Seattle’s Mars Hill Church paid a California-based marketing company at least $210,000 in 2011 and 2012 to ensure that Real Marriage, a book written by Mark Driscoll, the church’s founding pastor, and his wife Grace, made the New York Times best-seller list.
According to a document obtained by WORLD, ResultSource Inc. (RSI) contracted with Mars Hill “to conduct a bestseller campaign for your book, Real Marriage on the week of January 2, 2012. The bestseller campaign is intended to place Real Marriage on The New York Times bestseller list for the Advice How-To list.”
The marketing company also promised to help place Real Marriage on the Wall Street Journal Business, USA Today Money, BN.com (Barnes & Noble), and Amazon.com best-seller lists.
Mat Miller of ResultSource and John Sutton Turner of Mars Hill signed the letter of agreement, dated Oct. 13, 2011. Turner was then and remains today the church’s executive pastor and an executive elder.
Repeated phone calls to ResultSource by WORLD went unreturned. When WORLD contacted Mars Hill about its relationship with ResultSource, church spokesman Justin Dean responded via email, saying, “Mars Hill has made marketing investments for book releases and sermon series, along with album releases, events, and church plants, much like many other churches, authors, and publishers who want to reach a large audience. We will explore any opportunity that helps us to get that message out, while striving to remain above reproach in the process. Whether we’re talking about technology, music, marketing, or whatever, we want to tell lots of people about Jesus by every means available. That’s what we’re all about and have been since 1996.”
Dean added that Driscoll’s books have generated more than $200,000 in income for the church. “Pastor Mark’s generosity has never been in question,” Dean said, “and both our board and senior staff [are] convinced that the church benefits both spiritually and financially from this writing ministry.” But since neither the church nor Driscoll make available the details of their financial arrangements, it is impossible to verify Dean’s claims.
The details of the agreement between Mars Hill and ResultSource are complicated. ResultSource received a fee of $25,000 to coordinate a nationwide network of book buyers who would purchase Real Marriage at locations likely to generate reportable sales for various best-seller lists, including the New York Times list. Mars Hill also paid for the purchase of at least 11,000 books ranging in price from $18.62 to $20.70, depending on whether the books were purchased individually or in bulk. The contract called for 6,000 of the books to be bought by individuals, whose names were supplied by the church. Another 5,000 books were bought in bulk.
Mars Hill would not say whether the funds for the purchase of these books, which would total approximately $123,600 for the individual sales and $93,100 for the bulk sales, came from church funds.
According to the terms of the contract between ResultSource and Mars Hill, “RSI will be purchasing at least 11,000 total orders in one-week.” The contract called for the “author” to “provide a minimum of 6,000 names and addresses for the individual orders and at least 90 names and address [sic] for the remaining 5,000 bulk orders. Please note that it is important that the make up of the 6,000 individual orders include at least 1,000 different addresses with no more than 350 per state.”
The purpose of this instruction appears to be a way to outsmart systems put in place by The New York Times and other list compilers to prevent authors from buying their way onto best-seller lists. ResultSource apparently uses other techniques to work around the safeguards of the best-seller lists. According to its agreement with Mars Hill, “RSI will use its own payment systems (ex. gift cards to ensure flawless reporting). Note: The largest obstacle to the reporting system is the tracking of credit cards. RSI uses over 1,000 different payment types (credit cards, gift cards, etc).”
What ResultSource does is not illegal, but organizations that publish best-seller lists discourage such practices. Most best-seller lists receive their raw data from Nielsen BookScan, which tracks sales at thousands of bookstores and through online retailers. Nielsen, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times did not respond to WORLD’s request for interviews, but in a 2013 Wall Street Journal article about ResultSource, Nielsen BookScan general manager Jonathan Stolper said, “Stringent rules and controls exist to help validate consumer sales, and confirmed bulk sales are always flagged and pulled from BookScan’s best-seller chart-making process.”
Whatever you think of the means, Mars Hill Church and ResultSource did achieve its end: In early 2012, Real Marriage spent one week on the New York Times best-seller list. It immediately fell off the list, but ever since, Mark Driscoll’s official biography says, “Pastor Mark is the author of over 15 books, including the #1 New York Times best-selling Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, and Life Together, coauthored with his wife, Grace.”