Is a book worth £500?

When looking to buy a copy of Newton’s Telecom Dictionary I noticed that as well as the standard page on Amazon, there was another page on which the price was set rather higher, along with a more convoluted title.  The first time I saw this second page there were in fact three booksellers, all with very high prices:

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Sam Books, £432.98
Greenpastures UK, £598.97

Why would these sellers set such a high price for a book that is readily available?   Are they hoping that someone may not be able to find the cheaper version, and mistakenly pay £600?

In fact, these prices are likely to have arisen from an automated mistake.  Resellers on Amazon can benefit from being seen as a ‘one stop shop’ – having all types of book available from them, potentially saving customers postage costs and hassle of ordering from unknown retailers.  However, it is possible that resellers don’t have stock of everything they offer; instead they rely on being able to order it from another reseller should a customer order from them.  In order to do this, they just need to set the price a little higher than the price charged by other retailers – to cover postage and charge for the reputation.

This can have odd impacts.  Michael Eisen noted a case of a book which was advertised at over $23million, where automated processes had effectively created an infinitely incrementing loop.  At the time of writing, Amazon UK has a number of books listed at £999,999,999,997.19, such as Buddha in the Waiting Room – a price set this high is likely because nobody has the book in stock, again created algorithmically. Less easy to explain is Rumpole’s Return, where the February 1992 hardcover is priced at over £52,000 by one reseller, but other editions are available for £1.50.

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