Your price is lifting mine higher—
April 23, 2011 11:05 AM   Subscribe

A $23,698,655.93 book about flies.
posted by kipmanley (58 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yeah, but what's the shipping?
posted by el_lupino at 11:10 AM on April 23, 2011


$3.99.
posted by kipmanley at 11:11 AM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: What’s fascinating about all this is the seemingly endless possibilities for both chaos and mischief.
posted by mannequito at 11:11 AM on April 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


Haha! Oh algorithms, when will they learn?
posted by pwally at 11:15 AM on April 23, 2011 [14 favorites]


Hah, that was a great read! Cheers.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:20 AM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh algorithms, when will they learn?
posted by orthogonality at 11:22 AM on April 23, 2011


Beelzebub did it.
posted by alteredcarbon at 11:23 AM on April 23, 2011


I've bought a few copies of the same book from Amazon resellers, as people kept liking it so much I'd end up gifting it to them. The first time I paid $11, the second time $9. After I gifted the second copy, I went to re-buy it, and the one remaining copy was suddenly priced at $1700.

I've been watching it, waiting for it to come down to the $10 range again. It's dwindled down to $416 over the last few months, so it might be a while yet.

Anyways, glad I'm not the only one being trolled by Amazon reseller algorithm weirdness. I appreciate the post, thanks!
posted by churl at 11:26 AM on April 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


I have two.
posted by cjorgensen at 11:26 AM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow, that's just bananas! I sure hope the boys on Wall Street don't find out about these "algorithms"- if not carefully controlled, let loose on the stock exchange or currency markets these computer "glitches" could even cause global financial shenanigans, and threaten the centuries-old reputation of our most stable and conservative investment houses!

Or maybe I'm engaging in a little too much hyperbole; it is just a book about flies.
posted by hincandenza at 11:30 AM on April 23, 2011 [20 favorites]


I use a simple algorithm to set my prices to what they are in town.
posted by mccarty.tim at 11:31 AM on April 23, 2011 [26 favorites]


The "I'll undersell you" vs "I'll buy a cheap one and resell it, charging extra for my name brand" and then the whole thing leading to economy-crashing1 arbitrage-out-of-control is so perfectly capitalism that I don't even.

1Hypothetically. If more widespread.
posted by DU at 11:32 AM on April 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


I use a simple algorithm to set my prices to what they are in town.

10 PRICE = 20
20 GOTO 10
posted by DU at 11:32 AM on April 23, 2011 [11 favorites]


I love this. I have many times noticed used books with crazy prices--$80 or $90 or $200 for a book that is still available new for $19.99, for instance. I always wondered where these prices came from; interacting auto-pricers is an interesting possibility.
posted by not that girl at 11:36 AM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


This drives me crazy. Often enough, I am looking for some obscure, out-of-print book with what seems like a very narrow appeal. Copies are available, but at insane prices -- I am certain that there are not enough people looking for some book that sold at $20 new to justify a $120 used price (Obviously, there are cases where books appreciate that much, but they are pretty rare. ). I mean, I suppose someone might meet their price, but my reaction is always to say "eh, I don't need to own a copy; I'll just get It through interlibrary loan.

It makes me glad that I got out of the book business a decade ago....
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:38 AM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


"I use a simple algorithm to set my prices to what they are in town."
Excellent, sir. It is hard to beat an O(1) algorithm.
posted by idiopath at 11:43 AM on April 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


My understanding from a friend in the business is Monsoon is the dominant software for managing book sales online and includes a bunch of autopricing algorithms that are responsible for the stupid undercutting behaviour we see on Amazon's store. Not sure what caused the initial giant price, but once it's in place software is going to react stupidly to it unless they thought to put some sanity checking on prices in the code.

There's a solution for this kind of price gaming: charge to place or modify a listing on the Amazon store. You don't even have to charge up front, just add a few cents' to Amazon's cut every time a seller modifies their price.
posted by Nelson at 11:49 AM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've noticed this a couple times when selling books on Amazon. All the copies available will be listed at $200 and if I offer mine for $20 one of the other books will be down to $19.99 by the next day.

