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Price Dispersion in Online Markets: The Case of College Textbooks

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Author Info

  • Michael A. Arnold

    ()
    (Department of Economics, University of Delaware)

  • Christine Saliba

    ()
    (Price-Waterhouse-Coopers)

Abstract

In his seminal work, Stigler (1961) argued that price dispersion for a homogeneous product is an indication of consumer ignorance. Ready access to price information on the Internet has led to many claims that ignorance will not persist in online markets, and that online prices for a homogenous good will converge to the competitive price. However, a growing body of empirical research provides strong evidence of persistent price dispersion in online markets. In this paper we present a simple model which illustrates how price dispersion can exist in equilibrium even when all consumers are perfectly informed about the prices charged by all firms. The equilibrium relies on the fact that although prices are common knowledge, information about the availability of the product at any particular firm can only be obtained at a positive cost. We test the model using data from the online market for college textbooks. The empirical results indicate that price dispersion exists in the online market for college textbooks, and support the predictions of the theoretical model that in a equilibrium with price dispersion some firms adopt a high-price, high-availability strategy while others adopt a low-price, low-availability strategy.

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File URL: http://graduate.lerner.udel.edu/sites/default/files/ECON/PDFs/RePEc/dlw/WorkingPapers/2003/UDWP2003-02.pdf
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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by University of Delaware, Department of Economics in its series Working Papers with number 03-02.

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Length: 30 pages
Date of creation: 2003
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:dlw:wpaper:03-02

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Postal: Purnell Hall, Newark, Delaware 19716
Phone: (302) 831-2565
Fax: (302) 831-6968
Web page: http://www.lerner.udel.edu/departments/economics/department-economics/
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Keywords: Internet Economics;

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References

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  1. Baylis, Kathy & Perloff, Jeffrey M., 2001. "Price Dispersion on the Internet: Good Firms and Bad Firms," Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, Working Paper Series qt2t0770rn, Institute of Industrial Relations, UC Berkeley.
  2. Michael R. Baye & John Morgan & Patrick Scholten, 2004. "Price Dispersion In The Small And In The Large: Evidence From An Internet Price Comparison Site," Journal of Industrial Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 52(4), pages 463-496, December.
  3. Karen Clay & Ramayya Krishnan & Eric Wolff, 2001. "Prices and Price Dispersion on the Web: Evidence from the Online Book Industry," NBER Chapters, in: E-commerce, pages 521-539 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Glenn Ellison & Sara Fisher Ellison, 2004. "Search, Obfuscation, and Price Elasticities on the Internet," NBER Working Papers 10570, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Erik Brynjolfsson & Michael D. Smith, 2000. "Frictionless Commerce? A Comparison of Internet and Conventional Retailers," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 46(4), pages 563-585, April.
  6. J. Yannis Bakos, 1997. "Reducing Buyer Search Costs: Implications for Electronic Marketplaces," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 43(12), pages 1676-1692, December.
  7. Yannis Bakos, 2001. "The Emerging Landscape for Retail E-Commerce," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 15(1), pages 69-80, Winter.
  8. Varian, Hal R, 1980. "A Model of Sales," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 70(4), pages 651-59, September.
  9. Michael R. Baye & John Morgan & Patrick Scholten, 2006. "Persistent Price Dispersion in Online Markets," Working Papers 2006-12, Indiana University, Kelley School of Business, Department of Business Economics and Public Policy.
  10. Dana, James D, Jr, 2001. "Competition in Price and Availability When Availability is Unobservable," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 32(3), pages 497-513, Autumn.
  11. Michael R. Baye & John Morgan, 2001. "Information Gatekeepers on the Internet and the Competitiveness of Homogeneous Product Markets," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(3), pages 454-474, June.
  12. Arnold, Michael A, 2000. "Costly Search, Capacity Constraints, and Bertrand Equilibrium Price Dispersion," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 41(1), pages 117-31, February.
  13. Oecd, 1998. "Electronic Commerce: Prices and Consumer Issues for Three Products: Books, Compact Discs and Software," OECD Digital Economy Papers 32, OECD Publishing.
  14. Alan T. Sorensen, 2000. "Equilibrium Price Dispersion in Retail Markets for Prescription Drugs," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 108(4), pages 833-862, August.
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Cited by:
  1. Michael R. Baye & John Morgan & Patrick Scholten, 2006. "Information, Search, and Price Dispersion," Working Papers 2006-11, Indiana University, Kelley School of Business, Department of Business Economics and Public Policy.
  2. Arnold Michael A. & Pénard Thierry, 2007. "Bargaining and Fixed Price Offers: How Online Intermediaries are Changing New Car Transactions," Review of Network Economics, De Gruyter, vol. 6(2), pages 1-27, June.

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