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Bending the Bestseller List

Posted March. 11, 2010 09:40,   


Suspicion is rising over the alleged manipulation of the bestselling books list. Book sales are tallied every week, so if one is purchased en masse, it counts as a bestseller. Fudging the figures is easy to do so. Publishers can hire part-time workers to buy a certain book online. Despite the high cost of this practice, publishers often resort to this because of the big advertising effect on a bestselling book. A center to prevent illegal book distribution released Tuesday four publishers alleged to have cheated in getting their books on the bestseller list and reported them to the Culture, Sports and Tourism Ministry.

The four publishers are subject to a fine of up to three million won (2,650 U.S dollars) under a law promoting the publishing industry. The law is ineffective, however, because the fine is too small. In addition, it is difficult to prove that a publisher stocked up on a certain book. The center has defined as hoarding the purchase of the same book by multiple customers living in the same residence or multiple purchases of the same book by the same customer. Three of the four publishers, however, vehemently denied the hoarding charge. So imposing a fine is difficult in this case.

The film industry is also suspected of manipulating the box office rankings. The ticket reservation rate complied by the Korean Film Council is an important factor moviegoers consider when they choose which film to see. Depending on the day of the week, more than 1,000 reservations earn a movie a place in the top 10, leaving wide open the possibility of manipulation. A movie producer can book tickets for his or her movie en masse in a short period of time to raise the film’s ranking and then cancel the reservations. Movie producers, who are well aware of the power of word of mouth, occasionally mobilize netizens to post favorable reviews. Such manipulation goes unnoticed because of the nature of anonymity on the Internet.

The manipulation of the bestseller books list by publishers, however, is nothing less than self-injury. Readers who buy a fake bestseller are likely to be disappointed over the sham bestseller list and distance themselves from books. The Culture Ministry should raise fines and impose harsh punishment on dirty publishers. The publishing industry, for its part, should enhance internal supervision to drive out such shysters.

Chief Editorial Writer Hong Chan-sik (chansik@donga.com)