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How to Spam Reality

We all know what “spam” is — the bulk email that fills our inbox with crap. Well, it looks like someone is doing the same thing to the New York Times bestseller list, using something called “bulk orders”.

Let’s say you write a book and you really want it to be on the bestseller lists, but sales are sluggish. If you have enough money, you can just buy lots of copies of your own book, to artificially inflate sales numbers. Since it is your book, you can even send the books you buy in bulk back to the booksellers and resell them again (and again), so it only costs you the retailer’s markup for each sale. If you’re lucky, increased (real) sales from being on bestseller lists might even make up for the cost of buying your way onto the lists.

For example, a former manager of a B. Dalton’s bookstore reports that people would come in and (paying cash) buy large quantities of books by L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. Later, new books would arrive from Hubbard’s publishing house, with B. Dalton price stickers already on the books. Hmmm.

When this practice became widespread, some bestseller lists started checking for bulk orders. If you look on the NY Times’ bestseller list, you will see a small “dagger” (†) following some of the titles, and in the fine print at the bottom of the list it says

A dagger (†) indicates that some bookstores report receiving bulk orders.

As a sign of how widespread this practice is, five of the top ten books on the current list have daggers! What makes this both political and ironic is which books have daggers:

  • Book number two on this week’s list is “The Obama Nation”, by Jerome Corsi, who helped “swiftboat” John Kerry. It was number one last week.
  • Number five is “The Case Against Barack Obama”, which calls Obama a “calculating extreme leftist”.
  • At seven is “Fleeced: How Barack Obama, Media Mockery of Terrorist Threats, Liberals Who Want To Kill Talk Radio, The Do-Nothing Congress, Companies That Help Iran, And Washington Lobbyists For Foreign Governments Are Scamming Us… And What To Do About It”.
  • Number eight is “The Limits of Power” that “argues that Americans are responsible for the country’s woes” and that you shouldn’t blame Bush.
  • The only book with a dagger that is not political is a memoir by actress Tori Spelling — daughter of Aaron Spelling, who left his kids $500 million when he died.

That’s right (in more ways than one) — all but one of the books that have been spammed onto the bestseller lists are right-wing partisan books.

Interestingly, there are two political books in the NY Times’ top ten that do not have daggers:

  • “The Way of the World” about “how the Bush administration manipulated evidence about Iraq”.
  • “The Wrecking Crew” about “the deliberate mismanagement of Republican rule”.

All the right-wing books have daggers. None of the left-wing books have daggers (meaning that they actually earned their way legitimately onto the bestseller list). You can make your own conclusions about who is placing bulk orders for right-wing books.

Unfortunately, not all bestseller lists check for bulk orders. Even the NY Times list, which does check, gets reprinted in other newspapers and all over the Web, but without the daggers, so readers who buy a book because it has “been on the bestseller list for 5 weeks” are probably getting spammed without knowing it. For example, the largest bookseller in the world, Amazon.com, shows the NY Times bestseller list, but without any daggers or other indication of bulk orders.

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3 Comments

  1. Chris wrote:

    I couldn’t believe it but it’s true that Amazon doesn’t show which books have been bought in bulk. You can reach the CS department of Amazon if you care to at this link: https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/contact-us/general-questions.html#csTop

    Wednesday, September 10, 2008 at 2:08 pm | Permalink
  2. Ester wrote:

    Calling them daggers really does give the proper connotation, doesn’t it?

    Thursday, September 11, 2008 at 8:59 am | Permalink
  3. fobar wrote:

    Tori and her brother only received 800k apiece from their father’s estate…

    Friday, August 14, 2009 at 11:28 am | Permalink

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  1. Park Here » Blog Archive » Daggered At The Top - Part 2 on Thursday, September 11, 2008 at 4:47 pm

    [...] post here, regarding bulk orders and the manipulation of The New York Times Bestseller List. Political Irony has followed up on the story and it seems that Amazon.com – The world’s largest bookseller – [...]