Trying to Game the Bestseller Lists?

Remember my article years ago? The Dark Site of Bestseller Lists. Or did you read Karen Ballum’s story: How Much Would You Pay to Be a Bestselling Author?

Since then the methods may have changed a bit, and some new, creative, money-sucking players came up, but in principle, it is the same game: Bestseller Manipulation.
“New York Times, USA Today Bestseller status, it’s no big deal anymore, thanks to a handful of individuals who have figured out how to make a ton of cash and inflate sales numbers to shoot 20+ author box sets onto the lists.  Has anyone ever heard of the authors in these mega-sets?  Do they ever go on to sell any other books after “getting letters”?  Let’s get serious: When everybody is a bestselling author, the marketing benefits from such manipulations decline substantially in value.”  I found this story on the Passive Voice blog.
I just found one of these “offers” on my Twitter timeline: “Rip into killer fiction with this thrilling box set. 14 bestselling authors bring you 14 thriller novels! Launching May 2016. Pre-order now for just 99¢!” Never heard from these authors before…
“According to one box set organizer, Amazon assured her that everyone at Amazon is perfectly fine with her methods, and the way she tells it, Amazon’s in her pocket with this gig.  Amazon has no problem with authors gifting thousands of copies of books to readers who then use those gift book credits to purchase the box set, making it look like a legitimate sale.  We’re not talking about chump change here, either, folks.  The “buy-in” for these box sets is anywhere from $500 -$2000 per author.  At 20+ authors per sets, the organizer is collecting between $10,000 – $40,000 per set and self-reports eight sets have made the lists (out of dozens of sets managed).  Not counting the sets that did not make lists, eight box sets have raked in $80,000 – $320,000.”

“Even more disturbing, the same organizer says that she spoke with PayPal and PayPal is fine with her methods of asking authors to pay her thousands of dollars of business transactions via “friends & family” transfers – which PayPal does not report to the IRS as taxable income and are not covered by PayPal Buyer Protection, or even worse, Amazon Gift Cards so that customers can not get a refund via PayPal dispute, which has happened multiple times to the organizer.”
“Of course, any author who dares speak up, question the methods or ethics, or consults silly documents like the Amazon TOS and PayPal TOS is immediately bombarded with an internet tirade from the organizer.  Past customers of the organizer have been so bullied and harassed that they have had to change to pen names and start over.  Current customers of this organizer have money tied up with her, and since they know there is no way in hell they’ll get a refund, they sit in silence until they can get away without making waves.”
Let’s take a look at how this is happening:

  • Organizing multi-author box sets with the advertised goal of hitting USA Today & NYT Bestseller lists, for payment per author of $500 – $2000.  For the typical 20-author box set, the organizer is paid $10,000 to $40,000.
  • Threatening legal action when anyone questions the business methods used to get bestseller status; posting long rants on social media to encourage followers to wage internet war against anyone who displeases them.
  • Social media campaigns targeted against numerous authors in the industry who have spoken out about shady dealings/practices.
  • Using an online google spreadsheet sign up form for readers to sign up to receive thousands of gifted copies of new releases in order to manipulate Amazon sales rank and appear to have enough sales to make bestseller lists (USAT, NYT, etc).
  • The gifting of thousands of books is assigned to assistants and authors in the set so gifted books are not all coming from one KDP account, and therefore, no red flags go up on Amazon’s end.
  • Also, coordinates massive gifting of books on Apple and Nook.
    Gifts books to readers directly via vendors (Amazon, B&N, Kobo, iBooks) with the express intent to look like organic sales and manipulate sales rank
  • Paying box set authors to buy books; Pays authors to download on Nook, iBooks, Kobo, and Amazon offers $4 towards additional “advertising” for a box set they already paid her to participate in
  • Paying readers with a $5 incentive to PRE-ORDER books on Nook; $10 if the reader pre-orders the book on both Amazon and Nook.

There is More:

  • Advising clients who pay for their services that they should pay via PayPal’s “friends & family” option to avoid PayPal fees; claiming they are not receiving business funds, but that it is “charity” and they have some super exclusive relationship with PayPal who said it’s okay.
  • Refusing to refund authors for services not rendered; starting online hate campaigns against authors who question business practices or ask for refunds.
  • Asking readers to circumvent Amazon’s review policy so that street team member reviews will appear organic.

There’s a difference between creating buzz using free books (same way even traditional publishers do) – or gifting your way onto a bestseller list – also called “bestselling service” by the provider (for more details see pages 52, 53 and 54 at the website.

Due to the sudden influx of authors into the ranks of the bestseller lists, the meaning, impact, & prestige of titles such as the USA Today Bestseller and New York Times Bestseller holds very little weight anymore.  Most of the time, these organizers pile hundreds of unknown authors into box sets simply based on no qualifications other than their ability to pay for it.”

Read the whole article here:

On KindleBoard are in the meantime 54 pages of people’s opinions and experiences:,250491.0.html


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