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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

curated: how to scam the New York Times’ bestseller list…

…in order to push a movie adaptation.

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  • LaSargenta

    That is QUITE the tale!

  • PJK

    This isn’t a new thing. Scientology did this with L. Ron Hubbard novels years ago. Everytime a new LRH novel would come out it would instruct his followers to buy multiple copies (as many as they could afford, sometimes even more) as soon as possible.

    This had two effects: 1) it would push the book onto the NY Times bestseller lists, where Scientology hoped it would both boost sales and/or seduce more people into Scientology, 2) it brought a lot of money into the coffers of Scientology which basically was the whole reason for Scientology to exist in the first place.

    In those days (1960-1980’s) you had to buy a lot more books of course, so having the threshold become so low makes it much more easy to achieve the same thing now.

    I guess that if an investment of 50000 to 100000 dollars gets you a multi million dollar publishing and/or movie deal, some people will try to game the system.

    It would be better for us all if this scheme falls flat on its face, but I’m not expecting this to be last time someone tries this.

  • Danielm80

    The problem isn’t new, and it isn’t limited to the publishing industry. If you’re in charge of an election, you have to deal with gerrymandering. If you’re in the concert industry, you have to deal with scalpers. If you run a casino, you have to deal with card counting.

    The folks at the New York Times Book Review are very aware of the problem, which is why the bestseller list is filled with disclaimers:


    In this case, the Book Review staff caught on to the scheme and corrected the list fairly quickly—though not as quickly as they might have.

    This article talks about some of the reasons why the Times doesn’t just ignore bulk sales altogether:


    The article also points out other flaws with the bestseller list. The Book Review staff manipulates the data for its own reasons, to make the list appear influential and respectable, and to generate revenue for the Times. People in other industries do the same kind of thing, for slightly different reasons. That’s why tickets for concerts are so expensive and why gamblers say, “The house always wins.” Election fraud is an even bigger topic.

    So it’s kind of up to us. We can push for changes in the system, where change is possible. And when change isn’t possible, we can look at the data with a certain amount of skepticism and make our own, informed decisions about how to spend our money, and cast our votes.

  • Everytime a new LRH novel would come out it would instruct his followers to buy multiple copies (as many as they could afford, sometimes even more) as soon as possible.

    This is true, but they were actually buying actual physical copies of the book. In the case of *Handbook for Mortals,* actual physical copies of the book don’t even seem to exist.

    As many others have pointed out, this time, the scam was SO blatant that it was unignorable.

    The NYTimes has now removed the book from its bestseller list: http://ew.com/books/2017/08/24/handbook-for-mortals-pulled-new-york-times-bestseller-list/

  • caught on to the scheme

    I think it’s more fair to say that Pajiba exposed the scam, which forced the Times’ hand. We can’t say whether the Times would have caught on if not for Pajiba’s work.

  • PJK

    I hadn’t caught that part, I thought they had bought copies of the book in bulk from NY Times reporting stores. At least that is how I interpreted the information in the source material.

  • They placed bulk orders for copies of the book that the stores did not have on hand, and that don’t seem to exist.

  • PJK

    Strange that the NY Times considers this a sale. If I designed a system like this I would in place a rule that states that only items sold to end customers would be counted. Otherwise the publisher has such a massive loophole for gaming the system that the list would be completely untrustworthy.

  • And that’s what has been highlighted by this book.

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