The wild book prices were in the remote corners of the Amazon bookstore that the retailer does not pay much attention to, said Guru Hariharan, chief executive of Boomerang Commerce, which develops artificial intelligence technology for retailers and brands.
Third-party sellers, he said, come in all shapes and sizes — from well-respected national brands that are trying to maintain some independence from Amazon to entrepreneurial individuals who use Amazon’s marketplace as an arbitrage opportunity. These sellers list products they have access to, adjusting price and inventory to drive profits.
Then there are the wild pricing specialists, who sell both new and secondhand copies.
“By making these books appear scarce, they are trying to justify the exorbitant price that they have set,” said Mr. Hariharan, who led a team responsible for 15,000 online sellers when he worked at Amazon a decade ago.
Amazon said in a statement that “we actively monitor and remove” offers that violate its policies and that examples shown it by The Times — including the hardcover version of the scholarly study “William T. Vollmann: A Critical Companion,” which was featured for $3,204, more than 32 times the going price — were “in error, and have since been removed.” It declined to detail what its policies were.
A decade ago, Elisabeth Petry wrote a tribute to her mother, the renowned novelist Ann Petry. “At Home Inside,” published by the University of Mississippi Press, is now out of print, but late last week secondhand copies were for sale on Amazon. A discarded library copy was $1,900. One seller offered two copies, each for $1,967, although only one was described as “Nice!” All these were a bargain compared with the copy that cost $2,464.
“I wish I had some of that money,” Ms. Petry said.
Buying books on Amazon can be confusing, because sometimes the exact same book can have more than one listing. For instance, a search for the Petry book turned up another listing. This time, there was just one copy for sale, which cost a mere $691. Whether a customer paid that price or three times that sum apparently depended on what listing he or she found.