An economic Christmas-present puzzle: buying books on Amazon

I recently wrote a book explaining Thatcherism to America. It is available in paperback, published in New York City in October 2008 by Algora as Margaret Thatcher: A Portrait of the Iron Lady. It can be bought from Amazon.com for $24.95 and that seems to include shipping. So far so good. But an economic mystery arose immediately on publication.

Before I even had my first author copy in my hands Amazon.co.uk started to carry adverts for it from British book dealers claiming it was published in June 2007 and that they had used and new copies. It wasn’t even written in June 2007 let alone published! Even more worrying was the price, which with shipping was well over two to as much as three times the US dollar price. 

As I write on December 18th 2008 there are five copies at Amazon.co.uk as follows, with the price plus shipping rounded: used like new $59; new $65; used very good $66; used like new $66; and new $75. So the cheapest (which is not even new) is $34 more than a new copy from the USA and the most expensive (which is new) is a whopping $50 more. 

What is going on? Well it is to me a complete mystery and my three letters to Amazon’s US headquarters (starting say six weeks ago now) remain unanswered. Not even an acknowledgement of receipt has been received. I stress the books are not offered by Amazon but by dealers whose wares appear at its UK site.  

But the story gets worse, very naughty in one particular regard. My book is offered by three different sellers we will call A, B and C. The first two have one advert each and the third has three - hence the five prices quoted above. This last dealer advertises that it has the book in stock in Florida whereas the first two claim to have it in stock in the UK.

As an experiment I ordered a copy from one of them for a mere $60 or so. As soon as the order was placed I was warned it would take 7 to 9 days to reach me and that was accurate as – well you have probably guessed by now – it came direct from Amazon in the USA! It wasn’t even repackaged – no pretence at all that it came from UK stock.

Digging deeper I note that A, B and C currently earn 97%, 98% and 94% positive ratings and that they have in round terms 50,000, 3,000 and 32,000 such lifetime ratings, which adds up to a lot of books sold. Looking at their ratings for just this past year one sees they have garnered 18,000, 3,000 and 8,000 respectively, which leads me to guess that A and C have been around for say 3 to 5 years - maybe a little longer - whereas B is probably just a year old.

So where are these dealers? Where are their bookshops? For one I found a description of “internet book superstore based in England” and at its site it did have my book advertised at £31.94, which is currently roughly $48, along with the boast that its prices are “slightly higher”. This is the same dealer that is offering “used like new” for $59 at Amazon! The other two are much harder to find, although the one that says it has UK stock but then ships from Amazon in the US seems to be operating out of a north London private residential address. Explanations of what is happening here would be much appreciated.

Classic arbitrage. If you are prepared to pay upfront $60 here for a book I can pay $24.95 there once you have payed me and get delivered to you then I’ll do it. No stock costs, pure profit. What’s not to like. Of course if you knew what I know then you wouldn’t use me but then the market is always about information. There is nothing more to it than that.I think you may have given me a cracking idea for a new business, Happy Christmas and thanks John

It is the market engine to drive the sales up.

Merry Christmas!

Classic arbitrage. If you are prepared to pay upfront $60 here for a book I can pay $24.95 there once you have payed me and get delivered to you then I’ll do it. No stock costs, pure profit. What’s not to like. Of course if you knew what I know then you wouldn’t use me but then the market is always about information. There is nothing more to it than that.I think you may have given me a cracking idea for a new business, Happy Christmas and thanks John

It is the market engine to drive the sales up.

Merry Christmas!

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