My question is about the use of the Past Perfect Simple in the following excerpt:

Back in 1995, when Bezos was shipping books from his garage, Pierre Omidyar, a software programmer, started coding a simple Web site he called AuctionWeb. Omidyar was curious if people would use the Internet to bid on each other's used items. Looking around for something to sell, Omidyar picked up a broken laser pointer. Within a day, it had sold for $14.83. Omidyar e-mailed the buyer to make sure the guy knew it was broken.

I can't find any rule that would justify the use of the Past Perfect Simple here. A friend of mine who's a native speaker of English says he would also choose the Past Perfect Simple over Past Simple here, but he can't say why.

1) What I think is that "Within a day" works here in the same way as "by" would. In other words "Within a day" means the same as "By the end of the day" / "By the time the day ended". Is this correct?

2) If „Within a day” justifies the use of the Past Perfect Simple, would it work for the Future Perfect Simple too? For example, would it be correct to say “The printer will have sold within a day”?

3) Would it be OK to use the Past Simple (Within a day, it sold for $14.83.)? What would the difference be in meaning then? I assume it would be fine, but the Past Perfect Simple works here better as it allows you to put more emphasis on completion. Similarly, the Present Perfect Simple is used to put emphasis on completion in the first conditional. Correct?

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    I guess that it being an auction, the sentence Within a day, it sold for $14.83 could be interpreted as it was still on auction, and the price had gone up to $ 14.83, implying the final price was higher. Using the past perfect indicates the auction ended at the given price. – oerkelens May 26 '16 at 15:41
  • I think you're coming at this one from the wrong angle. Rather than fretting about the fact that you can't find any rule that would justify the use of the Past Perfect, ask yourself whether you could reasonably hope to find a rule that debars the usage (I'm sure you won't find a rule for that! :). If such a question had been asked on ELL, the standard advice would always be Don't use a complex tense form unles you know you need it, but here on ELU I don't think there's much to say apart from It's a stylistic choice (assuming you know the semantic implications of Past Perfect) – FumbleFingers May 26 '16 at 15:59
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    I think the key word here is "within". If you think of the time he advertised it as 'A,' and the point at which it sold as 'B', then it stands to reason that point A was anterior to point B by up to one day, which may explain why the past perfect sounds okay. But it's all rather vague and there's no real sense of anteriority about it so the simple past would also be fine. – BillJ May 26 '16 at 16:57
  • @FumbleFingers What semantic implications of Past Perfect do you have in mind? – motl May 28 '16 at 21:32
  • We use past perfect to talk about something that happened before. Thus we can assume that the laser pointer was already considered "sold" before Omidyar e-mailed the buyer to make sure the guy knew it was broken (rather than that he emailed a potential buyer, who nevertheless went ahead with the purchase). As @BillJ says, both verb forms are syntactically and semantically fine. But if you're ever unsure in such contexts, I suggest you always opt for the simpler tense (like most native speakers). – FumbleFingers May 29 '16 at 14:09

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