August 03, 2005
Amazon.com Best Seller? Ha! - Part II
Ah, but what a kettle of controversy we stirred up with last week's article. In case you missed it, we came out publicly against those so-called "Amazon.com Best Seller" programs, which are very good at taking money from hopeful authors while teaching them how to manipulate the Amazon.com best seller database, thus giving the false impression that their book is any good and is selling in great numbers. Basically, these programs teach you how to get a bunch of people to buy your book on the same day, around the same time, making your book, albeit for just a few minutes or hours, an Amazon.com Best Seller in a certain category. You then get to say your book is an "Amazon.com Best Seller."
One of John Kremer's readers referred to this method as a "parlor trick." We can't think of any term that more appropriately describes this type of program.
After running last week's article, we received numerous emails from authors supporting our ethical, alternative marketing suggestions while shaking their heads at the "Amazon Best Seller" programs (there are many on the market).
John Kremer's post, which led to last week's article, appears HERE. Under that post, you can read what his own readers are saying about this program.
And, you can read two more complaints about this program on John's site HERE, along with another post by John, once again endorsing the program.
The day after our article appeared, John Kremer responded with a rebuttal article, but didn't name WritersWeekly.com. You can read that HERE.
Perhaps the most poignant statement in the article is when John Kremer finally admits he's profiting from promoting this program. More on that later.
INCONSISTENCIES AND REVELATIONS
In his rebuttal at the link directly above, John says, "Amazon.com does not have a flaw. And no one is manipulating such a flaw."
Later, in the same post, John then contradicts himself by admitting the system can be manipulated:
"While getting onto such lists is harder than a one-day appearance on Amazon.com, these lists are just as susceptible to being manipulated..."
In #11 of his post, he says: "I really don't know what to say to people who think that such campaigns are 'manipulating the system and not playing fair.' Such campaigns are simply working within the system as it is set. Why is it more fair to ignore the system and beg for notice in some other way?" He says in a later comment that he considers it "using the system to its full extent."
In a later post over the weekend (also at the link above), he contradicts himself by saying, "Most of us little guys can't take advantage of the way the NYT list is compiled because of the cost in money and time, but we can take advantage of the way the Amazon.com list is compiled."
He changes his tune again later, saying, "Obviously you see manipulation where I see working within a system, flaws and all."
And finally, he admits, "...announcing that your book is an Amazon.com bestseller does not have the power now that it once did because people know that the system can be worked."
So, John, it's not "manipulation", but it can be taken "advantage" of and can be "worked?" Hmm...
LOOKS LIKE THE SAME THING TO ME!
In a rebuttal post over the weekend, John said, "I don't ever recommend that someone buy their own book to spike rankings. That's just the easy way out. It can work, sometimes, in getting you a high ranking but it is toying with the system rather than working within it."
Hey, John, what's the difference between "toying with the system" by buying your own books and "working" the system by lining up others to buy your book on the same day, at the same time?
After all the controversy and complaints posted by his own readers and all these contradictions, we started to wonder what Kremer's ultimate motivation was. I just couldn't fathom his continued support of something that, in his own words, can be "worked."
In #15, John tries to claim Scholastic manipulated the system through their publicity tactics. Hey, John, there is no comparison between real public relations and downright manipulation of a best seller list just to be able to say your book is a "best seller." I found this type of comparison laughable and incredibly insulting to those of us in the industry who know the difference between right and wrong. I'm also pretty sure Scholastic nor J.K. Rowling spent hours lining up email lists to run simultaneous mentions of a Harry Potter book while sharing their customers' email addresses with those lists.
THE SPAM FACTOR
As for the spamming aspect, John states, "You are not harvesting email addresses from other people's newsletter lists. When you do such a promotion, only the people who buy as a result of the promotion are added to the list." He later says, "Emailing a select list once is not spam."
Giving someone's email address to another company, regardless of what they do with that email address, is just plain wrong. I'm sure many people would agree that if someone you buy from gives your email address to another person who then sends you an unsolicited marketing email, it would absolutely be considered spam.
Later, John says, "I don't like unsolicited email any more than the next person."
John talks repeatedly in his posts above about how marketing is all about relationships, but I can't think of a faster way to shun your customers than distributing their email address to others.
John has now made these statements:
"It is the obligation of the person carrying out the promotion to share the emails of everyone who bought a copy of the book as a result of the promotion. It is those email addresses that the various participating list owners can add to their lists."
"I will be doing an Amazon.com bestseller campaign for the 6th edition of 1001 Ways to Market Your Books. And I will hold my head up high the whole time."
SELLING 100 COPIES DOES NOT MAKE YOUR BOOK A TRUE BESTSELLER
Real bestselling author MJ Rose emailed me last week, stating, "Four publishing companies were asked if being an Amazon bestseller qualified the words 'bestseller' to appear in an ad for a book, or on a book cover, and they said definitely not. You can become a bestseller at Amazon for selling as few as 100 copies in a specific concentrated period of time. And those are not bestseller numbers."
JOHN FINALLY ADMITS PROFITING FROM THIS PROGRAM
And, finally, let's move on to what we feel is the most important part of this discussion - "referral fees."
There are several pages on John Kremer's site where John endorses this program wholeheartedly. But we can't find any disclaimers on his site, telling his readers that he's profiting from referring them to this program. His endorsements appear to be legitimate articles. The ads weren't labeled at "advertisements" but I personally feel his promotional statements about this program are indeed advertorial. Each time one of his readers purchases the program (which, by the way, costs a whopping $2587 - or "3 monthly payments of just $929!"), John makes money. You can see one of the cheesy promotional pages for the program here: http://www.yourownbestseller.com/orderoptions.htm
In his own words last weekend, responding to a question I posted, John Kremer finally admitted he earns a "big chunk" from this company. Specifically, he said, "Someone asked how much I make when someone signs up under my referral. Well, I make a chunk of change, a big chunk. I can't say how much because I promised I would not. I hold to my promises. And, actually, I don't know how much it is per person. Never checked. Didn't care. Didn't need to know."
