Buying Your Way onto the Bestseller Lists


After all the kerfuffle last year about sock puppetry (the art of authors writing their own fake reviews on Amazon and other sites), it shouldn’t really be surprising that there are some authors out there that are actually buying their way onto bestseller lists as a quick fix way to get acclaim – as reported by the Wall Street Journal in their article: The Mystery of the Book Sales Spike. People began to twig where there were repeated patterns of an initial spike, followed by the book falling almost completely off the grid. Essentially, some marketing company figured out how to work the bestseller list system, and used it to their advantage.

It would be really tempting to make use of this. There are very few ways as a new author, especially if self-published, to get exposure for your book, and there are few ways to get great exposure for your book like being a bestseller. If it is actually a good book, perhaps it would be a self-fulfilling prophecy – the faked bestseller becomes a real bestseller. I suspect that that is what the authors buying into this marketing scheme figured. And even if not, you have had the exposure and can tout yourself as a bestselling author.

when does using marketing tools become unethical?

There are many tricks to marketing yourself and your book (and many books and website dedicated to this topic). If you look hard enough, you can find websites dedicated to mutual reviews on Amazon – an “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” approach, where if you participate, you can get hundreds of reviews for your book, rather than just your mum and best friend’s reviews sitting there looking a little sad. I am sure that there are other examples of marketing tools that are in a moral grey area, but at what point do marketing tools become unethical?

For me, although tempting, buying your way onto the bestseller list is not the way I would choose to self-promote. I’m not sure if I could live with myself if I “cheated” like that.


7 responses to “Buying Your Way onto the Bestseller Lists

  1. Fortunately for me buying my way onto the best seller list isn’t an option–those packages start at a hefty percentage of what I live on for a year.

    Leaving that aside, however, in my experience with other sorts of businesses, deceptive marketing is long term suicide. Customers realize very quickly when a product is not as it is advertised.

    Readers in particular aren’t stupid, and people who buy books on the internet are usually tech-savvy enough to spread the word when the menu says fillet mignon but the waiter brings them meatloaf.

    Does paying a company to post fake reviews and buy up cases of books cause a bump in sales? Maybe, in first week, although I suspect it would be less than what you’re paying out. The backlash from disappointed readers, however, is going to be severe when the word gets out, and it will.

    As writers, our name is our brand. Reputations are hard to build and easy to lose. One week of good sales against a career of being known as a fraud? Not a good bargain.

    • Very well put – agreed. Especially about the point that as an author, your name is your brand and your currency. Once a reputation is lost, it is almost impossible to get back. Thanks for the insight, much appreciated.

  2. Seems we’re all in agreement here that we’d only be shooting ourselves in the foot by engaging in these practices. I’m sure that most authors could identify the very clear line between marketing and manipulation.

  3. I would rather have my books LOVED by a few than read by the masses. If the masses love it, even better! We must stay true to our work, and not sell ourselves out.

  4. I completely agree with Len. Nice post!

  5. I’d rather have one real review than a hundred fake reviews. If I misrepresented myself like that, I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. Even if the reviews play a huge part in my success as an author, I still couldn’t do it.

    • Agreed. Integrity is the watchword. I don’t think I could live with myself. Also, on the flip side, I don’t think I could live with the constant fear of being found out that I was a fraud.

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