Competition Between Firms that Bundle Information Goods
Proceedings of the 27th Annual Telecommunications Policy Research Conference, August 1999
44 Pages Posted: 7 Apr 2007
Date Written: 1999
Information goods are characterized by high fixed (first-copy) costs, but very low costs for the production of additional copies. Marginal costs of electronically-delivered information goods have been further reduced by the remarkable recent decline in computing and digital communication costs. Most previous research focuses on how a monopolist would perform (and the proper regulation to impose) in such an environment. Achieving dynamic efficiency is difficult because pricing at marginal cost (which is statically efficient) eliminates the incentive to invest in the creation of new content. Recently, the strategy of bundling numerous goods together has been explored in greater detail. Bundling may achieve static efficiency since individuals will face a zero cost on the margin for each item consumed. Yet, dynamic efficiency can be maintained because the producer is able to recover investment costs through bundle sales.
This paper analyzes the profitability and welfare properties of bundling in a multi-firm setting. This allows us to explore how incumbents and entrants interact when each firm is selling numerous competing products. Our fundamental conclusion is that even adding only a single firm to this industry with substantial fixed costs and negligible marginal costs will result in much lower prices for consumers, much higher social welfare, and only a moderate reduction in firms' profits regardless of the pricing schemes employed. This outcome is somewhat surprising given that in a standard static two-good Bertrand model, a duopoly would lead to a price war which eliminates the incentive to invest in new content (or to enter the industry in the first place). Although the firms are producing a priori identical items, consumers know that their valuations for the particular items will vary ex post. Thus, no price reduction by one firm can completely eliminate the demand faced by other firms. Although there remains an incentive to invest in new product creation, this incentive is lower than a monopolist would have. As a result, in a dynamic version of this model, the welfare superiority of the duopoly becomes dampened (but not eliminated). Finally, when firms are allowed to sell items both as a bundle and individually, we find that most revenue will be obtained from bundle sales. These results indicate that bundling will persist in a multi-firm setting and suggest that only firms of substantial size will be able to survive in such a market.
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