I, personally, can't quite swallow that he knows it's a "big chunk" but then doesn't know "how much." My opinion about this statement? Hogwash.
JUST HOW DEEP IS THEIR RELATIONSHIP?
One of our readers sent the following anonymous email to us on Wednesday:
We investigated further and found THIS ARTICLE, which lists Steve Harrison as the publisher of Book Marketing Update and John Kremer as the Editor-in-Chief.
John stated in his blog this weekend, "I have been very clear many times in my blog and web site and email newsletter that I have a relationship with Bradley Communications since we work together on the Book Marketing Update newsletter." But, nowhere in his endorsements of the Amazon.com Best Seller program does he mention that these same individuals run the Amazon Best Seller program he's endorsing.
The only mention of any relationship we could find was a post HERE where John says, "my friend Steve Harrison..."
RESPECTED INDUSTRY AUTHORITY OR JUST A SAVVY MARKETER?
John Kremer isn't just a marketer selling products online. He's a respected authority in the industry. His ezine, website and book have helped thousands of authors sell more books. I'm sure his readers would tell you they trust him to provide an unbiased opinion...and I'm sure they'd want him to tell them up front if he were profiting from a company he was promoting to them.
In John's many posts, he makes the following statements:
Okay, John, but if all these statements are true, shouldn't you be providing full and obvious disclosure to your readers whenever you're profiting from a blatant endorsement?
Below is my personal response to John's last blog post on this topic. You can see his posts and my response below, in their entirety, HERE.
1. You said, "I've never changed the subject. The subject as I reiterated in my last post is covering all bestseller lists. Since I started this conversation, I should have some right to decide what it is I'm talking about."
Yes, John, you keep trying to change the subject to deflect attention away from your promotion of the dishonest Amazon program. I'm not the only person that pointed that out here. There are several people participating in this debate, John, and just because we're at your house (at your website) doesn't mean you get to choose the path of each conversation.
2. You say in your most recent post, "I do not promote the Amazon.com campaign for money." But, above, over the weekend, you admitted you promote it for a "big chunk" of money (another contradiction). You promote it on your site and to your readers and include your affiliate link (without telling your readers that the company you're endorsing is paying you to do so).
3. I've been looking at your posts about the Amazon program and I can't find anywhere that you've mentioned you're getting money when you're writing about the program (until readers started asking about it here on your blogs). All I see is a glowing endorsement and a referral link.
4. You said, "I promote the Amazon.com bestseller campaigns whether people carry them out via Randy and Peggy's program..." And that is a shame for all the reasons your readers have stated here about dishonesty and manipulation.
5. You said, "I really don't know the exact amount I make. I know it's a chunk." Well, for a program that costs $2K+, I guess we can all estimate what a "chunk" is if you're not willing to be forthcoming about the amount. You admit you earn $500/hour in consulting fees, so why can't you tell us how much you're earning from your readers who are clicking on your affiliate link? Why is this company so secretive about how much it pays affiliates? I guess it really doesn't matter. Just the fact that you've been promoting the program without telling your readers you're profiting from it speaks volumes. My personal opinion is that you're making so much money that you're letting your pocketbook dominate your common sense on this issue. Even your own readers have criticized your endorsement of this program, yet you continue to promote and profit from it.
Do you earn more than referral fees from Bradley Communications? Are you in anyway whatsoever partners with Randy and Peggy?
Finally, you said, "I have been very clear many times in my blog and web site and email newsletter that I have a relationship with Bradley Communications since we work together on the Book Marketing Update newsletter."
You're not being honest, John. You have not told your readers about your relationship with them when endorsing their program. In fact, I can't find any posts on your site at all where you've admitted that your endorsements are making you money.
In this post - Amazon.com Bestseller Campaigns: Why They Work and Why They Fail - you endorse the program and refer readers to the program via your referral link. Nowhere in that post is a disclaimer that you're making money on that endorsement. That's also the post where you tell your readers that people participating in this program are "obligated" to share their customers' email addresses with others (endorsing spam).
And here - B&N versus Amazon Bestsellers - you are openly endorsing the program but not telling your readers you're making money on the deal. There is no mention of any relationship whatsoever. You include an affiliate link here, too.
And here - Free Audio on Making Your Book an Amazon.com Bestseller - same thing. Another endorsement but no mention of a relationship or profits from the endorsement.
In this post - More Reader Responses: Making Your Book an Amazon Bestseller - despite numerous complaints about your endorsement of this program from your readers, you state "That's why I highlight such programs for you. And why I will do it again. That's part of my job with this free newsletter." But you again fail to tell your readers that you're making money on the endorsement. In that post you also actually insult your own readers by saying "Shame on you" and "such stupid people." I don't even know how to respond to those comments, John.
John Kremer never responded to that last post.
I have a personal challenge for John Kremer (and for all authors claiming the "Amazon.com Best Seller" title):
Instead of describing your book as an "Amazon.com Best Seller", tell potential readers the truth. Say: "My book is an Amazon.com Best Seller because I paid $2K to a company that taught me how to get lots of people to buy my book on the same day at the same time just so my book could be a best seller..."
You claim it's nothing to be ashamed of, right? If you really think there's nothing wrong with the program, tell the truth up front and let's see how sales go on your book from now on.
Earlier this year, Bill Harrison approached us, trying to buy a $250 advertorial on WritersWeekly.com. We refused his ad and his money, saying, "(Your program) is gaming the system to get to the bestseller list rather than getting there on the book's own merit. We simply don't believe in that."
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