The Most Surprising Amazon Best-Seller I’ve Seen in a While…

… is an e-book version of the North American Business Islamic Directory. One likely reason it’s ranked so high on Amazon is the price: one cent. (So much for my support of the penny’s extinction.) But does anyone have any idea why this unusual book is ranked, as of this writing, at No. 5?

In related news on book pricing, Mexican president Vincente Fox vetoed a bill that would have required all bookstores in Mexico to charge the same price for a given book. As it turns out, Freakonomics figured in the government’s argument. Here’s an excerpt from the Dow Jones wire report:

The Federal Competition Commission, or CFC, said the single price would be counterproductive to promoting reading and tantamount to price-fixing. It said international experience showed a single book price causes retail prices to rise by as much as 30%.

Proponents had argued the opposite, saying that while in the U.K. the elimination of the single price had caused book prices to rise above the rate of inflation, Germany with its single price system had “the most solid publishing industry in the world.”

In a presentation last month, the CFC took two books supplied by Amazon.com – “Freakonomics” and “Don Quijote de la Mancha” – to show that prices excluding taxes and shipping were higher on average in Germany, France and Japan, which have single book prices, than in the U.S., Canada and the U.K., which have free pricing.

I had no idea that Germany, France, and Japan have uniform book pricing, or that the U.K. used to. Beyond that, I guess we should feel happy that our book has been used in a successful free-market defense. Most of all, I love getting lumped in with Don Quijote, since I sometimes think of Levitt as a windmill tilter, which might make me a bit of Sancho Panza, though not quite as corpulent.


Jeff_Ack

Here's a somewhat related paper on textbook pricing and how the Internet has affected the ability of publishers to price descriminate:
http://www.econ.duke.edu/dje/2006/Ackermann.pdf

gwagner

One possible explanation: Amazon offers free shipping for orders over $25.00 and sells lots of books that cost $24.95. Add five North American Business Islamic Directories for a cent each and you save a few bucks on shipping. How many other books sell for a cent?

pkimelma

Fixed pricing used to be more sensible when you had discrimatory pricing, based on location (such as in areas where people have less transportation options or no competition). But, now that verifying lowest price is a few clicks away, no matter where you live in a developed country (internet cafes and libraries make it viable for all), there is no point. Even if you live in a one-horse town, you can order a book by internet, so the local brick-and-mortar store has an incentive to keep its prices fair relative to the services it offers.
I wonder if countries such as Germany used to be cheaper on average before such internet (low overhead) options existed?

Colin

I would bet gwagner is right; shopping deal websites will often list the cheapest items to use as filler to get free shipping at various sites, so I imagine this is a popular one listed on those sites.

onlineoddities

One thing that seems to be clear is that it is not being bought out of legitimate interest because for a book ranked 11 it has a suspiciously low number of reviews - none.

semivoid

The dictionary would be applicable to Islamic financing which relies on cash flows from businesses - a kind of risk sharing arrangement that avoids riba (interest). The middle east is fairly 'big' for the financial institutions these days with all of them setting up Sharia compliant subsidiaries in the Middle East.

But...you want to know why the book is so highly ranked in terms of sales. Well, a large bank could have ordered 1000 copies. Since there's not many Islamic business dictionaries it's likely that more than one institution would order. You can get corporate discounts through amazon on large purchases and they will still show as sales for ranking purposes.

semivoid

'Legitimate' interest is not well defined. If a bank focused on the middle east (or a trading unit or whatever) found out about this book they would just order it guessing it'd be helpful. Maybe they heard some positive reviews from Arab Sharia finance scholars who endorsed the dictionary - in arabic (wouldn't show up on amazon if all the reviews are in arabic...).

David S

Stephen,
" I had no idea that Germany, France, and Japan have uniform book pricing, or that the U.K. used to"
Does it bother that you write about a subject when you only have knowledge of one economy among many? Surely any econonmics-based approach to problems must involve research which goes beyond the USA view of the world?

Having said that I'm surprised by the assertion that book prices have increased above inflation since the abolition of the Net Book Agreement. The figures would bear inspection, particularly across different sections of the book market.

David S

zbicyclist

It's an e-book. Does that affect gwagner's comment about shipping costs?

Is it possible this is used as part of a program to identify e-mail addresses and other contact information related to people of Islamic persuasion? (and, yes, that's "profiling", but we are in a campaign against terror, remember)

Puplet

Ah, England's NET Book Agreement, how I miss thee...

bayberry152

Based on just the information provided, I would surmise:

1) The price of $.01 precludes a profit motive for the author and suggest some other motive;
2) If the motive is political, self- promotion, etc., getting to the "top of the charts" may have value to the author;
3) If Amazon ranks based on unit value and not dollar value or some other algorithm,
it is inexpensive to generate very high numbers;
4) So if I was motivated to make the top of the charts for some reason, an expenditure by me of, say, $1,000 would give me a reported sales record of 100,000 units. That would allow me to blow by those $24.95 books.

Tom Clancy, eat your heart out!

Puplet

I'm increasingly intrigued now... has anyone here bought a copy yet to see what all the fuss is about? Perhaps it's a really good read...

jenpalex

Just how many law enforcement officers do you have in the States?

nwhitehe

When (not if) you write the sequel to Freakonomics, you ABSOLUTELY HAVE to have a section about the economics of the original Freakonomics book. That would be cool.

lagartoflojo

The Amazon page has a picture of the "book cover." On it, it says "IslamicSuperSite.com." So I went to the website and this is what I got from it:

>

I don't have an Amazon account so I can't download the book to see if it really is a directory of Islamic businesses.
I think that it's worth noting that since it is so cheap, the authors can buy many copies of their own book, thus making it one of the Top 5 sellers. Why would they want to do that? Since they make money by charging businesses for a place in the directory, these will be more willing to pay "knowing" that it's "read" by many people.
This is, of course, pure speculation.

lagartoflojo

Wordpress deleted the quote I got from the site. Where it says

>

it should read

IslamicSuperSite.com has published the first Islamic directory that is available on Amazon.com. This directory is updated monthly on Amazon.com. Islamic businesses are listed based on Internet's most popular Islamic keywords. The directory is available on Amazon.com and is practically free making it easy for EVERYONE to download. Searching on Amazon.com for "Islamic Directory" shows this as the top listing.

see

David S --

Because, of course, book retailing is so important a part of the world economy as a whole that ignorance of laws regulating retail pricing of books in four out of over 160 countries constitutes abysmal ignorance.

The whole point of economics is that it's generalized. Just as someone ignorant of the mass of Pluto can still be an expert on orbital mechanics, and someone who's never read "Life of Pi" can be a qualified professor of literature, so too can someone be a qualified economist without detailed knowledge of every commercial regulation in every country on Earth.

Jeff_Ack

Here's a somewhat related paper on textbook pricing and how the Internet has affected the ability of publishers to price descriminate:
http://www.econ.duke.edu/dje/2006/Ackermann.pdf

gwagner

One possible explanation: Amazon offers free shipping for orders over $25.00 and sells lots of books that cost $24.95. Add five North American Business Islamic Directories for a cent each and you save a few bucks on shipping. How many other books sell for a cent?

pkimelma

Fixed pricing used to be more sensible when you had discrimatory pricing, based on location (such as in areas where people have less transportation options or no competition). But, now that verifying lowest price is a few clicks away, no matter where you live in a developed country (internet cafes and libraries make it viable for all), there is no point. Even if you live in a one-horse town, you can order a book by internet, so the local brick-and-mortar store has an incentive to keep its prices fair relative to the services it offers.
I wonder if countries such as Germany used to be cheaper on average before such internet (low overhead) options existed?