in the long run
  • It’s poor stewardship and bad strategy
  • It disadvantages those actually gifted.

See also the comments of the Director of Communications for the New York Times.

At the end of the day, it should not be hard for Christian leaders to understand why fooling the public with a purchased persona is wrong. When Mark Driscoll’s deal with ResultSource came to light, the church initially called it an opportunity, then unwise, then wrong. Eventually Driscoll removed the designation of NYTs best selling author from his bio. What should other authors do who have used this scheme? What should publishers do? At Crossway, there doesn’t seem to be any problem with understanding the ramifications.

 

Excerpt from the contract between Mars Hill Church and ResultSource. The entire contract is here.

RSIMHCone

 

For another inside look at ResultSource in the context of business publishing, see Jeffrey Trachtenberg’s article.

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