The Unmasking Of A Best Seller: Chapter 2

A BUSINESS WEEK investigation (Aug. 7) alleged that Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema, authors of The Discipline of Market Leaders, along with the book's publisher, appear to have mounted a campaign to inflate sales and breach the integrity of the New York Times best-seller list.

Now, more news has emerged:

-- Charles McGrath, editor of the Times Book Review, concedes that Discipline, which spent 15 weeks on the nonfiction list, "may very well not have belonged on our list at all some weeks." McGrath says the Times is reexamining how it compiles the list and "my guess is that something probably needs to change." Publishers Weekly and BUSINESS WEEK also are considering changing how their best-seller lists are compiled.

-- In mid-August, Wiersema will take an unpaid leave of absence from Cambridge (Mass.) consulting firm CSC Index to write another book. A CSC spokesman says Wiersema has planned the move "for some time" but notes that he

"will no longer have his title" while he is gone.

-- Treacy continues his association with CSC. But CSC sources say he may well leave within weeks. Treacy says that, long term, he's exploring other career options--perhaps at a nonprofit.

The alleged participants continue to deny taking part in any scheme. "There is no underhanded manipulation," Treacy writes in a letter. "There is simply a very good book, a ready audience and energetic marketing." In a letter of his own, Wiersema says: "I was never involved in or aware of any questionable actions." CSC says the book succeeded on its own merits. And publisher Addison-Wesley asserts that it did nothing unethical.

Treacy maintains CSC bought "roughly 10,000 copies" of Discipline in an ethical manner for clients, prospects, and use in seminars. But clients and others under Treacy's direction also purchased up to 40,000 more. Sources in whom Treacy confided say these orders were dispersed among bookstores to maximize sales figures reported to the Times for its list. Addison-Wesley says it's normal practice to build ties with booksellers by spreading orders.

One new example: When the Leigh Bureau in Somerville, N.J., a speaker's agency that works with the authors, decided to buy 1,000 copies, Treacy asked president Danny Stern to get them from bookstores. Stern noted that he could buy Discipline cheaper directly from the publisher. A source familiar with the conversation says Stern agreed to buy at higher bookstore prices only after Treacy promised Leigh he would be reimbursed for half the books. Stern won't comment publicly. Treacy acknowledges that Leigh was reimbursed but denies that any such conversation about where and at what price the books would be bought ever took place.

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