Nielsen Book has stripped thriller writer Mark Dawson of his Sunday Times Top 10 place after investigating his bulk purchase of 400 copies of his own title The Cleaner. Dawson had revealed on his podcast that he made the purchase in order to sell copies to overseas fans, but had wanted to do so in a way that was trackable in order to push the book into a higher chart position in its second week on sale.
Nielsen told The Bookseller yesterday (21st July) that it was investigating the sales, which it had originally thought were made as part of a virtual book signing. It has now concluded, however, the sales did not meet its criteria. In a highly unusual move, the sales monitor will now recalculate the chart for the week ending 4th July with those sales removed, with the Sunday Times also to issue a correction. Without those sales, the book would have listed in 15th spot in The Bookseller's Original Fiction chart of 4th July, but crucially outside the Sunday Times list.
Nielsen said today (22nd July): "We have spoken at length to all those involved and believe it to be an innocent error. We have robust processes in place to make sure the chart is as accurate as possible while having the best coverage. With current circumstances calling for alternative ways to achieve sales we are having to monitor and judge many cases on an individual basis and we apologise that on this occasion we misunderstood the intentions of this sales transaction."
Dawson's publisher Welbeck said: "We respect Nielsen’s decision to issue a correction to the book’s chart placement if this was in any way a violation of its terms." But it stressed that the "actions were purely in response to requests for copies from his fans around the world", and added that the "the fulfilment of these orders to his fans has been misconstrued and the morality of this action called into question". It said: "Copies of The Cleaner are now being dispatched by Mark’s team to readers in the US, Australia and throughout Europe."
Dawson said in an episode of his podcast "Mark Dawson's Self Publishing Formula" that he had bought 400 copies of his book to help him get copies to overseas readers, but in a way that the sales would also be tracked so as to clinch a coveted spot in the Sunday Times hardback fiction chart three weeks ago. Dawson said he had been "trying to figure out ways of getting the books to non-UK readers who had bought them" and that this had "involved me going down to the local bookshop and ordering 400 copies of my own hardback for the princely sum of £3,600". However he said that the objective of the purchase had been to make the Sunday Times bestseller list, after learning that an additional sales push would move the book into the top 10.
Nielsen has confirmed that for inclusion in its lists, the book's sales must be made through a recognised retailer; recorded through an electronic point of sales system; purchased by a UK-based consumer; with the sale made by the consumer in the relevant week. Dawson said he had asked his non-UK readers to indicate if they wanted to purchase a signed edition with about 400 positive responses from potential buyers. On Twitter, in response to being questioned by author Clare Mackintosh, Dawson said his "PA will be packing and posting next week".
Nielsen added that it was sympathetic towards tracking sales made through virtual events, especially during the lockdown, but added: "We are always looking at how best we can include sales from events and alternative channels, such as author events, readings, book signings, literary festivals and other new and innovative ways of selling books. We do, however, need to balance accuracy and coverage. We cannot measure what we cannot track accurately, and the chart is both a public record of consumer habits as well as a tool used by the industry to manage its supply chain and make critical business decisions."
Authors including Mackintosh voiced objections to Dawson's tactic on social media. "It’s gaming the system – making a mockery of the charts," Mackintosh later told The Bookseller. "It also undermines all the efforts the industry is making to support authors with low incomes or from a working-class background. Most authors don’t have the financial means to buy their way into a chart position, even if they wanted to."
But on Twitter, Dawson responded: "The copies are not going to sit in my garage. If I was intent on 'gaming the system' I would have bought 10,000 copies, sat on them forever and been number one. I wouldn’t have discussed it on a popular podcast, either."