The Dark Side of Bestseller Lists

04 Mar


… or how newspapers don’t tell the whole truth – and not only newspapers, but also book statistic firms, wealthy writers and certain big publishers. Have you ever wondered how some books could reach bestseller status? And how could this be, so short after they are on the market?

BookScan or BookScam?
But first a statement: Bestseller doesn’t mean it is a terrific book, worth to read. It rather shows a 2-3 week old sales statistic of books that sold well in chain bookstores and at  independent booksellers, who are connected in a certain country (e.g. USA or UK) to Nielsen BookScan.  Sales of online retailers and book departments at big box stores, such as WalMart, Cosco, or Sam’s are not counted – neither are digital books or audio books, which are neglected by Nielsen BookScan as if they are not existing at all! Seems their book statistic methods are thirty years old and/or they have too tight connections to the big five publishers…

Jeffrey Trachtenberg from the Wall Street Journal wrote an investigative story: “The Mystery of the Book Sales Spike”: How are some authors landing on the Best-Seller lists? They are buying their way!

He described books that “hit The Wall Street Journal’s list of best-selling business titles upon its debut. The following week, sales of the books, written by first-time authors, plunged 99% and fell off the list. A week after selling enough copies to make it onto the Journal’s business best-seller list, more hardcover copies of the book were returned than sold, says book-sales tracker Nielsen BookScan.”

However it was enough to allow authors to put a label on his book: “Best-Seller”. Good for his reputation and a doorway to get speaking and consulting engagements.

How could these authors reach Best-Seller status?
Well, there are (very expensive) Marketing firms who charge the author ten-thousands of dollars, not only for their services, but to actually BUY their books during a certain week. They advertise this with: “We create campaigns that reach a specific goal”, “On the bestsellers list,” or “100,000 copies sold”…

Nielsen BookScan who delivers the data of sold books to large newspapers, such as the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal, denies any manipulations and says it prevent its sales data from being manipulated. However the way their stats works and the way the newspapers report it, opens doors wide open to manipulations: it includes quantities bought by corporations or associations either for re-sale or free distribution, and quantities purchased by their authors, regardless of whether the writers intend to re-sell the books, give them away, or use them.

Even so-called reputable, traditional publishers are involved into this kind of scam.
Read the whole story by Karen Ballum: “How Much Would You Pay to Be a Bestselling Author?” an eye-opener, I promise you!




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5 responses to “The Dark Side of Bestseller Lists

  1. MishaBurnett

    March 4, 2013 at 12:17 pm

    The system has always been open to manipulation–Jacqueline Suzanne made “Valley Of The Dolls” a best seller by obtaining the Nielson list and driving around to the bookstores on it, buying up every copy they had in stock.

  2. Patrick Jones

    March 7, 2013 at 1:19 pm

    Reblogged this on The Linden Chronicles and commented:
    Excellent article from Doris-Maria Heilmann at 111 Publishing. Also a good article mentioned by Indies Unlimited at

  3. Steve

    March 7, 2013 at 2:19 pm

    Fascinating reading! Sounds like the way the music charts used to operate 😦

  4. Nef

    January 27, 2014 at 10:34 pm

    In online terms, I can pay someone to go to my site and read every episode every day and get an incremental number of hits… I wonder if this happens.

    • ebooksinternational

      January 29, 2014 at 12:23 am

      Hello Nef,
      No, ebooks are not counted for these bestseller lists, only print books that are sold in bookstores.



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