13 September 2017

Now even second-hand books are fake

First off, my excuses for the shameless plug in this post.  I co-edited a book and it's due to appear this week:

Actually, I should say it "was" due to appear this week, because as you can see, Amazon thought it would be available yesterday (Tuesday 12 September).  My colleagues and I have submitted the final proof corrections and been told that it's in production, but I guess these things can always slip a bit.  So Amazon's robots have detected that the book is officially available, but they don't have any copies in the warehouse.  Hence the (presumably automatically-generated) message saying "Temporarily out of stock".

As of today the book costs £140 at Amazon UK, $187.42 at Amazon.com, €202.16 at Amazon.de, €158.04 at Amazon.es, and Amazon.fr don't have a price for it.  This is a lot of money and I can't really recommend the average student to buy a personal copy, although I hope that anyone who is even peripherally interested in positive psychology will pester their librarian to acquire several!  (That said, I've recently reviewed some academic books that are about one-quarter the size and which cost £80-100.  So perhaps our book isn't too bad value in relative terms.  Plus at 590 pages thick you can probably use it to fend off attackers, although obviously this is not professional security advice and you should definitely call the police first.)

But all of that is a bit academic (ha ha) today, because the book is out of stock.  Or is it?  Look at that picture again: "1 Used from £255.22".

Now, I guess it makes sense that a used book would sometimes be more expensive than the new one, if the latter is out of stock.  Maybe the seller has a copy and hopes that someone really, really needs the book quickly and is prepared to pay a premium for that (assuming that a certain web site *cough* doesn't have the full PDF yet).  Wonderful though I obviously think our book is, though, I can't imagine that anyone has been assigned it as a core text for their course just yet (hint hint).  But I guess this stuff is all driven by algorithms, which presumably have to cope with books like this and the latest from J. K. Rowling, so maybe that's OK.

However, alert readers may already have spotted the bigger problem here.  There is no way that the seller of the used book can actually have a copy of it in stock, because the book does not exist yet.  I clicked on the link and got this:

So not only is the book allegedly used, but it's in the third-best possible condition ("Good", below "Like New" and "Very Good").

The seller, Tundra Books, operates out of what appears to be a residential address in Sevilla, Spain.  Of course, plenty of people work from home, but it doesn't look like you could fit a great deal of stock in one of those maisonettes.  I wonder what magical powers they possess that enable them to beam slightly dog-eared academic handbooks back from the future?  Or is it just possible that if I order this book for over £100 more than the list price, I will receive it in about four of weekssay, the time it takes to order a new one from Amazon.es, ruffle the pages a bit, and send it on to me?

- My attention was first drawn to the "out of stock" issue by my brother-in-law, Tony Douglas, who also painted the wonderful picture on the cover.  Seriously, even if you don't open the book it's worth the price for the cover alone.  (And remember, "it's not nepotism if the work is really good".)
- Matti Heino spotted the "1 Used from £255.22" in the screen shot.


  1. I found this most intriguing. What a kind-of-scam! Pricey book; I'll ask my local library.

  2. The same thing has happened with Shaw & Dworkin's antivax book from Elsevier. Was to have hit the shelves on October 26 but all the on-line distributors are saying "Not available".

    But Tundra Books have a used copy from that Seville residential address!