I've often wondered if I could place a low price listing for a book I want (but don't actually own) just to get another seller to drop the price.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 11:50 AM on April 23, 2011 [26 favorites]


Haha! Oh algorithms, when will they ever learn?
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:54 AM on April 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


hincandenza: "Wow, that's just bananas! I sure hope the boys on Wall Street don't find out about these "algorithms"- if not carefully controlled, let loose on the stock exchange or currency markets these computer "glitches" could even cause global financial shenanigans, and threaten the centuries-old reputation of our most stable and conservative investment houses!
"

I know there's HAMBURGER in that but don't miss this interesting link and discussion, from the comments on the OP.
posted by Rumple at 11:56 AM on April 23, 2011


Hamms bear: I'm definitely going to try that.
posted by special-k at 11:56 AM on April 23, 2011


Rarely is the question asked: Is our algorithms learning?
posted by trip and a half at 12:04 PM on April 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


The Hamms Bear, beware: Amazon.com's ban hammer strikes a heavy blow.
posted by gorgor_balabala at 12:04 PM on April 23, 2011


Boy, for $23 million you think they could throw in free shipping.
posted by Quietgal at 12:19 PM on April 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


Once upon a time I wrote a game supplement as a freelancer. Then, years later, I was telling someone about it and wanted to show them a picture of the cover (and try to get them to understand that it was words on paper, not code on a computer). I found one copy on Amazon with a five star review (that read like the most soulless ad copy ever) and a price over $200.

At the time I assumed the seller was a small time operation run by a greedy idiot who sock puppeted ad copy as reviews and thought they could turn the bargain bin at the local gaming shop into a real estate empire. Now I realize that they were probably a large scale operation run by greedy idiots who automatically set insane prices on things and sock puppeted ad copy as reviews who think they can turn the bargain bin at an on line gaming shop into a real estate empire.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:28 PM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Describe in single words only the good things that come into your mind about... your mother.
posted by Sphinx at 12:28 PM on April 23, 2011


I thought we were friends
I thought we were friends
I thought we were friends
posted by Ron Thanagar at 12:35 PM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


How much of the blue is coming directly from gawker these days?
posted by janelikes at 12:47 PM on April 23, 2011


This is only going to happen in a closed universe like Amazon. Cross checking with a meta-search engine like http://www.bookfinder.com/ will often find a better deal than Amazon, but not quite the ease of one-click (tm) shopping.
posted by warbaby at 12:49 PM on April 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


I have a copy of this in reasonably good condition. Offers?
posted by nowonmai at 12:53 PM on April 23, 2011


Metafilter: April 23, 2011 11:05 AM
Gawker: By Max Read 12:44 PM

posted by kipmanley at 1:14 PM on April 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


I've been watching the price of my book on Amazon fluctuate daily- my publisher sold out to a much larger international publishing house, and along with that came bigger Amazon discounts and what I assume to be algorithmic pricing.

It's really strange; before it used to be about $23 no matter what, now it swings from $16.83 to $19, at any point in the day, for no particular reason.

Needless to say as an author it bugs me; very hard to predict sales income when the pricing is all over the map.

I get the idea behind it, and using modeling to try to extract the most value & sales revenue isn't a bad thing, but when you don't know what's happening inside the black box it's frustrating as hell.

(kind of like algo trading, amirite?)
posted by EricGjerde at 1:25 PM on April 23, 2011


I have a copy of this in reasonably good condition. Offers?

I'll offer you 1.270589 times more than what the next guy does!
posted by hempgranola at 1:40 PM on April 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


So, now that it's more widely known that there are some very stupid/careless pricing algorithms living on Amazon, anyone want to start the countdown until someone exploits the everloving crap out of them and makes a bundle of money?
posted by indubitable at 2:19 PM on April 23, 2011


So, now that it's more widely known that there are some very stupid/careless pricing algorithms living on Amazon, anyone want to start the countdown until someone exploits the everloving crap out of them and makes a bundle of money?

