How Orrin Woodward, Chris Brady and Oliver DeMille Didn’t Game the Bestseller Lists

An association fallacy is an inductive informal fallacy of the type hasty generalization or red herring which asserts that qualities of one thing are inherently qualities of another, merely by an irrelevant association. The two types are sometimes referred to as guilt by association and honor by association.

Wikipedia

One the favorite tactics of Orrin’s critics is to try to discredit his two New York Times bestsellers. The gist of the accusation is that Orrin and his coauthors tried to manipulate the bestseller lists, in a similar manner to that reported by BusinessWeek, Forbes, and others.

Here’s what Orrin and his coauthors actually did:

  1. They encouraged members of their organization to buy the book, and incentivized them. In the case of Launching a Leadership Revolution, it was with a contest. With Leadershift, people who ordered through Amazon or Barnes & Noble got points.

That’s it.

That’s just basic Book Marketing 101. Non-fiction authors offer all kinds of incentives all the time for pre-ordering their books:  special free webinars or conference calls, bonus e-books, and other exclusive content. How is this any different?

And it’s not a deliberate attempt to “game” the bestseller lists. Affect, sure, but not in any way that could be considered unethical.

In fact, there’s no attempt to conceal the fact that many of the sales were through bulk orders. People were offered 40 points for purchasing 5-9 copies and 100 points for 10 or more copies. On the NYT bestseller list, there’s a dagger (†) next to the title, indicating that some outlets report receiving bulk orders. Total transparency. If you’re really trying to game the list, you don’t do bulk orders.

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It’s worth noting that on the same week Leadershift hit the list, 7 of the top 20 books in the category also had the same notation. Bulk purchases aren’t some sneaky under-the-table tactic — they’re a standard part of the book business.

Amthrax quotes Wikipedia out of context, saying that what Orrin and Chris and Oliver did is “considered unethical by publishers”, but actually read the article, and you’ll see the context of the Wikipedia quote is completely different:

In 1995, the authors of a book called The Discipline of Market Leaders colluded to manipulate their book onto the best seller charts. The authors allegedly purchased over 10,000 copies of their own book in small and strategically placed orders at bookstores whose sales are reported to Bookscan.

They bought their own book! If people can’t see how that’s completely different from simply incentivizing people to buy the book, as most non-fiction authors do, I don’t know what else to say.

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