I had no idea I was so popular

Just thought I'd mention that I came across what is obviously a dodgy individual who is selling a used copy of The Pericles Commission for a mere $3,396.  I know I'm a good writer, but that may be a tad excessive.


Sarah W said...

Don't sell yourself short, Gary! :)

Laura Hughes, MittensMorgul said...

Maybe he got Pericles himself to sign it? O_o

Orange said...

There is a story in this ... somewhere ... an element of intrigue. At the moment, I am reading a novel by your fellow Australian crime writer, Lenny Bartulin, Black Russian, and it is about a second-hand book dealer and a massively overpriced stolen volume.

Gary Corby said...

And it just so happens that I know Lenny!

Maybe this fellow did get Pericles to sign it, or maybe there's some dire secret to be found in the microdot hidden on page 13.

jonhanna said...

This is a new variant on an old phenomenon. Traders will set prices algorithmically. The most obvious algorithm is to be x times some other retailer - or perhaps whichever is currently cheapest - where x < 1. So if the cheapest competitor is selling something for $10.00, you offer it at $9.98.

Another variant, is to have x > 1 and depend upon some other factor to make the sale. E.g. if you’ve got very good customer feedback, as someone might pay $10.27 to a retailer with 99% customer satisfaction and glowing references rather than $10.00 to an unknown or someone with 43% customer satisfaction and a lot of strongly-worded complaints.

Say CheapyBooks and TrustworthyBooks take each approach, with each other as the source data. TrustworthyBooks starts selling at $10.00. CheapyBooks starts selling at $10.00 × 0.998 = $9.98. TrustworthyBooks then changes to $9.98 * 1.027 = $10.25. CheapyBooks changes to $10.23. TrustworthyBooks changes to $10.51.

The obvious downside is that nobody is going to buy a book at $23,698,655.93 that they can get for $42.56 (the highest I’ve seen so far), or indeed even if that was the only offer (okay, it’s been recently estimated that the Book of Kells could expect to fetch between €50million and €100million which would be a shade under $128million, but you’d want more reassurance than a 99% Amazon marketplace satisfaction rating before you start musing as to whether to add on the extra tenner for the express-delivery option). Most often, people won’t even see the offer as it’ll be at the bottom of a list of others, hence your not noticing this before despite it being very common.

The upside, is that every now and then some book being priced at $100 or so will actually sell. It can pay to let the algorithm go a little crazy, especially since the best selling items will be less affected: Used copies of the first Harry Potter book won’t fetch more than one cent plus shipping, and even “collectible” (which in the world of Amazon means “I called it collectible instead of used” but which can indeed cover particularly desirable copies) no more than a couple of hundred. Because these books’ prices are more actively monitored by real live humans, even if a large number of prices are set algorithmically, they’re unlikely go crazy. The normal Zipf distribution of book sales just gets magnified and these retailers sell a lot of best-sellers at a cheap price, and the occasional obscure book for a couple of hundred dollars, and are happy either way (in-print mid-list books they’ll probably only sell when the algorithm currently has it offered at a reasonable price). Since they aren’t building a brand to the same extent as many other businesses are, having ridiculous offers out there too is a minor glitch that isn’t worth fixing.

The new angle on this, is that some people are now listing books outside of the general listing for the same book. You’ll note that the $3,396.06 offer on your book is listed with an ASIN (the code Amazon products that aren’t books, and those rare cases where a book doesn’t have an ISBN), rather than under its ISBN. Hence you can now land on a page where the only choice offered is between the $999.99 price and the $3,396.06 price. The cases where people will pay $100 or so—and hence letting the algorithm go crazy can pay off—would tend to be for out of print books, for obvious reasons. This new approach is artificially creating the same appearance of an out-of-print “lucky find” even though your book is still in print.

While I’ve laughed at seeing copies of my own book offered at those sort of prices before, I was much more annoyed to see it offered at $50 in a listing that didn’t put it beside the other offers. So much so that I gave it a one-star review, though it seems to be stuck in moderation (it appears that Amazon think I am too harsh to myself). Worse, that offer is now listed as unavailable, which I certainly hope doesn’t mean someone actually paid for it, unless the algorithm had dropped the price down below what they would have to pay elsewhere.