Why a Readily Available Used Paperback Is Selling for Thousands of Dollars on Amazon

iStock
iStock

At first glance, getting ahold of a copy of One Snowy Knight, a historical romance novel by Deborah MacGillivray, isn't hard at all. You can get the book, which originally came out in 2009, for a few bucks on Amazon. And yet according to one seller, a used copy of the book is worth more than $2600. Why? As The New York Times reports, this price disparity has more to do with the marketing techniques of Amazon's third-party sellers than it does the market value of the book.

As of June 5, a copy of One Snowy Knight was listed by a third-party seller on Amazon for $2630.52. By the time the Times wrote about it on July 15, the price had jumped to $2800. That listing has since disappeared, but a seller called Supersonic Truck still has a used copy available for $1558.33 (plus shipping!). And it's not even a rare book—it was reprinted in July.

The Times found similar listings for secondhand books that cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars more than their market price. Those retailers might not even have the book on hand—but if someone is crazy enough to pay $1500 for a mass-market paperback that sells for only a few dollars elsewhere, that retailer can make a killing by simply snapping it up from somewhere else and passing it on to the chump who placed an order with them.

Not all the prices for used books on Amazon are so exorbitant, but many still defy conventional economic wisdom, offering used copies of books that are cheaper to buy new. You can get a new copy of the latest edition of One Snowy Knight for $16.99 from Amazon with Prime shipping, but there are third-party sellers asking $24 to $28 for used copies. If you're not careful, how much you pay can just depend on which listing you click first, thinking that there's not much difference in the price of used books. In the case of One Snowy Knight, there are different listings for different editions of the book, so you might not realize that there's a cheaper version available elsewhere on the site.

An Amazon product listing offers a mass-market paperback book for $1558.33.
Screenshot, Amazon

Even looking at reviews might not help you find the best listing for your money. People tend to buy products with the most reviews, rather than the best reviews, according to recent research, but the site is notorious for retailers gaming the system with fraudulent reviews to attract more buyers and make their way up the Amazon rankings. (There are now several services that will help you suss out whether the reviews on a product you're looking at are legitimate.)

For more on how Amazon's marketplace works—and why its listings can sometimes be misleading—we recommend listening to this episode of the podcast Reply All, which has a fascinating dive into the site's third-party seller system.

[h/t The New York Times]

Experts Say Storytime Can Help Children Recover From Trauma

Jordan Pix, Getty Images
Jordan Pix, Getty Images

The lives of millions of Syrian children have been disrupted by their country's ongoing civil war. As a result of this crisis, refugees from Syria have poured into camps in neighboring countries like Jordan, where children might not have an outlet to process their feelings or painful experiences.

According to The New York Times, an innovative reading program in Jordan is helping to heal some of these emotional wounds. The non-profit organization is called We Love Reading, and it has trained adult volunteers to read aloud to refugee children. It also designs and supplies the books, which have been written in such a way to include scenarios that are relevant to the children’s personal experiences.

For example, one book titled Above the Roof explains everyday weather events like wind and rain in an effort to alleviate fears among children who become frightened by sudden, loud noises. It appears to be working, too. Anecdotally, there have been reports of children starting to talk more freely about their fears after sitting through storytime. One child who had been wetting the bed because he was too afraid to use the bathroom by himself stopped doing so after a few reading sessions with a volunteer.

There has also been some scientific evidence of its efficacy, according to neuroscientist and Brown University associate professor Dima Amso. As part of a pilot study, she traveled to Jordan to assess the cognitive development of 30 to 40 children who had participated in the program. She and other researchers collected data before the children’s participation as well as three months into the program, then compared the results in the lab. Their findings reveal that the program appeared to improve the children's mental health and cognitive development.

“We can’t change [the children’s] political climate but what we can do is say, ‘Here are the resilience and risk factors that are going to make them most likely to benefit,’” Amso told The Brown Daily Herald last year.

The We Love Reading program was founded in 2006 by a Jordanian molecular biologist named Rana Dajani, who also spent some time in the U.S. as a Rita E. Hauser Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. More than 152,000 reading sessions have been held so far, and the program has since expanded to Africa, where volunteers work with South Sudanese refugees at the Kule Refugee Camp in Gambella, Ethiopia.

[h/t The New York Times]

Springer Nature Has Published the First AI-Written Textbook

iStock.com/PhonlamaiPhoto
iStock.com/PhonlamaiPhoto

The first AI-written textbook is here, and its tech-heavy subject is exactly what you might expect from a machine-learning algorithm. As Smithsonian reports, the book, published by Springer Nature, is a 247-page guide titled Lithium-Ion Batteries: A Machine-Generated Summary of Current Research.

While it doesn’t exactly make for light reading, the fact that it was written entirely by Beta Writer—an algorithm designed by researchers in Germany—is a game changer. Sure, AI has dabbled with writing before, helping journalists pen articles and even crafting entire chapters for the Game of Thrones and Harry Potter series. (We highly recommend the riveting tale of Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ash.) But this is the first time AI has authored an entire research book, complete with a table of contents, introductions, and linked references.

The information was pulled from Springer Nature’s online database. While the grammar and syntax are a little clunky, the book manages to get the point across. (Here’s one sample sentence: “Respectively, safety issue is apparently challengeable till now even after the first commercialization of lithium-ion battery.”)

With the exception of an introduction to the book that was written by Henning Schoenenberger, Springer Nature's director of product data and metadata, the finished product was left unedited and unpolished. This was done “to highlight the current status and remaining boundaries of machine-generated content,” according to Schoenenberger. The publisher hopes to experiment with AI-powered textbooks on other subjects in the future.

Artificial intelligence has certainly come a long way in recent years, and algorithms have been trained to carry out a number of oddly specific tasks. They can design beer, figure out the ingredients in your meal, find Waldo in a “Where’s Waldo” picture, and remake the music video of “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” In one of the more meta developments in tech news, Google’s AI even learned to make its own AI in 2017.

[h/t Smithsonian]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER