Amazon’s Curious Case of the $2,630.52 Used Paperback

From The New York Times:

Many booksellers on Amazon strive to sell their wares as cheaply as possible. That, after all, is usually how you make a sale in a competitive marketplace.

Other merchants favor a counterintuitive approach: Mark the price up to the moon.

“Zowie,” the romance author Deborah Macgillivray wrote on Twitter last month after she discovered copies of her 2009 novel, “One Snowy Knight,” being offered for four figures. One was going for “$2,630.52 & FREE Shipping,” she noted. Since other copies of the paperback were being sold elsewhere on Amazon for as little as 99 cents, she was perplexed.

“How many really sell at that price? Are they just hoping to snooker some poor soul?” Ms. Macgillivray wrote in an email. She noted that her blog had gotten an explosion in traffic from Russia. “Maybe Russian hackers do this in their spare time, making money on the side,” she said.

. . . .

“Amazon is driving us insane with its willingness to allow third-party vendors to sell authors’ books with zero oversight,” said Vida Engstrand, director of communications for Kensington, which published “One Snowy Knight.” “It’s maddening and just plain wrong.”

. . . .

The wild book prices were in the remote corners of the Amazon bookstore that the retailer does not pay much attention to, said Guru Hariharan, chief executive of Boomerang Commerce, which develops artificial intelligence technology for retailers and brands.

Third-party sellers, he said, come in all shapes and sizes — from well-respected national brands that are trying to maintain some independence from Amazon to entrepreneurial individuals who use Amazon’s marketplace as an arbitrage opportunity. These sellers list products they have access to, adjusting price and inventory to drive profits.

Then there are the wild pricing specialists, who sell both new and secondhand copies.

“By making these books appear scarce, they are trying to justify the exorbitant price that they have set,” said Mr. Hariharan, who led a team responsible for 15,000 online sellers when he worked at Amazon a decade ago.

Amazon said in a statement that “we actively monitor and remove” offers that violate its policies and that examples shown it by The Times — including the hardcover version of the scholarly study “William T. Vollmann: A Critical Companion,” which was featured for $3,204, more than 32 times the going price — were “in error, and have since been removed.” It declined to detail what its policies were.

. . . .

Buying books on Amazon can be confusing, because sometimes the exact same book can have more than one listing.

. . . .

“Let’s be honest,” said Peter Andrews, a former Amazon brand specialist who is manager of international client services at One Click Retail, a consulting firm. “If I’m selling a $10 book for $610, all I need to do is get one person to buy it and I’ve made $600. It’s just a matter of setting prices and wishful thinking.”

One of the sellers of Ms. Macgillivray’s book is named Red Rhino, which says it is based in North Carolina. The bookseller’s storefront on Amazon is curiously consistent. One of the first books on the store’s first page was Anthony Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential.” It was priced at $607, a hundred times what it cost elsewhere on Amazon.

All the books on the first few pages of the storefront — including such popular standbys as “Fahrenheit 451,” “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” and “1984” — also go for $600.

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Nate for the tip.

PG says buying dishwashing detergent in Kroger can be confusing because Costco can sell the exact same detergent for a different price. And so can 7-Eleven. With all the confused consumers, it’s a miracle that there are any clean dishes in existence. Maybe that’s why Costco also sells clean dishes.


26 thoughts on “Amazon’s Curious Case of the $2,630.52 Used Paperback”

  1. No. These are not legitimate sellers with hard copies of books. They are credit card scammers, or so it seems to me. You find a title that you can afford to spend a few hundred dollars for, send them your credit card info and order…a few days or weeks later, the news comes back that the book isn’t available after all.

    But now they’ve got your payment data.

    I spotted one of my titles for sale as a used paperback in “Very Good” condition, for over a thousand dollars. The problem was, this title had only ever existed as an e-book and had never existed in print. I sent them and Amazon a demand to take the listing down, and this was done. I monitor my “used copies” from time to time to see if anyone else is using my name and my books to steal credit card information.

