A television news station, WCNC, in Charlotte, NC, ran an interesting story on February 8th, titled “Elevation pastor sells books from pulpit.” In that article, James Duncan, an assistant professor of Communications at Anderson University, is quoted saying in reference to getting on best seller lists:
“So you’ve got this explosion of sales and it looks like this is the most amazing book,” said Duncan. “Totally they gamed the system.”
“People in publishing know it’s a game,” said Duncan.
It is common knowledge that publishers buy front-store space for their select “bestsellers.”
They buy prime slots on the home pages of Barnes & Noble’s and Kobo’s sites. Through pre-ordering they can ensure a month or two of sales get compressed into one week for a better chance at hitting the bestseller lists, though they are starting to lose this advantage.
For years the readers have often used the bestseller lists to check for books they would like to read. But have readers using these list been manipulated all these years by publishers? Would those “bestsellers” be such if put on an equal footing with other books?
Some might point at the indie publishing movement as the solution. There is no doubt a lot of books are coming out that venue that traditional publishers wouldn’t have taken. Some of them qualified to be published. The reader would tend to think this more democratized process would weed out manipulating readers by “gatekeepers.”
Then we remember all the sock-puppet reviews, the paid-for-reviews. How many “marketing” books have come out which amount to nothing more than how to game Amazon’s best seller list calculations to climb on top?
Where there’s money, there will be manipulators of any system.
Even if that system is a church. In this case, a mega-church.
“Almost all the mega churches – their pastors tend to have books,” said Brewster. (Sally Brewster, a veteran independent bookseller at Park Road Books in Charlotte.)
I wonder how many of them hawk their books from the pulpit? That’s what I would have a problem with. To be fair, the pastor claims he makes no money off books sold in and through his church, nor do any of the books bought for the church through his author discount count toward bestseller’s lists. However, the church is making money from the books. There is always the chance he is getting a hidden kickback in his “salary”.
But this doesn’t let the pastor off the hook, in my opinion. For one, the money-changers and sellers in the temple that Jesus chased out with a whip were earning money for the temple. If nothing else, the publishing house is earning money from church sales. That the church earns money but not the pastor doesn’t justify it.
The bigger issue is manipulation.
It may be a fine line to walk at times between promotion and manipulation. However, standing before one, two or more thousand people on Sunday morning as their pastor and using that position of influence to sell books, looks and smells like manipulation to me. I don’t say he shouldn’t mention it, but not from the pulpit. Maybe the Church newsletter, or his Facebook page. But a church service is God’s time, not his. He’s speaking on behalf of God from the pulpit. Or should be.
Do you as a reader feel you’ve been manipulated in what to read? How do you ensure that doesn’t happen to you? Have you experienced “selling in the temple” before, and if so, how did you feel about it?