Friday, May 30, 2008

Would you buy a math book for $160.00?

(REMINDER: Complexity 2008 early-reg deadline is early-reg deadline is June 1.)

I recently needed a copy of Mathematical Gems III by Ross Honsberger since I found out that a problem I was working on has a variant that is in that book. I didn't mind getting a copy since I have some of his other books and they have lots of nice math problems and concepts. When I went to amazon I found the following website with one difference- there was also a copy available for $10.00, which I bought. Now There are only two left: one for $164.59 and one for $168.98. At that price I would not have bought it (Its in the Library of a nearby school.) (NOTE- by the time you the price may have been reduced.)

Unless the book contains actual gems, I cannot imagine that its worth $160.00. On the one hand, it is in hardcover and one reviewer gave it 5 stars. On the other hand, $160.00??? I cannot imagine anyone paying that price for it There are many good books of this type (e.g., Math Gems I is around $10.00, Math Gems II is around $27.00, there are plenty of websites of nice math stuff for free), so it is unlikely that someone really needs this particular book that badly. I may be the one who comes closest since I need the reference, but I wouldn't pay that kind of money. This is in contrast to high level monographs which may be the only source on that material. But even that may fade as the web gets more and more for free.


  1. There are a lot of folks selling technical books on Amazon who don't seem to have any sense of what they're worth. So based on the fact that Amazon isn't selling it, they assume the book is out of print and rare, so they pick a random price between $150 and $250. If they get it, great. If not, well, it is probably also on the shelf of their store with a $5 sticker on it.

    You might also consider searching I have had a lot more luck buying used books through them than via Amazon, and I frequently get better prices, as well.

  2. alibris and abebooks have a number of copies for between $40 and $70. I've seen this before: people selling books on Amazon for several times what other used book websites are offering. The conclusion I draw from this is that there are people with lots of money buying used books on Amazon who are unaware of the other used book sites.

  3. Yeah, I've seen K&R C Programming for well more than its sticker price of $50, which I still think is too much. It's a 250 page paperback that was published more than 20 years ago.

    I will agree: I couldn't find it on Amazon right away, so I assumed it was out of print, so I'd believe that works.

  4. I once had to buy a copy of a thesis from the MIT libraries. There was a per-page charge for the copying, which made it quite expensive... (and there was no alternative)