The do-it-yourself best-seller

Frankfurt, Germany
March 12, 2002
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

In order to reap the financial fruit of his own ability, today's book author has several alternatives. He can have a title that will attract attention, such as "Terrorism for Children," "Hitler's Drug Dealer," or "And I was naked"; he can get booked on as many talk shows and act depraved as possible, such as by swearing or fondling the moderator, and if none of that works, perhaps he could start his own cult. At least that's what work for science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard (1911-1986); his own companies profited from a highly efficient, centrally directed command operation based on "Give me some money and I'll get you something wonderful!" Members of the Scientology Church, founded by Hubbard, saunter cavalierly into the bookstores on the first day a new Hubbard-volume is on sale with fresh rolls of money in their hot little hands, and buy up to three copies apiece, so that the the rave book of the day reaches "best-seller" status within the least amount of time. The excess copies are then re-sold by the enterprising faith-based company via mail order, and with what's left the devout disciples no doubt recite a short prayer of thanks before they smother it with ketchup and devour it hungrily.

Taken at face value, such operations are rather crass, and whoever organizes their book-buying according to the "Best-seller list," probably also sorts their CDs by color and smell, and second, has himself to blame; but it gets even trickier when zealots such as the above do not have a hand in it. That is happening, according to reports and occasionally embarrassing exposes, more and more in America's giant book market, and naturally also has to do with the "volatility" of the gauging process by which best-sellers are set.

But what was surprising for most spectators was that, of all people, a journalist like David A. Vise, reporter of the respected Washington Post and winner of the Pulitzer Prize would a) find it necessary and b) actually risk doing "something like that." In this case, "something like that" means Vise, who besides (politely) advertising his book, "The Bureau and the Mole," a book about the KGB-FBI double-agent Philip Hanssen, beforehand on various talk shows, had also used a major online book ordering service to order between 16,000 and 18,000 (!) copies of his own book, and then tried to sell the books in his garage through similar book distributors as "used." Vise denies trying to manipulate the sales statistics of his book. He said he had wanted to order "only a couple of thousand copies" for personal use, such as for reading tours, signed presents and so forth, but things got out of control somehow, so he tried to get some of his money back at a garage sale.

The whole story, if one may judge, contains enough boorishness and such a lack of transparency that the excuse and the ending may even check out. Probably Vise had not meant anything bad, he just got schizophrenic enough from doing all the research on double-agents to get stuck with a bad deal in buying his book. Or behind the whole thing is not Vise, but his home paper, the Washington Post, which is now cashing in on the whole thing with brand-new material from the source of the best-seller scandal. Probably the newspaper, the book publishing company, the online distributer and Vice himself have long been members of Scientology.

Dietmar Dath

German Scientology News