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Amazon's $23 million book - algorithms gone wild

UC Berkeley evolutionary biologist Michael Eisen uncovered a robot price war between two Amazon booksellers that got out of control.

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Topic: Innovation
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1 of 8 Andy Smith/ZDNet

An associate of UC Berkeley evolutionary biologist Michael Eisen wanted to buy an extra copy of The Making of a Fly by Peter Lawrence but found the price on Amazon.com a little steep, $1.7 million - plus shipping. Eisen tracked the price and discovered a robot-driven price war between two Amazon booksellers that actually raised the price until it passed $23 million. For more, read Larry Dignan's blog.

Credit: it is NOT junk by Michael Eisen

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2 of 8 Andy Smith/ZDNet

Here's the peak selling price. Notice the deal on profnath. Eisen figured out that the two booksellers were automatically adjusting their price based on the other, i.e. one was 1.27059 times higher than the other's selling price. And computers did the rest.

Credit: it is NOT junk by Michael Eisen

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3 of 8 Andy Smith/ZDNet

Here how the book is currently listed on Amazon. Notice there's only one new book left - profnath must have sold their copy.

In case you're interested, here's a brief description of the book: "The two authors follow the developmental process from fertilization through the primitive structural development of the body plan of the fly after cleavage into the differentiation of the variety of tissues, organs and body parts that together define the fly.

Screenshot: Amazon.com

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4 of 8 Andy Smith/ZDNet

One book left at $976 - the sale of the century!

Screenshot: Amazon.com

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5 of 8 Andy Smith/ZDNet

Notice how the used book prices have fluctuated. From $35.54 (left) when the book first passed the million-dollar mark to its current price of $158.90 (right).

Screenshot: Amazon.com

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6 of 8 Andy Smith/ZDNet

The reader reviews are in - mostly positive.

Screenshot: Amazon.com

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7 of 8 Andy Smith/ZDNet

Here's bordeebook's history on Amazon.

Screenshot: Amazon.com

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Profnath's history.

Screenshot: Amazon.com

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