Now that’s what I call inflation!

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.”

About Frank Norman

I am a librarian in a biomedical research institute. I've been around a few years, long enough to know that exciting new things fall into the same familiar patterns. I'm interested in navigating a path for libraries as we move further from print to electronic resources to open research, and become more embedded in research workflows.
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4 Responses to Now that’s what I call inflation!

  1. ricardipus says:

    Fabulous!

    I also like the books you come across that are listed as “10 new and used starting from $0.01” or the like. Makes me want to add ten or twenty essentially free books the next time I order enough other stuff to qualify for free shipping. 🙂

  2. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    Oopsie! I hope they’ve fixed their Al Gore rhythms.

    Ricardipus, the “spend $5.68 more to qualify for free shipping” thing is both a blessing and a curse. I treat those books as essentially free, meaning that I’ve picked up some great stuff I wouldn’t have tried otherwise. On the other hand, the unread book situation in my house is becoming quite ridiculous. Ah well, I have a 3 week trip coming up and will try to read at least one book a week while I’m away!

  3. ricardipus says:

    Al Gore invented the internet you know, which is why we can buy all this stuff from Amazon.*

    And yes, the heaps of books thing is a bit of an issue, isn’t it?

    *certain aspects of the preceding statement may not be entirely accurate

  4. Frank says:

    Re. Amazon, I must confess I use it mainly as an easy way of sending presents. Books for myself I usually like to go along to a proper bookshop and pick something up on a whim. This is starting to change as I have developed a Kindle habit. I don´t think they offer those $0.01 books for Kindles though.

    Just don´t mention piles of unread books (oh, you already did). I get stern looks on a regular basis about my book habit. I think ebooks are the answer.

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