A $23 Million Book About Flies

The Making of a Fly by Peter Lawrence is a well-regarded reference book on fruit flies used by those who study genetics. You can get a used copy for about $35. But recently a new copy was spotted on Amazon for the price of $1,730,045.91! Michael Eisen was intrigued, and looked into why it was so expensive. He found there were two vendors selling the book new, bordeebook  and profnath, and they seemed to be in a price war of sorts, with the prices rising daily by a steady algorithm. Profnath's price was always lower, but both sellers raised their price automatically in response to the other's price change.
The behavior of profnath is easy to deconstruct. They presumably have a new copy of the book, and want to make sure theirs is the lowest priced – but only by a tiny bit ($9.98 compared to $10.00). Why though would bordeebook want to make sure theirs is always more expensive? Since the prices of all the sellers are posted, this would seem to guarantee they would get no sales. But maybe this isn’t right – they have a huge volume of positive feedback – far more than most others. And some buyers might choose to pay a few extra dollars for the level of confidence in the transaction this might impart. Nonetheless this seems like a fairly risky thing to rely on – most people probably don’t behave that way – and meanwhile you’ve got a book sitting on the shelf collecting dust. Unless, of course, you don’t actually have the book….

My preferred explanation for bordeebook’s pricing is that they do not actually possess the book. Rather, they noticed that someone else listed a copy for sale, and so they put it up as well – relying on their better feedback record to attract buyers. But, of course, if someone actually orders the book, they have to get it – so they have to set their price significantly higher – say 1.27059 times higher – than the price they’d have to pay to get the book elsewhere.

The price went as high as $23,698,655.93 (plus $3.99 shipping) on April 18th when someone apparently noticed, and manually adjusted the price. Read the whole story at Eisen's blog. Link -via reddit

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