Christian Retailing

Mark Driscoll admits ‘manipulating’ book best-seller system Print Email
Written by Jeremy Burns   
Wednesday, 14 May 2014 08:32 AM America/New_York

MarkDriscollAuthor Mark Driscoll was thrust into the spotlight once again when WORLD magazine accused the Seattle’s Mars Hill Church pastor of obtaining “unreal sales” of Real Marriage (Thomas Nelson), a 2012 book written by Driscoll and his wife, Grace.

The church hired San Diego-based book marketing company ResultSource to the tune of $210,000 to make Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Marriage & Life Together a best-seller. WORLD revealed that the church Driscoll serves, Mars Hill in Seattle, paid ResultSource for a “best-seller campaign.” Such campaigns cut out the consumer middleman and facilitate authors’ bulk purchases of their own books.

Many best-seller lists only count individual purchases toward sales in an effort to prevent authors from gaming the system. ResultSource circumvented this safeguard by placing thousands of orders shipped to individuals’ addresses provided by the client.

The Driscoll-book contract stated, according to WORLD: ResultSource “will be purchasing at least 11,000 total orders [of Real Marriage] in one week.” It also 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.” 

Even though this practice isn’t illegal, the ethicality of such campaigns has been impugned in the publishing industry. 

Coming on the heels of plagiarism claims against some of Driscoll’s other books, coupled with the fact that the campaign was paid for from the congregation’s coffers rather than the author’s own pocket, the Real Marriage campaign has thrust this controversial marketing practice into the spotlight.

In the aftermath of the ResultSource revelations, Mars Hill admitted the campaign’s strategies were “unwise,” while Driscoll also claimed to have misunderstood the strategies used by the company.

“My understanding of the ResultSource marketing strategy was to maximize book sales, so that we could reach more people with the message and help grow our church,” Driscoll wrote March 18 in an open letter addressed to Mars Hill. “In retrospect, I no longer see it that way. Instead, I now see it as manipulating a book sales reporting system, which is wrong.”

Forbes noted that fellow pastors-cum-authors Steven Furtick and Perry Noble also have been accused of mounting similar campaigns with their congregations’ funds.

Continued  bad press apparently has caused ResultSource to go into stealth mode. With its business model thrust into the public consciousness and thoroughly derided, the company has reduced its website to nothing but a logo and a “Contact Us” form. Though ResultSource is still in operation, CEO Kevin Small deleted his Twitter account, while what appears to be the company’s Facebook page is now blank, according to an April 18 Forbes article.

Driscoll has asked Thomas Nelson to remove the “No. 1 New York Times best-seller” notation from future printings of the book. Nelson did not respond to Christian Retailing’s request for comment. 

In an open letter to congregants, Driscoll said he also has cut down on his speaking engagements and interviews, dialed back his future writing and abandoned social media for the near future to renew his focus. 

The congregation’s board also praised Driscoll’s ongoing generosity related to book sales: “All monies from the sale of Pastor Mark’s books at Mars Hill bookstores have always gone to the church and Pastor Mark did not profit from the Real Marriage books sold either at the church or through the Result Source marketing campaign.”