    • “It’s maddening and just plain wrong.”

      Ford Motors thinks the same thing every time a used Ford is sold.

    • How does that work? If you buy the book through Amazon, your credit card info stays with amazon – it doesn’t get passed through to the 3rd party seller.

      My bet is on some form of money laundering.

      • That was my first thought: no real merchandise changes hands if they sell an expensive book to themselves, but there is a transaction receipt – from Amazon, the retail giant.

        Something fishy is going on. I bet Amazon is quietly monitoring these transactions.

        I have my own story today – the last time I bought Atkins bars, 8 to a box, the box was $10.31. Today, the same box – new (who buys used Atkins bars?) was around $34 from three vendors – and unavailable at all from others. Hmmm. They’re not that good.

  2. This is about money laundering, and nobody wants to talk about that.

    This is not just drug money, it is also Chinese and Russian on stuff other than drugs.

    Google – money laundering Chinese luxury homes

    You will see one part of what will trigger the coming crash. It won’t be because of low income people making NINJA loans, it will be the collapse of the money laundering schemes in the luxury home market.

    There is a scene in the movie Sicario where they catch money launderers at a bank. They show how one process works. I looked on YouTube to find the scene and nobody has posted that part as a standalone because nobody sees the implications to the economy.

    Just for fun:

    Google – money laundering amazon

    And notice that they are not talking about overpriced paperbacks. They are only talking about that guy who got a 1099 saying that he had earned money when he hadn’t.

  3. Actually, this isn’t a scam at all, unless you consider sellers selling on-demand print books without buying them first a scam.

    A lot of legitimate booksellers list books for sale that they do not have in inventory. When someone buys the book, the seller purchases the book from places like CreateSpace and ships it directly to the buyer, avoiding the double shipping cost.

    When a listed book becomes unavailable on Createspace/Ingram/etc. (such as an author changing the cover or something like that), the seller raises the sale price to something ridiculous until the book is available again. That way, they don’t have to delete and/or redo the listing, and they can just change it back when the book becomes available again.

    In short: The ridiculous price is simply a placeholder.

    It’s all done programmatically so the sellers don’t have to keep up with books going on and off sale on CS, Ingram, etc.

    I’m surprised someone thought this was newsworthy. The reporter obviously did zero research.

  4. There are instances of ultra-expensive used books which are genuinely very valuable. A book soars in value if it’s SIGNED by the AUTHOR, especially if the previous owner is noteworthy. I have a “Tarzan of the Jungle” 1940’s reprint which gains $6,900 in value by being warmly inscribed by Edgar Rice Burroughs. An inscription by certain past U.S. presidents will also skyrocket the value! I often find books which no-one else has on the market. Nobody! In that case, the seller can price the book as high as they want!

  5. For those of you who believe I referred to a used print book in my post above, I’d refer you to the post. The print book Did Not Exist. It had never been in print at any time. But they were offering it at this asinine price when they knew upfront they didn’t have it and couldn’t get it.

    I’m done now.

    • Regardless of whether you’ve ever listed it in print or not, its trivially easy to download an ebook, user Calibre to convert it to a Word Document, then upload it to create space to sell “Print” editions.

      But I’m with you, its money laundering of some sort, or a CC scam.

  6. Frankly I don’t know what’s going on. My book “R.I.P.- Vlad V Series” is listed twice if you check under -Books-. My brand new paperback sells for $13.99. The other book of mine sells for $27.24, and as low as $24,46 for used copies. They show 5 used and 5 new copies. Amazon even states: “Would you like to tell us about a lower price?” How about on their own site selling the Createspace version for $13.99?
    I checked on another book of mine “Arboregal – The Lorn Tree” and I sell the book for $16.99. The others sell it for $28.27. But that’s not all there is, a third copy offeres it at $707.00. Last I checked I’m alive and not famous.
    Should I be worried, flattered, or clueless? I better talk to Amazon.

