Manipulating Amazon Bestsellers For Fun or Profit?

A new round of debate has sparked up in publishing circles over an article written by John Kremer, a respected expert on book marketing and author of the popular "1001 Ways to Market Your Book." It started with a post John made to his blog about campaigns to push a book to the top of the Amazon bestseller list. This was followed by a response from Richard and Angela Hoy of, who also run Booklocker, questioning the ethics of Kremer's approach. John responded with a 25 point defense of his position.

My own take on creating temporary Amazon Bestsellers, called "Amazon Bombing" by some, is that there's little point in doing so. While I accept Kremer's examples of the technique helping this or that title on Amazon or in the past, my gut feeling is that this promotion style falls into category of "funny once." The first couple publishers or authors who went to the trouble may have seen some benefit due to gullible buyers being impressed by the sales spike, but now that the news has been out for some time, it's hard to believe anybody puts credence in a transient high ranking.

If my memory serves me right, a similar debate over the ethics of manipulating Amazon ranks led to a schism of the Pub-Forum list, when Shel Horowitz, another respected marketing Guru, used a mass-emailing technique to temporarily propel his "Principled Profit" up the rankings. I remember keeping an eye on the book's ranking after the campaign, and it fell right back down the charts after the effects of campaign ran out of steam. I don't know if it helped Shel's sales through other channels, but I suspect it would be hard to separate the publicity generated by the debate over the technique from the effects of the momentary bestseller status.

I'll leave the debate over the ethics of temporarily manipulating the online sales ranking of a book to others, but my own suspicion is that whatever value there may once have been doing so is rapidly losing currency.


John Kremer said...

I don't know how this got so out of proportion. It started when I wrote an article on why such campaigns sometimes work and why sometimes they don't. My experience showed that they didn't work when the people doing the program didn't follow through with all the steps.

The same is true for any other sort of book promotion. That was my primary comment in the original article.

Unfortunately, I suppose, I did append to that post a notice of a teleseminar on how you, too, can become an bestseller. I thought people might be interested in the teleseminar if they liked what I wrote in the post.

All of a sudden, I've become the spam king because I look favorably on Amazon bestseller campaigns.

Alas. What is a fellow to do?

Anonymous said...

John, you're doing it again. You're forgetting to tell people that you make money endorsing that Best Seller program. You've already admitted it on your own blog (after being asked twice about it) and you should now be honest and tell everybody this fact whenever you post about this program.

In your own words, you finally admitted, "Someone asked how much I make when someone signs up under my referral. Well, I make a chunk of change, a big chunk."

And, yes, that program teaches people how to share customers' email addresses with other marketers. That is most definitely spam.

Anonymous said...

John, what you and certain other "well-known" people in this industry can do is the following:

1. Have a visible disclaimer alerting people to the fact that you are receiving money for the referral of program(s).

2. Never encourage anyone to send unsolicited e-mail. I don't care if they've bought something from you in the past or not. If they didn't ask for further promotions to be sent, then you have no right to send them and you most certainly have no right to share e-mail addresses or obtain them from third parties.

What you advocate is the very definition of spam.

Anonymous said...

You keep ignoring what people are saying. It's only hurting your reputation. I think far less of you than I did before and I'll never recommend your site again, even on my forum. We obviously have different ideas about integrity so I guess I'll have to stick with my sort of people and you can stick with yours. The thing is though, when one of "my sort" says they liked a program or anything, I know it's an honest opinion and they're not being paid to say it.

Anonymous said...

Well, color me clueless. I am still trying to figure out what the fuss is. Let me see if I can get this straight:

You run a promotion (with some kind of rebate or freebie?) to get lots of people to buy your book all at the same time. Now you can claim that your book was a best seller because for an hour, it was.

This is how Amazon works. Why is this "manipulation" why is this "unethical?" This is promotion. It happens all the time in business--that IS what we're in **business.** Dry good manufacturers print thousands of coupons. Software makers give away freebies all the time. Amazon ranking aside, you still sell a small pile of books.

I don't get the hub bub. I simply don't get it.

Anonymous said...

To me it's like getting a mail order PhD. Sure, you have the PhD, but it's not quite legitimate is it? Do you want to be treated by a therapist with a mail order PhD? I don't. I don't want to buy an "expert's" products when the "expertise" is in the form of a mail order PhD either. If I buy an expensive service from an "expert" in publishing, and when that expert tells me he or she is a best-selling author, I expect that title to be what it appears to be, not the result of some silly manipulation on an internet site. Kremer sells his expertise in cover design for $100. Since his book was only ever a best-seller due to the fake Amazon ratings, what makes him think that cover he has is effective? Where's the proof?