SHHHH!!!
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 2:35 PM on April 23, 2011


How would you make money off this mispricing? Nobody's actually buying the book at that price— you could easily offer the book for less, but you still wouldn't get any buyers. No actual transactions = no profit. Unless you can find a book that's mechanically underpriced, or a bookseller that uses the wonky algo to decide to buy a book from you at an insane price, I can't think of a way to exploit this. All it does is prevent the seller with the bad algorithm from making a sale.
posted by hattifattener at 2:41 PM on April 23, 2011


I've often wondered if I could place a low price listing for a book I want (but don't actually own) just to get another seller to drop the price.

Does this work for books which are sold by Amazon proper, or only the ones obscure enough to be only available from independent sellers?
posted by Buckt at 2:43 PM on April 23, 2011


Also, the fly book is back up to almost $1000 in the few days since this was posted.
posted by Buckt at 2:46 PM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


How would you make money off this mispricing?

I take my Delicious Library files and the Amazon valuations, to total the value of the books in the front room (there are quite a few, including several rare ones), then I measure the growth over time. This done, I call the bundle, and associated growth stream, a security and sell it to credulous local councils as an investment.

What could possibly go wrong?
posted by pompomtom at 3:35 PM on April 23, 2011 [16 favorites]


Also, the fly book is back up to almost $1000 in the few days since this was posted.

What's interesting to me is that there is currently only one seller. Does this mean that the author of the post purchased the other copy and thus stopped the progression of the price? Or maybe it indicates some other mechanism at work?
posted by dave78981 at 3:40 PM on April 23, 2011


Can't wait until book piracy gets more widespread. You don't see this with albums. This is out of print, so exactly one of the things that only benefits the middle men.
posted by geoff. at 4:21 PM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


You don't see this with albums. This is out of print, so exactly one of the things that only benefits the middle men.

I read recently that investors in Russia and China are now turning to rare 7"s as an investment. This was in a story which stated that a pristine copy of the original A&M release of the Sex Pistols' "God Save The Queen" was the second most valuable record in existence, changing hands for some insanely high price. Presumably into the hands of someone who has no opinions on punk rock and the Sex Pistols other than them being valuable.
posted by acb at 5:11 PM on April 23, 2011


1. Set up an account and Mechanical Turk your way to high ratings
2. list a ton of inventory you don't have for slightly more than the next guy.
3. Drop ship everything you get orders for & skim the extra.
4. Continue until your reviews sink.
5. Go back to step 1
posted by Mr. Gunn at 5:32 PM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Weird, it looks like the seller has the same thing going on with lots of books they're offering. On the front page of their amazon storefront, among other things, is Exercising the Penis: How to Make Your Most Prized Organ Bigger, Harder and Healthier, used (from a satisfied reader I'm sure) for the low, low price of $956.98.
posted by bepe at 5:54 PM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wish I still owned that book, which is excellent. Sadly, I sold it back at the end of the semester because I needed the money.
posted by wintermind at 6:28 PM on April 23, 2011


And yet The Greek Seaman is still going for 99 cents.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 7:07 PM on April 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


I wish I still owned that book, which is excellent. Sadly, I sold it back at the end of the semester because I needed the money.

Sure, sure....I mean how big of a penis does a guy need?
posted by popechunk at 7:13 PM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


How to Make Your Most Prized Organ Bigger, Harder and Healthier,

"My brain? That's my second favorite organ!"
-Woody Allen
posted by drjimmy11 at 7:28 PM on April 23, 2011


How would you make money off this mispricing?

The algorithm is not live or event driven - it merely queries the price every x hours:
The prices would remain close for several hours, until bordeebook “noticed” profnath’s change and elevated their price to 1.270589 times profnath’s higher price.
If profnath drops the price from $23,000,000 to $100, anyone shopping for this book during that x hour period will be presented with a pretty dramatic price difference and obviously go for the cheaper option. Obviously, with this book and that price discrepancy this is a pretty ludicrous example, but imagine this happening for small price differences at large volume between two resellers of top 40 books.
posted by doublehappy at 8:18 PM on April 23, 2011


Yes, I can imagine that. But I still don't see a way for someone to (as indubitable puts it) exploit the crap out of it. In order for someone to make money, there has to be an actual transaction at some point. Unless you take pompomtom's route.
posted by hattifattener at 8:35 PM on April 23, 2011


This is so interesting. I was recently going to make an AskMe post about the software people use to control listings.

