In the world of books on the biology of flies, Peter Lawrence's work stands alone. As one Amazon user put it when reviewing his book The Making of a Fly: The Genetics of Animal Design: "I read this book when I was doing a project on drosophila melanogaster, and this book really helped." Stunning praise, indeed.
So how much would you pay for this tome, knowing that it "really helped" that guy with his drosophila melanogaster project? Because the booksellers were thinking about $23.6 million.
At least that was the going rate ($23,698,655.93 to be exact) last week when one UC Berkeley post-doctoral researcher logged on to Amazon and tried to buy an extra copy of The Making of a Fly.
Michael Eisen writes about the ridiculously priced textbook on his blog "It Is NOT Junk." Apparently when his lab buddy first saw the book, two different booksellers were hawking it, both for well over a million bucks.
He captured this screenshot of the listing.
Apparently the price was the result of two competing booksellers using similar algorithms to come up with a competitive price. One seller would up its price, the other would too, and the process would repeat itself, ad infinitum.
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 be 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?
Amazingly, when I reloaded the page the next day, both priced had gone UP! Each was now nearly $2.8 million. And whereas previously the prices were $400,000 apart, they were now within $5,000 of each other. Now I was intrigued, and I started to follow the page incessantly. By the end of the day the higher priced copy had gone up again. This time to $3,536,675.57. And now a pattern was emerging.
So the two scientists followed the price war for about a week, and, as scientists are wont to do, they put what they found into a handy-dandy chart.
Eventually the price cracked his chart and reached the $23.6 million mark.
But why would a price war be trending upward and not downward?
Eisen theorizes that one of the sellers--"bordeebook"--was using its significantly higher feedback rating to justify a price increase over its competitor. Meanwhile, "profnath," the other seller, was always trying to undercut bordeebook by a few cents, and this sent the price climbing ever skyward.
Eventually the sellers caught on and brought the book price back down to the only moderately gouging price of $106.23.
Unfortunately, with the price now back up to $976.98 (as of Sunday evening), it would appear that the whole stupid phenomenon is repeating itself again.