Monday, March 26, 2007

The Numbers Guy -

For $10,000 to $15,000, you, too, can be a best-selling author.

New York public-relations firm Ruder Finn says it can propel unknown titles to the top of rankings on and Barnes & Noble with a mass email called the Best-Seller Blast. Popular authors such as Mark Victor Hansen of the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" series recommend your book in messages to fans, and offer a deal: Buy the book today and you'll get downloadable "bonuses" supposedly valued at thousands of dollars -- such as recordings of motivational speeches and contact information for important people. Orchestrating even 1,000 book purchases in a single day can drive a title from obscurity to the top of the charts.

Rick Frishman, who oversees the campaigns for Ruder Finn's Planned Television Arts, also is a client. His 2004 book "Networking Magic" went from a sales rank of 896,000 on the morning it was published to No. 1 at 4 p.m. He has a poster in his office showing the sales chart he briefly topped. "I'm a nobody, but I was somebody for a day," he says.

A decade after they were introduced, online book-sales rankings remain an object of obsession for authors. Because they're unrestrained by shelf space, the Web stores give millions of books a ranking. These are updated hourly and displayed on the book's sales page and on best-seller lists. This "democratic" potential is celebrated by compulsive watchers of the numbers. Cindy Ratzlaff, vice president of brand marketing for Rodale Books, has noticed that Amazon seems to refresh its numbers 35 minutes after every hour and she makes it a point to check the page soon after, every hour during the workday. "It's really pathetic and extremely addictive -- and we all do it," she says.

9:51 AM