I am more just baffled by listings where they are selling it for basically the same price as amazon.
You'd think if there were really 41 copies available, someone would undercut and go lower.

But I suppose that these sellers are automated, list a book that amazon has in stock, and if someone accidentally buys it from them, just get amazon to ship it with free shipping...
posted by Theta States at 8:55 PM on April 23, 2011


The Hacker News link has an interesting idea for a way to bid down the algorithms while minimizing the risk of somebody actually buying the book from you: get as much bad feedback as possible.
posted by nathan v at 11:55 PM on April 23, 2011


So, what happens if there's a book listing filled with nothing but a bunch of book resellers who don't actually own the book? Especially if it's a rare or out of print book (so they can't just order a copy at full price)?

Do they just refund your money and apologize and call it an inventory error or whatever? That sort of behavior seems like it'd ding their reputation pretty fast.
posted by mccarty.tim at 6:36 AM on April 24, 2011


Or is there some sort of cabal that knows who lists books without actually owning those books?
posted by mccarty.tim at 6:39 AM on April 24, 2011


Maybe it's the fact that I'm naturally subversive, but one exploit strikes me immediately. Amazon has created a joyous wonderland of opportunity for money laundering and transmitting funds to bad guys.
posted by Shike at 10:49 AM on April 24, 2011


gorgor_balabala: "The Hamms Bear, beware: Amazon.com's ban hammer strikes a heavy blow"

It certainly does. I've sold stuff, on and off, for four years on Amazon - mainly textbooks I no longer needed. Maybe two dozen in that time, and in several stops and starts. I noticed during the last one that no matter what price I put in, it often got bracketed within minutes to hours by a high and low price. Even for a mathematics textbook from the 1950s with apparently no extant copies on amazon.com *before* I put it up for sale. Anyway, a single customer decided one of the books is "not as described", fills in Amazon's feedback with a negative feedback, and there's an Amazon nastygram saying you're banned from selling. Apparently, Amazon now has a 1% cutoff for negative feedbacks. I think I have, like, 12 feedbacks in total, so obviously one bad one is way over 1%. There's an appeal button but it basically seems to generate an automatic "appeal fail" response. Meanwhile, on Amazon I see all these duelling algorithms with weird pricing, people abusing their Prime membership to work as drop shippers, absurd prices for demand-printed Wikipedia info, and some very dodgy schemes involving triangular trades of gift cards.
posted by meehawl at 8:19 AM on April 25, 2011


Other very high priced books on Amazon this morning:

1.
Streams in the Desert by Mrs. Charles E. Cowman (Nov 30, 0002)

$600,000,000.00

2.
Hero For Our Time - An Intimate Story of the Kennedy Years (Jan 1, 1984)

$600,000,000.00

3.
POINT COUNTER POINT by Aldous Huxley (1928)

$900,000,000.00

4.
Lana, The Lady, The Legend, The Truth by Lana Turner (1991)

$900,000,000.00


5.
The Doctrines and Discpline by SOUTHE METHODIST PUBLISHING HOUSE (1886)
Formats Buy new New from Used from
Unknown Binding

$99,000,000.00

6.
Dronningen sover: Fortelling (Norwegian Edition) by Ingvar Ambjørnsen (2000)

$9,768,010.24

I think I'll wait for the movies.
posted by notmtwain at 6:11 AM on April 26, 2011


Streams in the Desert by Mrs. Charles E. Cowman (Nov 30, 0002)
$600,000,000.00


In all fairness, that book is 2008 years old...
posted by Theta States at 12:30 PM on April 26, 2011


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