The Kindle store is sort of like a quantum vacuum; items flicker into and out of existence, and when they’re there, their measurable attributes don’t stand still.

An Ethiopian Romance · That’s the subtitle of The Chains of Heaven by Philip Marsden (here’s another listing from I bought it on Kindle, based on a recommendation in The Economist, and enjoyed it as much as anything I’ve read in the last ten years.

Tasty Ethiopian dinner

A tasty Ethiopian dinner at
Axum Restaurant in Vancouver

It’s not there any more. Except for sometimes it is, maybe as a consequence of where I am or what browser I’m using. This is baffling. Someone took the work to prepare it for online publication and get it up online. Why on earth would one ever take it down? The cost of hosting it is more or less zero, and even if only a couple of people a year bought it, they’d make money. How can the Long Tail have a chance if merchants treat their shelf space as finite?

Pricing · I get reports from Amazon on things people buy there after following links from here. Some of them are not books, and are surprising. But the book pricing is weird. Here’s a little snippet of the report covering sales of Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story, which I recently raved over in this space.

Pricing of Kindle books

The second column is the unit price, and the third the number of copies at that price. I guess you can explain some of the price variation in terms of exchange rates. But still... it’s the same batch of electrons, being sold at 7 distinct prices. Weird.

This retailing thing, it’s complicated.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Mike (Aug 24 2012, at 08:20)

It seems like Amazon's webstores are increasingly, unnecessarily complicated. So many products, some from Amazon, some from other retaillers. Some qualify for free shipping, others don't. Used products, new products, various prices. Some can't be shipped to Canada, some are listed but aren't actually available. Certainly not my favourite online store. It's comparable to eBay in that way - cheap prices, unreliable service.


From: James Roper (Aug 24 2012, at 08:24)

On the disparate prices that people are paying, I'd just like to say Hi! Welcome to the rest of the world being screwed by American companies. Apple is particularly bad, Australia pays far more more for apps/music than America:

I think things have recently got a bit better, Apple has finally realised that the Australian dollar is worth more than the US dollar so it's ridiculous that we pay more in dollars than people in the US do, but it's still not good. On the non virtual goods front, it can be worse, it is usually cheaper to buy something on Amazon in the US and pay international shipment than to buy it locally in Australia. My running shoes cost AU$260 in Australia, I bought them in the US for US$115, from a place that always sold them at that price, taking the exchange rate at that time into account, I paid AU$106.


From: Jack William Bell (Aug 24 2012, at 08:29)

Complicated maybe. But that is something software and programmers are good at: reducing the complication and making things more consistant. Since we are talking about software issues, I don't think the underlying problem is the complicatedness of it.

What you are describing sounds like either incompetent programmers writing bad software or decisions by management that resulted in bad software.

I know which of the two I suspect is the culprit here! The only real question is: is it due to incompetent management or deliberate evil? Sadly, as has been noted before, one should not ascribe to bad intentions that which can more easily be blamed on incompetence.


From: Seth Weintraub (Aug 24 2012, at 10:37)

IF you want to check historical pricing for Amazon items check out the chrome plugin from CamelCamelCamel


From: Ian (Aug 24 2012, at 15:05)

I can't speak to the Kindle store specifically but I do know that Amazon dynamically changes their prices, presumably depending on the availability and price of the same item from their marketplace vendors. Add a few items to your wishlist and leave them there for a few days... some of the prices will almost certainly change.


From: MikeD (Aug 24 2012, at 17:26)

Pricing on Amazon is normally controlled by the seller, not Amazon. Sellers tune prices all the time in order to maximize revenues due to 'price elasticity' (different people are willing to pay different amounts) as well as to increase visibility in search results (when people use 'sort by price' - lower the price, but get more buyers).

Auction sites use a second-pricing approach based on bids from multiple buyers (this does not happen on Amazon by the way, it's all 'first price') so the price of a equivalent items changes based on ambient demand at the time of the sale.

Fun stuff -


From: Peter Phillips (Aug 26 2012, at 01:00)

If only the pricing varied. I just found out that Greg Egan's "Permutation City" is available on Kindle...but only in the UK or Australia. Apparently electron prices vary _and_ can't cross borders.


author · Dad
colophon · rights

August 24, 2012
· Arts (11 fragments)
· · Books (127 more)
· Business (126 fragments)
· · Publishing (16 more)

By .

The opinions expressed here
are my own, and no other party
necessarily agrees with them.

A full disclosure of my
professional interests is
on the author page.

I’m on Mastodon!