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Scientologists seem to be on buying blitz

Title: Scientologists seem to be on buying blitz
Date: Sunday, 24 July 1983
Publisher: The Ledger (Florida)
Author: Edwin McDowell
Main source:

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A best-selling adventure novel by a controversial figure who has not been seen in public for years has become the focus of concern among some book sellers. The book sellers said they belleve that "Battlefield Earth" by L. Ron Hubbard is being bought in large numbers in their stores by members of the Church of Scientology, founded by the reclusive Hubbard, as part of an effort to boost it onto the country's best-seller lists.

Some book sellers and critics of Hubbard and his church believe that the purpose of the alleged buying blitz, which is not illegal, is twofold: to polish Hubbard's image and to enhance the image of Scientology. The movement has been hurt by widespread defections and by the imprisonment this year of nine top church officials who were convicted of conspiracy to obstruct justice or to obtain government documents illegally.

The book, a science-fiction adventure set in the year 3000, has appeared on the fiction best-seller list of The New York Times Book Review twice in recent weeks, and on seven other national lists.

Book publishers and sellers — who agreed to discuss the matter only on condition that their names not be used, because they said they are concerned about the Church of Scientology's alleged pattern of harassment against its critics — said they are concerned about attempts to whip up a demand for books outside of the normal review, publicity and promotional channels. Yet they acknowledged that attempts to "buy" a best seller are not new. They said that Hollywood studios have frequently attempted to do so, usually soon after purchasing film rights to a book.

But "Battlefield Earth" did not reach the best-seller list just because it has sold well in strongholds of Scientology The Times's best-seller list, which is printed on this page of The Ledger each Sunday, is compiled from sales figures from about 2000 bookstores in evey region of the United States and balanced between independent stores and chains. It has built-in safeguards against all but the most determined regional blitz.

Two Scientology organizations bought a total of 30,000 copies of "Battlefield Earth" at discount directly from the publisher apparently to sell or to give to current or prospective Scientology members. That purchase is not counted is part of the best-seller lists, which record sales through general bookstores.

Kathy Heard, a press spokesman for the Church of Scientology at its West Coast headquarters in Los Angeles, denied church involvement in any manipulative buying of Hubbard's book. "But there are 6 million members of the Church of Scientology," she said, "and the membership has an enormous interest in all L. Ron Hubbard's writing. A lot of them would naturally pick up his book." Former Scientologists said that church membership in the United States is actually closer to 100,000.

Bill Widder, president of Dateline Communications, a company in Santa Monica, Calif., that is handling publicity for "Battlefield Earth," credited luck with having a lot to do with making the book a best seller nine months after publication.

l think it's a combination of the fact that there are a number of other science-fiction and fantasy titles on The Times list at the moment, plus the release of the movie 'Return of the Jedi,' " he said.

But book sellers say they have encountered an unusual sales pattern in connection with Hubbard's 819-page novel, which carries a list price of $24.

"One of our stores had a telephone call from a man who said he'd like to buy 600 copies of the book," said the buyer for a major book chain in the Northeast. "We didn't have 600 copies — in fact, we didn't have any copies then. We were returning it. Now its coming back on the list, apparently because Hubbard's people are creating a demand."

The buyer for a national book chain, asked about sales of "Battlefield Earth" in his stores, replied "You know who wrote it and what organization he heads. That would give you a clue." He added that sales have been strongest in Southern California and Florida, where the Scientology church owns large teaching and counseling centers. There have been orders in some stores in his chain for as many as 800 copies of the book, he said, which is highly unusual.

Michael J. Flynn, a Boston lawyer who represents many former Scientologists, said that recent defectors from Scientology have told him that church members are now buying "Battlefield Earth" "to develop Hubbard's reputation as a sci-fi writer and author, to transform him into a public-opinion leader in this country."

Recently, Author Services, a Los Angeles company that manages Hubbard's literary affairs, and whose officers and directors are said to he Scientologists, announced plans to establish an L. Ron Hubbard Library in Los Angeles to house more than 1,000 Hubbard fiction and non-fiction titles, more than 600 editions of his works and a permanent collection of memorabilia.

Book sellers suggest that church members could be trying to buy themselves a best seller in order to obtain a large paperback or movie sale, both of which are often contingent on a book's first becoming a best seller in hard cover. The book has not yet been sold either for paperback or to the movies.

None of the criticism about purchases of the book has been directed against the publisher, St Martin's Press, which won worldwide English-language rights to it in an auction in 1981 and has promoted and publicized the book as highly readable escapism.

But criticism about the author and his followers is widespread, and so are reports fueled in part by a bitter internal battle being waged over control of the Church of Scientology's hundreds of millions of dollars and in part by the fact that the 72-year-old Hubbard has not been seen in public for some years.

Hubbard wrote "Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health" in 1950. The book became a huge best seller and eventually the basis for Scientology, which Hubbard founded four years later.

Scientology stresses one-on-one counseling sessions, for a mandatory donation of up to $300 an hour, in which an "E-Meter" device patented by Hubbard and similar to a lie detector is used to test emotional responses by measuring changes in the electrical properties of a person's skin. These sessions, for followers hoping to eradicate negative mental images, essentially traumatic memories, are said to continue for years.

The controversy surrounding Scientology has also continued for years. Flynn, the lawyer, said that for about a decade Scientology members, in what they called Operation Hydra, stole from bookstores, libraries and newspaper morgues any material that reflected badly on the church. Affidavits to that effect have been filed by former Scientologists in at least five cases involving the Church of Scientology, the lawyer said.

Documents seized by federal agents at Scientology offices in Los Angeles and Washington, and made public in November 1979 after the convictions of Hubbard's wife, Mary Sue, and eight other Scientology officers and directors, showed that Scientology members had stolen thousands of pages of government files and had wiretapped and spied on the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Internal Revenue Service and other public agencies.

[Picture / Caption: L. Ron Hubbard, the author of 'Battlefield Earth.' In a 1968 photo.]