Recent reports telling how Mark Driscoll's book reached the top of a bestseller list have left Mars Hill Church calling the campaign "unwise," but not "uncommon or illegal."
Driscoll has recently faced scrutiny for citation errors in a study guide. Now, his book Real Marriage, which Driscoll coauthored with his wife, Grace, is receiving intense attention concerning how it became a New York Times No. 1 bestseller.
In 2011 and 2012, Mars Hill reportedly paid a marketing company ResultSource Inc. (RSI) $210,000 in a contract designed to boost the book to the bestseller list. In a 2011 document, the deal's main purpose was:
"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."
Aggressive book-marketing campaigns raise ethical questions about the use of church resources and manipulation of bestseller lists.
The document asked Mars Hill to buy 6,000 individual orders and supply RSI with addresses to deliver the books through a third party. In addition, Mars Hill purchased 5,000 bulk copies and provided 90 different addresses for the shipment of the bulk copies, according to the document signed by Matt Miller of RSI and Mars Hill general manager (and current executive elder) John Sutton Turner.
Warren Cole Smith broke the story for World.
In a statement on the church's website, Mars Hill's Board of Advisors and Accountability declared that it "stands unreservedly" behind Driscoll and the executive elders. Among other issues, the board also responded to the church's marketing campaign for RealMarriage:
While not uncommon or illegal, this unwise strategy is not one we had used before or since, and not one we will use again. The true cost of this endeavor was much less than what has been reported, and to be clear, all of the books purchased through this campaign have been given away or sold through normal channels. All monies from the sale of Pastor Mark's books at Mars Hill bookstores have always gone to the church and Pastor Mark did not profit from the Real Marriage books sold either at the church or through the Result Source marketing campaign.
Driscoll is not the first author to use RSI to get to the top of bestseller lists. According to its website, the marketing company's campaigns are a "sequence of actions all designed to produce clearly defined objectives within limited timeframes and with limited resources."
One of those objectives: attaining bestseller status.
"Publishing a book builds credibility, but having a Bestseller initiates incredible growth—exponentially increasing the demand for your thought leadership, skyrocketing your speaking itinerary and value," the website explains.
The deal between Mars Hill and RSI did achieve its goal—at least for a week. Real Marriage landed a No. 1 spot on The New York Timesbestseller list on January 22, 2012. The book was already absent in the top 10 the following week; then, two weeks later, it came back on the bestseller list at #12 for another two weeks. These short stints were enough for Driscoll's official biography to call attention to it.
Mars Hill has received more than $200,000 from sales of Driscoll's book, church spokesman Justin Dean told World.
CT reached out to Thomas Nelson, the publisher of Real Marriage, about Mars Hill's dealings with RSI.
"On occasion, authors will hire additional marketing assistance for book campaigns, apart from what the publisher provides. In this case, it was not our decision, nor were we a party to the agreement," said spokesperson Casey Francis Harrell.
Meanwhile, in a recent interview with CT's sister publication Leadership Journal, Driscoll explained why he has not left Mars Hill to write books full-time:
I'm probably at the point that I could write books and speak and hang out by my pool and coach Little League. But I don't want to do that because I really love our church. I'm a local church guy. My belief is that Jesus gave his life for the church and he honors those who do the same.
In January 2012, CTinterviewed Mark and Grace Driscoll about Real Marriage.
(RSI document courtesy of Warren Throckmorton)