Friday, March 02, 2007

Too rich for my blood

My previous post (eventually) ended up talking about the review at Amazon's page of a particular book. It might interest you to know that at that page, one used copy of The Sokal Hoax lists for $399.98. The same seller has another listing for the same book, this one for a mere $99.98. Both (perhaps the same copy?) are described as Used – Good (so if it were Excellent, that would presumably cost more, yes?). The natural question (which someone has surely addressed somewhere) is of course: why would anyone bother trying to sell this book for four hundred dollars? The book is in print, and Amazon is selling it new for $15.60 ($4.40 off the $20 list price) plus shipping (FREE Super Saver Shipping on orders over $25). So why bother asking, um, $384.38 more (plus $3.49 shipping, no less)? After all, if you clicked on the button that says "25 used & new from $5.58," it was because you didn't want to pay $15.60 for a new one. Even $99.98 seems a bit much for a twenty-dollar book. Maybe Sokal signed it in his own blood (eww).

That's not the highest price I've ever seen for a book, either. I saw one on Bookfinder for over $1000 (that one might actually have been out of print though). But even in normal cases – books in print with $20-$40 list prices – there are always used copies selling for much more, with no explanation. What, I demand in colloquial English, is up with that?

By the way, due to its long shaggy-dog excursus into Tractarian territory, my post has garnered comment from the proprietors of two Wittgenstein-oriented blogs which are new to me (and if anyone knows any more, then let that person speak forth), and which I have added to the blogroll: Methods of Projection and Tractatus Blogico-Philosophicus (heh). If (but not only if) you are looking for more heavily LW-saturated blogging than there is here (despite the name, I am just as much influenced by Davidson and McDowell as by LW), check 'em out! While you're at it check out The Space of Reasons, a new blog dedicated to McDowell's epistemology (about which I might eventually have something to say as well ...).

[Update (3/5): another blog new to me has linked up as well - Words and Other Things]


Anonymous said...

John Holbo talks about something similar (and other things) here:

Comment 26 is relevant.


Duck said...

Thanks for the link, DR.

Here's what John says there about this phenomenon: "I’m used to sort of seeing that stuff down the page on any given Amazon page, but in this case I am reasonably certain those copies don’t actually exist. A few could be author copies or sold copies that were promptly resold. But presumably for the most part these sellers have just generated these offers in some automated fashion and marked up the price more than %100. If someone orders it, then they’ll buy a copy from Parlor and simply resell it. It’s like the old Calvin & Hobbes strip where Calvin is sitting at his lemonade stand, suspended between grim and glum. The sign says: lemonade $20. And there are little unsold cups, waiting. “I’ve just got to sell one.” An interesting business model. Of course, in a sense it’s perfectly rational. Find the idiot who doesn’t comparison shop. (Is there a person who always buys from Best Dictionaries?)"

So, booksellers (or booksellers' bots) as Calvin. Interesting. Still, it's hard to imagine anyone bites. Here's comment 26, posted by fyreflye: "the kind of seller who waits for a sale and then orders the book from the publisher is common on Amazon; the technique called “dropshipping” and is righteously reviled by the mom and pop sellers who are hurt by it. Dropshipping violates two basic Amazon rules: that the seller must have the item in stock at the time of sale and that the order must ship within two working days. It just so happens that these often large sellers are Amazon’s bread and butter and so Amazon rarely enforces its own rules against them. In many cases the seller will not deliver the item on time or at all and if the customer complains Amazon, not the seller, will issue a refund and never penalize the guilty party. If you want to practice a little social justice never buy from sellers with 239858 feedbacks, sellers who offer no more than a very general description of the item, or those who fill their comment sections with self advertisements. They may offer the lowest prices due to volume but they’re crooks."

That makes two distinct phenomena, then: dropshipping (which may mean a long delay for a cheaper book) and the Calvin lemonade ploy, which is what I was really wondering about.