Book sellers are trying to flog their wares using the online book seller Amazon automatically with amusing results.
The situation was revealed when Amazon listed a text book for more than $23 million.
Genetics textbook, The Making of a Fly, by Peter Lawrence, which was recently listed at the ridiculous price of $23,698,655.93.
There was nothing much about the book which meant that it should have netted such a price. It was out of print after being published 1992 and this should have upped its value, but not to the extent that it was the same cost as if it were printed on gold pages and had a solid platinum cover.
The book was discovered by UC Berkeley evolutionary biologist Michael Eisen, who went to Amazon to buy the book. Writing in his bog , he said that he found "17 copies for sale: 15 used from $35.54, and 2 new from $1,730,045.91. At least it only cost $4 for shipping.
For years Amazon sellers have been working out ways to either undercut each other, or make the maximum profit. What Eisen has found is that they have automated the process.
One seller would adjust its price of The Making of the Fly to be 0.9983 times the price of the other seller, bordeebooks. In response, bordeebooks would inflate its price by 1.270589 times profnath's price. Eventually, the two sellers' pricing algorithms elevated the cost of the textbook to silliness.
One seller profnath set the price of its book just slightly lower than that of a competitor while bordeebook automatically made sure its listing was more expensive than any other seller. Its cunning plan might be to obtain the book cheaper elsewhere and then flog it on.
Bordeebook had better feedback than other booksellers so it was possible that a buyer might choose them and pay what should have been a slightly higher mark-up.
If someone actually orders the book, they have to get it – so they have to set their price a bit higher.
Eisen got the book for a "far more reasonable" $106.23 by getting on the phone and explaining no fly was worth all that.