I know everyone wants me to get to the hacking of the Best Seller List, and I will in a minute, but you have to put the meat and potatoes down before you pour the gravy (otherwise it gets really messy.)
The first step in any good attack, is to examine what's worked in the past. However, it's not the only one. A penetration tester also has to understand how the legitimate user (or in this case, book) gets in. Other things to consider are potential attack vectors (point of sale outlets, distributors, etc.) and the reporting methodology, i.e how the lists are compiled.
Okay, now that the meat and potatoes are down, we can pour the gravy. First, it should be noted that most publishing companies, like their record label and art world counterparts, are slime. They are happiest when they can take an unknown, sign them to a multi-year deal that puts most of the profits in their own pockets instead of the artist's (unknowns are happy just to be there) and push them to the top of a list or chart they can manipulate. They are miserable when they have to write much larger royalty checks to established artists.
Don't believe me? Read on. No one is exactly sure when the kids first broke into the candy store, but it went on for a pretty long time, "and them that knows ain't sayin'" (boy did my spell checker hate that one.)
The major publishers concocted the following plan and they were all in on it. They would use their weight to push large amounts of a particular title out to the big distributors. The carrot was that all the books were returnable for credit. So the big distributors grumbled, but they went along with it. Now this alone was not enough to crack the lists, because there were no sales and, for obvious reasons, the publishers aren't allowed to report sales to the list. So they did the next best thing. They used shell companies to buy back the books in large chunks at a discount. The shell companies would then warehouse them and pass them back to the publishers. The publishers now owned the books again so their overheads were zero on that batch which they pushed back out to the distributors again and repeated the process. When the book hit the best seller list it would get prime real estate at the book stores and people would buy it. (Go into a Barnes and Noble and take a look at the books that assault you as you walk in the door.) Thus, a title that appeared to sell 500k books, really only sold 250k but the publisher broke even on the first half and pocketed all the profits on the second half. Total marketing cost - "0". Plus, all those shell companies posted nasty losses that were written off at tax time. The distributors were happy as profits were up. and the NY Times was none the wiser. (or were they, they are a big publishing conglomerate...)
Does this still go on? The answer is no. Someone figured it out and now books that sell in large blocks are asterisked like Barry Bond's home run ball and never make it to the list.
Do the major publishers still hack the list? Well the alternative is that they collectively developed a conscience and are now playing fair and square. (Yes, Virginia there really is a Santa Claus.)
Am I going to try to hack the list with my own novel, Playing God? No, but it was a cool mental exercise.
'till next time.