Before I talk about my own troubles, let me tell you about another book, "Computer Game Bot Turing Test". It's one of over 100,000 "books" "written" by a Markov chain running over random Wikipedia articles, bundled up and sold online for a ridiculous price. The publisher, Betascript, is notorious for this kind of thing.
It gets better. There are whole species of other bots that infest the Amazon Marketplace, pretending to have used copies of books, fighting epic price wars no one ever sees. So with "Turing Test" we have a delightful futuristic absurdity: a computer program, pretending to be human, hawking a book about computers pretending to be human, while other computer programs pretend to have used copies of it. A book that was never actually written, much less printed and read.
The internet has everything.
Last year I published my children's book about computer science, Lauren Ipsum. I set a price of $14.95 for the paperback edition and sales have been pretty good. Then last week I noticed a marketplace bot offering to sell it for $55.63. "Silly bots", I thought to myself.
Then another piled on, and then an overseas dropshipper, and then another bot. Pretty soon they were offering my book below the retail price.
The punchline is that Amazon itself is a bot. Noticing all of this activity, it decided to put the book on sale! 28% off. I can't wait to find out what that does to my margin.
My reaction to this algorithmic whipsawing has settled down to a kind of helpless bemusement. The plot of my book is about how understanding computers is the first step to taking control of your life in the 21st century. Now I don't know what to believe.
It's possible that the optimal price of Lauren Ipsum is, in fact, ten dollars and seventy-six cents and I should just relax and trust the tattooed hipster who wrote Amazon's pricing algorithm. After all, I have no choice.
But I can't help but think about that old gambler's proverb: "If you can't spot the sucker, it's you."