“Competition with Aftermarket Power when Consumers are Heterogeneous” (with Tobias Kretschmer)
(Link to last ungated working paper version)
Journal of Economics and Management Strategy, 26/1 (2017), 96-122.
We study a model of competitive foremarkets and partly monopolized aftermarkets. We show that high aftermarket power prompts firms to engage in inefficiently aggressive below-cost pricing in the foremarket. This inefficiency is driven by the presence of consumers with valuations below marginal cost. While for intermediate aftermarket power their presence leads to a competition-softening effect, for high aftermarket power firms attract increasing numbers of unprofitable consumers by aggressively pricing below cost. For high aftermarket power, firms’ equilibrium profits can therefore be decreasing in aftermarket power but are always higher than for low aftermarket power. If firms engage in price discrimination by bundling the foremarket and aftermarket goods or by reducing their aftermarket power, they avoid selling to unprofitable consumers but also reduce the competition-softening effect. This decreases firms’ equilibrium profits but increases consumer and social welfare.
An important question in markets with asymmetric information is why in practice fewer sellers voluntarily disclose their private information than theory would predict. To better understand this discrepancy, I use data from an online self-publishing platform to examine the empirical relationship between pricing and voluntary disclosure. On this platform, I observe whether authors disclose characteristics of their e-books by offering free samples. In contrast to the prediction of theories of unraveling, I show that for e-books without a posted online rating, indicating that their quality is unknown to the market, offering a sample is associated with a lower price. I also show that for unrated e-books, fewer authors offer a sample while simultaneously setting a higher price than authors of rated e-books. These results can be explained by incorporating into a model a fraction of naive buyers who do not update their beliefs upon observing that a seller does not disclose. This gives low-quality sellers an incentive to conceal their quality by not disclosing and to set high prices to exploit naive buyers.
An important strategy for sellers to build a reputation is to practice introductory pricing. By selling at a lower introductory price, sellers increase demand, induce more buyers to provide feedback, and thus build a reputation more quickly. I examine a form of introductory pricing that is particularly popular in digital markets: offering digital content for free. I argue that offering free content to build a reputation can be a double-edged strategy. It does not only attract buyers with a high preference, but also buyers with a low preference. Low-preference buyers give worse feedback than high-preference buyers, inducing a negative selection effect on a seller’s reputation. I estimate the strength of this effect using data from an online self-publishing platform where I observe authors either selling their e-books at a price or giving them away as free content. By exploiting the fact that I observe ratings for free and purchased versions of the same e-book, I show that those buyers who obtain an e-book as free content rate it worse than those buyers purchasing the e-book at a positive price, consistent with a negative selection effect on reputation.
We seek to answer whether handicaps can restore optimal effort provision by agents in heterogeneous contests. To this end, we study data from swimming relay competitions where swimmers with heterogeneous abilities inherit leads or lags from their previous team members. Inheriting a lead or lag corresponds to a head start or handicap affecting the effective level of heterogeneity in races. Our results suggest that as predicted by theory appropriately chosen handicaps can restore optimal effort provision: In our data, swimmers who receive a lead (lag) that compensates for their ability disadvantage (advantage) exert the same effort as swimmers in balanced races. This implies that unbalanced contests are equally likely to induce optimal effort provision, given that head starts and handicaps are appropriately chosen to compensate for ability differences between contestants.