OK, I Still Don't Know Why This Happens:

Four copies of the first edition of Academic Legal Writing are available from the amazon-connected bookstores: One for $15.99, and the others for $34.61 ("used - very good"), $39.95 (new), and $59.85 (new). Yes, it's cheap at twice the price, but given that the second -- considerably improved -- edition is available for $24, why would anyone price the first edition (a 200-page paperback, yet) at $59.85?

It's part of the same syndrome that causes lawyers and law students to believe, no, to know, that lawyers are good writers.
5.3.2006 1:11am
"The Law of Supply and Demand."

Oh, you want more detail? Supply and demand curves are discrete. The first and second editions are highly but imperfectly substitutable goods — someone may REALLY need the first edition (you have no idea how annoying it was when someone replaced my first edition K&R "C" that they lost with a second edition K&R "ANSI C"), while most are just as happy or happier with the second. Given imperfect information (IE, the seller doesn't know what it's "really" worth), it makes sense for the seller to start with a high asking price, and decrease the asking price over time.

So, it's likely the 1st ed will sell... eventually. As it takes longer than the seller wants, the seller may begin to bring the price down to increase the speed of the sale (time value of money effects). And heck, maybe it's an autographed copy in mint condition. =)

As a mostly unrelated thought, I suspect that there's a Nobel prize in economics for whoever manages a brute force analysis of the Amazon and Ebay pricing histories, to work out and prove the exact relationship (that I conjecture exists) between the time value of money and the (oft neglected) information costs of the market.
5.3.2006 1:18am
Matt (mail) (www):
My guess is that students who ordered the 2nd edition got a warning from Amazon the book would ship late, but they've got at a write-on deadline of sometime in the early summer.

It happened to me last year. For a few days I seriously looked at buying the 1st edition for some ridiculous price (since I needed the book to take with me overseas, and so couldn't well share with my friends here). I just decided to wait, but in the end Amazon shipped it on time (even early).
5.3.2006 1:39am
Her husband kept nagging her to get rid of it but she really doesn't want to as it is the only sure cure for her insomnia.
5.3.2006 1:42am
U.Va. 1L (mail):
I'd figure that the seller charging $60 thinks he can con buyers into thinking it's a law textbook you can buy for next to nothing compared to other textbooks.
5.3.2006 2:36am
Fishbane (mail):
I'm considering getting a signed copy and putting it up for $90, just to see what happens.
5.3.2006 7:03am
Hanah Volokh (mail) (www):
Maybe it's a collector's item.
5.3.2006 8:29am
AppSocRes (mail):
One of the best psychology texts ever written -- The Mask of Sanity by Cleckley -- is in the public domain and available in downloadable form from the net. Yet, beat-up copies of various text editions are for sale at Amazon and other sites with the minimum asked price hovering around $150. I've often wondered why some publisher doesn't produce a hard copy.

Cleckley, by the way, originated the term sociopath and used it to describe a syndrome of feckless irresponsibility he noticed in large numbers of the patients he treated during his years in a large Southern state mental hospital. The term "Cleckley sociopath" is still used to describe such persons, who are characterized by - among other things - irresponsible and inappropriate public behavior; uncontrollable lying even when the probability of being caught out is near absolute; indulgence in drugs, alcohol, and promiscuous sexuality; and a near absolute inability to accept blame or responsibiliity for their actions.

Cleckley noted that many sociopaths operate at a high level of competence. (One of his case studies even became a prominent psychiatrist.) Cleckley went so far as to predict that one day a sociopath might become President of the United States!
5.3.2006 9:15am
Richard Bellamy (mail):
What is the value of the only "New", still-wrapped first edition of the only published book by Supreme Court Justice Volokh to a rare law book collector? $10,000? What is the chances of Prof. Volokh becoming a Supreme Court Justice? 1%? Expected value of book: $100 ($10,000 x .01). Anything less is a bargain.
5.3.2006 10:52am
I think Hanah Volokh got it. I mean, why would someone pay thousands of dollars for a first edition Moby Dick when they could have a shiny new edition for $14.95? Same principle applies with Academic Legal Writing!
5.3.2006 11:23am
More seriously, it's probably a used book store that does dozens of these a day and doesn't really have time to investigate proper pricing. It looks like a textbook. Those are expensive.
5.3.2006 11:26am
Ira B. Matetsky (mail):
Commenter zzyz probably has the basic idea -- a used bookstore overpriced it without investigating -- and then the larger online retailers like Amazon can apply a substantial mark-up to the already-inflated price. Of course, Mr. Bellamy has a point as well.
5.3.2006 12:02pm
Bookstore owner:
Three theories: (1) priced high to cover cost of international shipping which Amazon only partially reimburses (and many other affiliates don't offer), (2) counting on the fact that when somebody comes looking specifically for the 1st edition, they REALLY want the 1st edition (looks like it's selling about 1 per week, so those will eventually sell even at that price), (3) not so bright sellers? My guess would be #2. There is actually a market for one-off copies of older editions. It's just a risky market and sometimes takes a while to sell, but once it does you've found somebody who is desperate for that book.
5.3.2006 2:58pm
speedwell (mail):
It sometimes works like this. I have a book on Amazon, an out-of-print vegetarian cookbook that is seasonally in very high demand. I had an extra copy in new condition that I bought in case something happened to my first copy. But last Christmas, when I saw that the used copies were selling for forty dollars over the cover price, I thought about selling my copy and buying another when the price went down. Wanting to maximize my profit, and not really needing to sell, I priced my copy a dollar over the highest existing price for a book of the same edition and condition. Not surprisingly, all the other copies sold before mine, and mine did not sell. But Amazon makes you keep your listing up for a certain period of time, and I'm not using the book right now, and I have the other copy, so the listing stays. If it happens to be the last copy available, and someone is really desperate for it, they can buy it, but it will take a while for that to ever happen.
5.3.2006 4:48pm
Barbara Skolaut (mail):
"the second -- considerably improved -- edition is available for $24, why would anyone price the first edition (a 200-page paperback, yet) at $59.85?"

Maybe they're hoping some buyer has more money than brains? ;-p

(I've wondered the same thing about other books on occasion.)
5.3.2006 5:18pm