Mark Driscoll’s Church: ResultSource Link “Unwise”

From the website of Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church:

In 2011, outside counsel advised our marketing team to use Result Source to market [Driscoll’s] Real Marriage book and attain placement on the New York Times Bestseller list. While not uncommon or illegal, this unwise strategy is not one we had used before or since, and not one we will use again. The true cost of this endeavor was much less than what has been reported, and to be clear, all of the books purchased through this campaign have been given away or sold through normal channels.

Driscoll lately doesn’t seem able to produce a book without controversy: late last year, there were accusations of plagiarism in relation to another title.

The church’s link to ResultSource (there’s not supposed to be a space between the two words) was first reported last week by Warren Cole Smith of World magazine, including details of how ResultSource bypasses measures designed to exclude bulk sales from the bestseller list:

According to the terms of the contract between ResultSource and Mars Hill, “RSI will be purchasing at least 11,000 total orders in one-week.” The contract called for the “author” to “provide a minimum of 6,000 names and addresses for the individual orders and at least 90 names and address [sic] for the remaining 5,000 bulk orders. Please note that it is important that the make up of the 6,000 individual orders include at least 1,000 different addresses with no more than 350 per state… RSI will use its own payment systems (ex. gift cards to ensure flawless reporting). Note: The largest obstacle to the reporting system is the tracking of credit cards. RSI uses over 1,000 different payment types (credit cards, gift cards, etc).”

ResultSource has itself been a focus of controversy before; in 2010 it shifted “hundreds” of unsolicited copies of a book by Steve Poizner, a politician in California, through Amazon ahead of Gubernatorial nominations. One copy went to a man named Matthew Donnellan; Capitol Weekly reported:

…Wanting to make sure his credit card number hadn’t been stolen, he called Amazon. The Amazon representative he reached told him the book was purchased with a gift card — and that card had also been used to buy copies of “Mount Pleasant” for 249 other people, all of whom had first names that began with “M”.

…Donnellan kept asking Amazon questions. He was told the card was purchased under the unlikely-sounding name “Joe Shome.” But the actual card was paid for by one Mat Miller, of the San Diego-based firm Pink Moon Media. The same person told Donnellan that Miller bought “a number” of other gift cards.

The name “Mat Miller” also pops up on Google as a contact for ResultSource, Inc. This Carlsbad-based company bills itself as “The leader in book marketing and thought-leadership promotion.”

ResultSource was subsequently profiled by the Wall Street Journal a year ago; according to the report, “Amazon.com Inc. said it has stopped doing business with ResultSource”. However:

At least one publisher, John Wiley & Sons Inc., recommends ResultSource to a small number of business authors. “We view it as a marketing tool that targets sales and the timing of those sales,” a Wiley spokeswoman says.

ResultSource CEO Kevin Small sees himself as a literary agent – in a 2011 interview, he explained that his promotional work also includes building social media platforms for authors:

“The clients that I work with are not allowed to publish books until they have all of their social media basis covered so that has to be in place. No author of mine that I work with will be allowed to publish, is allowed to publish anything unless they have the platform in place at all.”

It should be noted that Small’s background is in promoting business and leadership speakers – a specialist area of publishing in which book sales are closely linked to the charisma and brand-value of the author. According to a bio-blurb (links added):

In 1996, Kevin Small was recruited by the leadership development author John C. Maxwell. Kevin was tasked with the creation of a platform that would be used to bring Maxwell’s leadership books to market. As the President of Maxwell’s company, Kevin launched a satellite event training series that would enroll over 1 million students while rolling out an integrated publishing platform that launched four New York Times bestselling leadership titles.

…In March of 2005 Kevin founded The Marcus Buckingham Company around bestselling author and Gallup Researcher, Marcus Buckingham. For the next three years Kevin built a research and training company around Buckingham’s body of work developed after Buckingham left The Gallup Organization. Kevin served as the Executive Producer for Buckingham’s award winning film, Trombone Player Wanted, and launched the book, Go Put Your Strengths To Work, which was debuted with a dedicated Oprah show and a national book tour.

Maxwell is also a pastor; motivational speaking forms a significant strand within American evangelicalism, and Small is himself apparently a person of faith: the bio-blurb comes from a site for an evangelical “marriage mentoring ministry”. Copyright pages viewable on Google Books show that a couple of titles from the Christian publisher Thomas Nelson (Driscoll’s Real Marriage publisher, now owned by HarperCollins) have been published “in association” with ResultSource.

ResultSource’s approach can be defended: in Driscoll’s case, his books are ultimately going to real potential readers. There is also a problem with rankings in that a steady-seller over a long period may actually do better than a book that enjoys a short-term “spike”, but not get the same kind of recognition; why not, then, strategize to have a greater number of potential readers get the book in a short period? ResultSource is quite open about what it does, and authors are happy to acknowledge its services. But the bottom line is that its “1,000 different payment types” is surely an active attempt to conceal the true, artificial, nature of purchases, with a view to creating a misleading impression.

Perhaps the lesson is that rankings – whether on the New York Times or on Amazon – should not be taken very seriously, and that a book’s worth and true influence are better determined through other measures.

(H/T Warren Throckmorton)

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