Hacking Best-seller Lists

It turns out that you can buy a position for your book on best-seller lists.

Posted on March 13, 2013 at 7:24 AM • 14 Comments


schneier factsMarch 13, 2013 7:30 AM

Bruce Schneier can't remember off the top of his head how to re-order a bestseller list. He's never wanted to.

AviMarch 13, 2013 8:51 AM

I love that it's an article in the WSJ about the practices of the WSJ best seller list, and that "The Journal declined to comment."

Nothing NewMarch 13, 2013 10:12 AM

That has been going on for a long time. Along with getting a dozen of your buddies to write 5 star reviews on Amazon. This is one of the reasons I am so skeptical of industry "experts" that regularly tout themselves as "best-selling author". This industry is full of con-artists.

SimonMarch 13, 2013 10:15 AM

That's nothing. A lot of the articles in magazines, especially online, are paid for disguised ads. A lot of trade magazines work like that and probably couldn't survive otherwise. They simply do not have the investigative staff but their marketing dept's are huge. Buy a bunch of ads, let us do your email campaign and we'll let you write your story. It's worse than the 'download this important white paper' that turns out to be the umpteenth piece of crap ad opening the door to a tidal wave of sales calls.

Clive RobinsonMarch 13, 2013 10:40 AM

There is an old rumour that Brian Epstien (1934-1967) new all about this sort of thing but for the singles charts in the UK...

I guess where there are charts and people daft enough to be swayed by them then there will be people who will know how to fix them for a fee.

Petréa MitchellMarch 13, 2013 10:45 AM


Yeah, my first thought was, "Kudos to the editor who was willing to approve that lede."

NooneMarch 13, 2013 10:59 AM

This was the opening joke on Night Court (sitcom) back in the 80s. Nothing new under the sun.

Gorgeous GeorgiaMarch 13, 2013 11:38 AM

This is sad. I am not sure what is more sad, that they do this or they can not get the wind in their sales once they are up there.

(Not that every good book is a bestseller, kaphaw.)

GopiballavaMarch 13, 2013 6:06 PM

I thought it was interesting to realize how cheaply you could get on one of those best-seller lists.

If you were a moderately competent public speaker, this would probably be a good investment. You'd be able to charge higher speaker fees.

I wonder how the ROI here compares with college degrees...

PaeniteoMarch 13, 2013 6:10 PM

Well, if a bestseller list is about counting how many things were sold/bought, it is quite obvious that you can buy a placement there.
It would be quite amusing if two competitors tried this in the same week, though.

Nick PMarch 13, 2013 6:15 PM

@ Paeniteo

"Well, if a bestseller list is about counting how many things were sold/bought, it is quite obvious that you can buy a placement there."

Yeah, you could say it's a design choice rather than flaw. Like one company said about the Firewire DMA bypasses.

Ollie JonesMarch 14, 2013 7:15 AM

The music biz has had this for decades. Back before Tower Records tanked, if you could get a street team to go buy one copy of a new CD on New Release Tuesday at 100 or so Towers and some other retailers, then Soundscan would pick it up and report it to the labels. The label's marketing execs would then put more money into promoting the CD.

This never worked at Newbury Comics (a music retailer in the Boston area) because Mike Dreese, the owner, refused to send his sales to Soundscan.

Jenny JunoMarch 14, 2013 7:11 PM

Boiled down to its fundamentals, this is just another case of how power begets power. If you've got the cash, you can buy your way to fame.

I was told a similar story by my wife, who is good friends with the wife of someone known for creating a certain non-profit foundation that I am sure everybody here has heard of - they get loads of free press in tech circles and are somewhat of a darling of the billionaires of silicon valley. This man wrote a book and then emailed his list of contacts (my wife was on the list herself) to solicit positive reviews on amazon. He got them, in spades. I'm not talking about the cheap pay-for-review by nobodies, he got reviews by deans, CEOs, distinguished scientists, newspaper columnists, etc.

The thing was that the bulk of such reviews went up in less than a week of the original email -- hardly time for such busy and successful people to order, receive and then read the book. It was all a con, old-boys networking to put one over on the common man.

Terry ClothMarch 15, 2013 4:30 PM

A side note on security: the linked page has an advert:

The new portfolio tool on wsj.com:
Enter your brokerage account details.
We'll give you all the news and info you need.

What could possibly go wrong? :-)

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