A great snippet from Science Insider on an out-of-print book that was advertised on Amazon for $23,698,655! The book was The Making of a Fly by Peter Lawrence (from MRC’s Lab Molecular Biology at Cambridge, not University of Cambridge as Science Insider had it). The book was published in 1992 but is now out-of-print, however there were a number of second-hand copies available on Amazon ranging in price from $35 … up to that incredible $23m figure.
It appears that many sellers on Amazon use algorithms to set book prices, automatically adjusting their prices when the price of another copy of the book is adjusted. I don’t quite understand how it got up to such a crazy figure but it shows how things can go wrong if the algorithm is faulty and there are no human checks.
It reminds me of one chemistry assignment that I got badly wrong, by quite a few orders of magnitude. My tutor wrote on my paper (probably in red ink) “Your answer is more than the total amount of energy that the sun has emitted since the universe began!” and enjoined me to switch on my brain before submitting my next answer.
Peter Lawrence notes that the fact people still want to order a copy of the 1992 handbook suggests that, despite 2 decades of breathtaking advances in developmental biology, he succeeded at his intention to “write a book that lasts.”