back to article Amazon algorithms price bio book at over $23m

An algorithmically induced pricing spiral drove up the price for a popular biology reference work on to an astronomical $23.7m. Amazon allows third-party retailers to set their prices using algorithms that take into account what other booksellers are charging for the same title. In this case, the title was The …


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  1. Roger Stenning


    "... still has a few bugs."

    *guffaw* nicely put :-)

  2. Anonymous Coward

    There are some problems with your post.

    That's a delightful tale, but pray tell: which are the products that are experiencing a downward spiral? I'd like to know which expensive products I can buy for just a penny thanks to such algorithmic foolishness.

    On a more sensible note: doesn't Amazon allow you to specify multiple equations for your algorithmic price calculation? That way you could add a maximum and a minimum price to sell at.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      No one is saying these programs are well written. They certainly could use an upper and lower cap.

      As far as I know (and as I have been told by coworkers who I mentioned this story to) there are a number of books on Amazon for 1 cent + 3.99 shipping.

  3. David Webb


    $99m, used too! You'd think for that price they would put in free postage.

  4. someone up north
    Thumb Up

    this is a perfect case for DDT

    DDT is what you need here , not DNA

  5. jonfr

    A book for sale on just $900 million dollars

    Here is a book for a sale of just $900 million dollars.

    This is a strange way to price items on Amazon.

  6. Vagnerr

    CamelCamelCamel has a nice graph of the insanity :)

    1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge
      Paris Hilton

      Camel users who viewed this product also viewed...

      "Exercising the Penis: How to Make Your Most Prized Organ Bigger, Harder and Healthier"

      Hmm, evolutionary biologists?

  7. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Downward spiral

    The downward spiral is more common - you price your copy at 1c less than the cheapest and it appears as the lowest price. Some sellers were using this to drive down competitors prices on textbooks to 1c - then buying those copies and reselling them at the $ real price.

    Basically what Wall St does with stocks but without the 000,000,000 on the end.

  8. Steve Brooks


    This is what happens when ordinary people get hold of algorythms. Had a customer once who did something similar with his emails, he had two computers and wanted to get all his emails on both computers. On one computer he set up a rule that all new emails get forwarded to the other computers, and yes you guessed it, he set the same rule on the other computer, and despite my explaining in sentences of two words with less than 5 letters each he simply couldn't get what he had done wrong.

    He called me when his internet was groaning, the computers were sending several thousand emails to eachother every hour and he still didn't have the common snnse to delete his newly created email rules. Allowing ordinary people access to even the simplest algorythms is asking for trouble, they just don't understand them, there's logic involved!

  9. Shane McCarrick

    Even less on Alibris

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    isn't this false advertising though?

    The trader that doesn't have it in stock and is expecting to buy it from another trader is lying about his stock status. Also my partner was flogging some dvds just this month and any price put was being undercut by pennies until both reached one p. - Sold in the end at 1p but I hadn't realised this was going on and cancelled them (about 3 in total) to which amazon in the end suspended the account for a day ????

    Noticed similar nonsense going on with digital color copy A3 stock - 4 packs retailing for 12 pounds (3.23 per ream) normally retails from 25 to 50 pounds... bought as much as I could though amazon would only allow 5 per account. So created new accounts to get as much as possible. Suddenly the price started fluctuating wildly - it has now settled at 55 pounds. thing is all the other retailers were following the ride. Amazon also tried to back out of the sale saying there was a mistake but as they had made mistakes in partially dispatching all the orders (they kept sending one ream instead of 4!) then held them up to it. Many mistakes later and damaged shipments by couriers - got a couple of extra boxes free....

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