Amazon sales rankings are a great democratizing tool — so it was a terrible idea to hand it to writers, a shrewd and narcissistic bunch. Behold the shenanigans, enumerated in today’s Wall Street Journal:
1. Pony up $15,000 to Ruder Finn, a PR firm that then pays “big names” (like the Chicken Soup For the Soul guy) to blurb you in an e-mail blast to their all-obedient fans. Voila: demi-glace for the narcissist’s soul.
2. Directly solicit your readers, fledgling-band-on-MySpace style, to flood the zone and drive you to victory. Isn’t that what Nabokov did when Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago overtook Lolita in best-seller lists?
3. Lose all professional shame. The rankings include used-book sales, so price those babies at a penny and buy a hundred yourself. Presto, you’re outcharting James Frey while enjoying at least as clean a conscience.
As a result of this kind of behavior, of course, the ratings are so volatile (some books rise and fall 75 percent daily) as to make the entire exercise meaningless. But you do get to print out the day’s chart, with your name on it, and hang it in your office.