An excerpt from Michael Eisen’s Amazon’s $23,698,655.93 book about flies,
A few weeks ago a postdoc in my lab logged on to Amazon to buy the lab an extra copy of Peter Lawrence’s The Making of a Fly – a classic work in developmental biology that we – and most other Drosophila developmental biologists – consult regularly. The book, published in 1992, is out of print. But Amazon listed 17 copies for sale: 15 used from $35.54, and 2 new from $1,730,045.91 (+$3.99 shipping).
I sent a screen capture to the author – who was appropriately amused and intrigued. But I doubt even he would argue the book is worth THAT much.
At first I thought it was a joke – a graduate student with too much time on their hands. But there were TWO new copies for sale, each being offered for well over a million dollars. And the two sellers seemed not only legit, but fairly big time (over 8,000 and 125,000 ratings in the last year respectively). The prices looked random – suggesting they were set by a computer. But how did they get so out of whack? […]
Amazon retailers are increasingly using algorithmic pricing (something Amazon itself does on a large scale), with a number of companies offering pricing algorithms/services to retailers. Both [of the sellers] were clearly using automatic pricing – employing algorithms that didn’t have a built-in sanity check on the prices they produced. […]
What’s fascinating about all this is both the seemingly endless possibilities for both chaos and mischief… as soon as it was clear what was going on here, I and the people I talked to about this couldn’t help but start thinking about ways to exploit our ability to predict how others would price their books down to the 5th significant digit – especially when they were clearly not paying careful attention to what their algorithms were doing.