Bestseller status is often achieved by disconnecting demand for a book from its actual merit. But isn’t the “bestseller” label simply a lie when people who bought the book didn’t really want it, or when the number of books sold vastly outnumbers its actual readership?
Read this post contextually: generalizations admit of many exceptions without becoming false.
There are all kinds of good reasons to write a book. Making money is usually not one of them, but books are excellent for building authority, for establishing an audience, and even for trunkline tickets (if you’re not sure what those are, download the free schematic).
I myself have written a book, Copywriting for Christians—and I have many more planned.
But in the process, I’ve also learned more than I care to about the seedy underbelly of book promotion.
Most recently, someone in my mastermind group linked to Alan Weiss’ Million Dollar Maverick promotion. If you click through and scroll down to see the buying options, you’ll notice something pretty weird: there are eight different options, and seven of them are to buy the book in bulk. Some of them are for massive bulk.
Why would anyone buy in bulk?
Well, because of the huge bonuses you get along with the bulk order.
What’s going on here?
This is just a slightly more advanced version of buying up your own book to inflate sales. You may remember back in 2014 that Mark Driscoll was caught doing this with Real Marriage, thus casting shame on Reformed Baptists everywhere (my tongue is only slightly in my cheek). As part of the launch, Mars Hill Church organized for 11,000 copies of the book to be bought all at once, thus assuring the appearance of huge popularity and ensuring a spot on the bestseller list.
As you can see from Alan Weiss’ promotion, this strategy has evolved into something more subtle, but no less unethical. Instead of authors or publishers simply buying up in bulk, now they’re bribing their customers do it instead.
It should go without saying that sales figures be at least broadly connected to the actual number of people who want to read the book
Sadly, tactics like this are widely accepted and even admired among marketers. The discussion in my mastermind group didn’t start by someone calling out an unethical practice; it started by someone asking if anyone had experience with it to advise on its effectiveness! And this mastermind group is above average, ethically speaking.
Yet even after I pointed out the problem, some people “just didn’t have that intuition” about the morality of it, as philosophers like to say.
But the problem is obvious:
Calling yourself a bestseller on the basis of this kind of tactic is just lying
No doubt people justify it to themselves on the basis that it’s “technically true” that their book is a bestseller. But here’s a handy life hint: whenever you have to use the phrase “technically true”…it’s because you’re deceiving someone.
I’m not objecting to using books as “currency” for selling product. There could be a legitimate reason to do that.
What I’m objecting to is using books as currency for selling product in order to massively and artificially inflate book sales.
If you’re getting a single person to buy a large number of books, not because they want a large number of them, but purely because they want something else—and then you’re using that large number to mislead other people into thinking that far more people bought the book than actually did, then you are a liar. You are acting deceitfully by implying that:
- A very large number of people bought the book
- This large number did so because of the book’s own merits
Neither is true. And that makes you a liar.
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