Princely sum paid for THES freebie

February 6, 2004

The THES 's giveaway book on Machiavelli proved so desirable that one enterprising reader sold their copy for £10 on the internet auction site eBay.

Bidding for the book, A Very Short Introduction to Machiavelli , which came free with our January 16 edition, started at 25p a week later, with someone calling themselves "godfatherben" getting the ball rolling.

Over the next five days a total of 14 bids were made until one "alritchie77" offered £10, which no one else topped. Little is known about auction winner alritchie77 other than that he or she tried to secure the book for £2.50 earlier in the auction.

The book was properly and impressively described as being by Quentin Skinner, regius professor of modern history at Cambridge University, published by the Oxford University Press last year and in new condition.

But if alritchie77 had looked carefully at an enlarged picture of the book he would have read that it was given free with The THES , cover price £1.40.

The seller, known only as "finbod", seems to be a regular internet trader.

He has recently offloaded an eclectic list of items on eBay, including a digital sound meter, a mini disc player, a 1922 auction brochure and a 19th-century watercolour, which sold for £3.72.

Those looking to turn a quick profit, note The THES 's next freebie textbook is Mathematics: A Very Short Introduction by Timothy Gowers.

Rebecca Ellis, of Essex University's socio-technical research group Chimera, said it was not unusual for the internet auction site to sell secondhand items for more than the price of a new one.

"Bidding wars and price inflation are integral to eBay, which has revolutionised the way some of us shop," said Dr Ellis, a keen eBay shopper who is about to begin a two-year study of internet auctions for the Economic and Social Research Council.

"Sites like eBay are about more than just shopping for bargains, they provide new ways for people to build identities, and the research aims to explore this as well as the way they are changing collecting behaviours," Dr Ellis said.

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