Algorithms Misfire: Amazon Lists Book for $24M

Computer-controlled pricing goes a wee bit out of control
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 26, 2011 2:25 PM CDT
Amazon Lists Book About Flies for $27 Million Thanks to Dueling Computer Algorithms
Old-fashioned books are sold by newfangled algorithms.   (Shutterstock)

Had you scooped up a copy of The Making of a Fly on Amazon last week, you would have made author Peter A. Lawrence a very happy—and rich—man. It listed for nearly $24 million, thanks to a robot pricing war gone wrong, reports CNN. Blogger Michael Eisen first spotted the miscue, realizing that two competing sellers had set up algorithms to automatically adjust their prices against the other.

It's a common practice on e-commerce sites: Humans don't control price changes, computers do. "What's fascinating about all this is both the seemingly endless possibilities for both chaos and mischief," writes Eisen. "It seems impossible that we stumbled onto the only example of this kind of upward pricing spiral." Things have settled down: As of this afternoon, a new copy of the fly book will set you back a mere $977. (Read more Amazon stories.)

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