  7. Saw it, read 1st 3 parags and said ‘Strietfield Hit Piece’ went back to check the byline, yup. Sigh…

    Jordan Peterson commented this month how low they’ve fallen and I laffed b/c 3 years ago I cancelled my subscription.

  8. I don’t understand this at all. I can’t understand why any Amazon customer would buy the high-priced book in the separate, dodgy listing when the normal-priced book is fully visible and available to buy. I can’t see how these strange, high-priced listings benefit the seller – I can’t understand who would buy one, and why.

    I also don’t understand why Amazon can’t automate the removal of the duplicate listings.

  9. This is money laundering. There are similar things being done through all sorts of online sites that allow for private people posting items for sale, including places you wouldn’t necessarily think of.

    I spent some time on the dark web and people sell information on how to do it, including hacked accounts to use for it. My AirBnB account got hacked and used for this very purpose, “renting” apartments for $3000/week. I saw it in the account once I got it back. They’re not looking for credit card info — my card on file wasn’t compromised at all. They’re using it to move money.

    • Thanks, Venessa. It makes it doubly strange that Amazon don’t automate the removal of these duplicate listings.

  10. If this is indeed ‘money laundering’, is it any different than trad-pub giving multi-million dollar book contracts to ex/non-presidents that they know will never pay out?

    • Well, now. You know the answer: one is buying political influence and the other comes from buying drugs. The drug dealers put money to work while the politicians put money out of work.

      Big difference, really.
      Granted, there’s a lot of similarities–both groups do regular money laundering–but this is still a sociable site so there’s no need to list those, right?

      Besides, the drug dealer might end up looking less bad than the other creatures.

      • Another means of transferring or ‘money laundering’ is those gift cards. Buy one, give someone else the info they need to use it and it’s done.

        From what a cop friend of mine says they’d love for Walmart to stop using them …

        • Or the rechargeable credit cards.
          Lots of ways to move money around.
          Even online auctions.

          For large scale operators, though, the laundering vehicles of choice these days are digital currencies and state political parties.

          Money laundering isn’t just for drug dealers but rather for everybody looking to evade currency laws; taxes, cash flows, political contributions…

  11. I bought an old paperback on amazon on a Saturday for $20. I considered it reasonable.
    On Monday, I got a notice it was shipped
    On Tuesday, I got a notice that the seller was sorry, but the item was out of stock
    On Wednesday, I got a refund to my amazon card
    On Friday, I got a text from amazon that the item was delivered.

    It wasn’t delivered. I don’t think it ever existed. I’m not sure what the scam is in all the emails and texts though.

  12. There are many reasons this might be occurring. Several of them are illegitimate, such as the money laundering schemes suggested above (though I think there are other scams done using this method). Others are legitimate, such as the “price used for a placeholder” also suggested above (again, I’ve heard of other reasons this happens). I’ve even seen it done for an April Fools gag, once (though not on Amazon).

    It’s often a scam, but it’s also just enough of a legitimate business practice that you cannot automatically assume the $1000+ POD book. That’s the problem — Amazon tries to do most of its policing through automation, and is slow to act when something can’t be automated; thus, as they also don’t want to squelch the legitimate practice, the problem continues.

    • Is it a problem, though?
      If it is money laundering the Feds can and should track down the culprits. Otherwise, as long as there are legitimate reasons for those kinds of listings, why expect Amazon to do anything? They’re not a public service; they are a private for-profit business and policing laws costs money so unless somebody identifies a real measurable problem why should they spend money on outliers?

      Sure, cooperate with the feds if they come calling but they are under no obligation to enforce federal laws on their own. At most, they might tip the feds. It’s their laws. Let them figure it out.

      People keep looking for excuses to turn Amazon into gatekeepers and those are not tendencies that need to be encouraged. They do enough of it on the gadget side already…

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