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Whack a ‘Mole’?

Big buy extends Vise grip on bestseller list

There’s a surprising new publishing trend afoot: writers making embarrassing spectacles of themselves and their publishers.

Weeks after historians Stephen Ambrose and Doris Kearns Goodwin were slapped with plagiarism charges, publishing insiders are wondering if David Vise sought to manipulate bestseller lists to promote his new book, “The Bureau and the Mole,” from Atlantic Monthly Press.

Last month, Vise, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporter, bought nearly 18,000 copies of the tome, a portrait of former FBI double agent Robert Hanssen, through barnesandnoble.com. He says he meant to sell the books directly to consumers. But thanks to B&N’s free shipping policy, he ultimately returned most of the books — a move some construed as an attempt to jog sales records at the etailer.

The book trade has a long history of list manipulation, the most egregious recent example coming in 1995, when Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema, authors of an influential business book, “The Discipline of Market Leaders,” spent $250,000 buying 10,000 copies of their book at retail outlets that report to the New York Times bestseller list.

Vise, who’s already sold nearly 180,000 copies of his book, denies he was trying to rig the list. And observers note that the book would be a bestseller even without his bulk orders.

But that may not be enough to dispel the perception that this book about spycraft comes with its own intrigue.

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