How To Manipulate Amazon, The Expensive Way

March 23rd, 2007 · 2 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

We are not going to suggest that we have friends who are, hmm, downright weird when it comes to Amazon rankings. Oh no. We will come out and say it: we have friends who, if they were engaged in some sort of freakish browser testing, would be assigned to the “try to break the reload button” team. A hundred times an hour with no failure? That button’s good to go.

there are always those who try to take this pure obsession, this nearly-harmless fetish, and turn it into something sordid

You cannot tell a friend that she is a freak for obsessing over the Amazon (or Barnes & Noble) numbers when you know that everyone she knows is doing the same thing. Some might accuse these authors of wasting time. We believe they are engaged in some of the most neuron-stimulating work of their time: advanced calculus mixed with graduate-level logic. Some even through a little journalism into the mix, just for fun.

Amazon rankings are the only real-life indicators an author has of her book’s success (or, as far too many interpret these numbers, failure). By the time the royalty statements arrive, the book has often lived the best of its front-list life. By the time the author figures out what the numbers on the royalty statement mean, well, the next book is the priority. It is only during that brief period of time — starting sometime before actual release and ending when a friend or family member conducts what other addicts know to be an “intervention” — that an author feels the level of love bestowed on her baby.

Of course, there are always those who try to take this pure obsession, this nearly-harmless fetish, and turn it into something sordid. Rather than accepting that not everyone can top the charts — no, they boldly burst bubbles by telling an author that being number one is easy, anyone can do it — they turn gaming Amazon rankings into a for-profit endeavor. “Give us your money,” they croon, asking for more than the entire advance the author received, “we’ll make you number one.”

And possibly, once you’ve gone into debt, mortgaged a child or two, sold off your laptop and printer, you might, for a fleeting moment, be number one on Amazon. Or possibly just top ten. Granted, it’s not number one as we know it — that would require far too much money. The scheme works like this:

New York public-relations firm Ruder Finn says it can propel unknown titles to the top of rankings on and Barnes & Noble with a mass email called the Best-Seller Blast. Popular authors such as Mark Victor Hansen of the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series recommend your book in messages to fans, and offer a deal: Buy the book today and you’ll get downloadable “bonuses” supposedly valued at thousands of dollars — such as recordings of motivational speeches and contact information for important people. Orchestrating even 1,000 book purchases in a single day can drive a title from obscurity to the top of the charts.

Now we do not personally know anyone who would purchase a book because someone named Mark Victor Hansen recommends it. The thought of “motivational speeches” makes our stomach turn. Which is fine, because the very next paragraph of the article makes it clear that the glory you seek when you pay out this much money is fleeting:

Rick Frishman, who oversees the campaigns for Ruder Finn’s Planned Television Arts, also is a client. His 2004 book “Networking Magic” went from a sales rank of 896,000 on the morning it was published to No. 1 at 4 p.m. He has a poster in his office showing the sales chart he briefly topped. “I’m a nobody, but I was somebody for a day,” he says.

Though we hate to burst anyone’s bubble, no, not really. As we all know, it doesn’t take a lot of sales to push a book higher on the sales charts. A single burst of activity often suffices. It is the sustained sales that make an author a bestseller. It’s a bit like getting lucky and hitting a three-point shot when you toss the basketball in the air. Once is lucky, ten times is a potential career.

We cannot (easily) find information about this program on the Ruder Finn’s website. We do know that to build a mailing list that will achieve the results suggested takes time and lots of interested people signing up. We are naturally suspicious of programs that make promises like this. Who are these mysterious list members and how did this company acquire so many email addresses?

You can be an Amazon bestseller, you can move more books, but you don’t have to pay a lot of money to someone else to do this. Especially if the end result is a snapshot of rankings that change the next time you refresh your screen. Surely your ego wants more than that.

File Under: Marketing For Introverts

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