The Alliance of Independent Authors advises self-publishers against in-store, bulk purchases of their own books in order to influence bestseller rankings, or for any other personal goal. This recommendation does not include small purchases (fewer than ten copies) for personal use/hand-selling, though members are encouraged to use author-copy facilities where feasible.
Bulk self-purchase is contrary to two clauses of ALLi's Author Member Code of Standards:
- I do not attempt to artificially manipulate reviews, downloads, or sales in any way.
- I do not engage in any practices that have the effect of misleading the readers/buyers of my books.
It is also contrary to the “reader first” principle of ALLi's (open and voluntary) Ethical Author Code:
- When I market my books, I put my readers first.
Bulk self-purchases by authors are unfair to retailers and distributors, who provide routes for/caps on author purchases so that potential impropriety is prevented; to data analytics companies who assess book sales data and cannot stand over author purchases as verifiable; to readers, who trust rankings as a reflection of verifiable sales; and to authors, most of whom do not have the wherewithal or inclination to make bulk in-store purchases. Self-purchasing books for personal gain also adversely affects the reputation of the author community.
Accuracy in book sales data is important. ALLi has been working with partner member Nielsen Book UK to include self-published books in sales counts and to improve the accuracy and analysis of those counts. Indie author book sales are now starting to appear more accurately in publishing statistics and this has knock-on benefits for self-publishing authors in many ways–including, but not limited to, education, training, funding, inclusion and influence.
Bulk Purchase of Mark Dawson’s The Cleaner
As per above, ALLi operates a code of standards for our members and a voluntary ethical code for the wider author community. We do not normally comment on individual author choices. However, Mark Dawson’s bulk self-purchase of The Cleaner has been reported in the press, discussed on social media and on author forums, including our own. Self-Publishing Formula, of which Mark is CEO, is a respected author-education company that has helped many indie authors to succeed in book advertising, promotion, and selling more books, and an ALLi partner member. The two organizations have been mutually supportive and many ALLi members and advisors have asked for a specific response.
As a highly successful author, and CEO of Self-Publishing Formula, Mark Dawson is an industry leader who has always expressed an interest in behaving ethically and fairly. He has consulted the ALLi Watchdog numerous times on ethical questions and inquiries about service providers, retailer rules, and ethical codes. With regard to buying The Cleaner, he openly described on his podcast and elsewhere how he went about what he believed was a legal strategy for registering sales and moving his book up the Sunday Times bestseller list: emailing overseas fans and inviting them to make advance purchases which he would personally fulfill through bulk buying the book in a qualifying UK bookstore.
However, in order for such purchases to count towards his book’s bestseller ranking, those sales would need to be trackable UK purchases and independently verified. In the absence of such assurances, we consider it right and reasonable that Nielsen Bookscan corrected the count.
ALLi urges all indie authors to make contact in advance if in doubt about any marketing or promotion plan. And to contact their territory's book sales monitoring agency should they have any questions about inclusion or exclusion of their sales records, especially in relation to bulk purchases or special sales.
- ALLi's Code of Standards for author members can be found here.
- ALLi’s Ethical Author Code can be found here.
ALLi will continue to work with Nielsen Book UK and others towards a mechanism by which direct, online sales by authors to readers can be officially monitored. This requires independent authors to purchase and use ISBNs as recommended.