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Endogenous Horizontal Product Differentiation under Bertrand and Cournot Competition: Revisiting the Bertrand Paradox

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  • James A. Brander
  • Barbara J. Spencer

Abstract

This paper provides a new and simple model of endogenous horizontal product differentiation based on a standard demand structure derived from quadratic utility. One objective of the paper is to explain the “empirical Bertrand paradox” – the failure to observe homogeneous product Bertrand oligopoly, while homogeneous product Cournot oligopoly has significant empirical relevance. In our model firms invest in product differentiation if differentiation investments are sufficiently effective (i.e. if differentiation is not too costly). The threshold level of differentiation effectiveness needed to induce such investments is an order of magnitude less for Bertrand firms than for Cournot firms. Thus there is a wide range over which Bertrand firms differentiate their products but Cournot firms do not. If Cournot firms do choose to differentiate their products, corresponding Bertrand firms always differentiate more. We also establish the important insight that if product differentiation is endogenous Bertrand firms may charge higher prices and earn higher profits than corresponding Cournot firms, in contrast to the general presumption that Bertrand behavior is more competitive than Cournot behavior. Interestingly, consumer surplus increases with differentiation in the Cournot model but, due to sharply increasing prices, decreases with differentiation in the Bertrand model.

Suggested Citation

  • James A. Brander & Barbara J. Spencer, 2015. "Endogenous Horizontal Product Differentiation under Bertrand and Cournot Competition: Revisiting the Bertrand Paradox," NBER Working Papers 20966, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:20966
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    4. Longhua Liu & X. Henry Wang & Chenhang Zeng, 2020. "Endogenous Horizontal Product Differentiation in a Mixed Duopoly," Review of Industrial Organization, Springer;The Industrial Organization Society, vol. 56(3), pages 435-462, May.
    5. Brander, James A. & Spencer, Barbara J., 2015. "Intra-industry trade with Bertrand and Cournot oligopoly: The role of endogenous horizontal product differentiation," Research in Economics, Elsevier, vol. 69(2), pages 157-165.
    6. Didier Laussel, 2018. "Strategic Product Design under Duopoly," Annals of Economics and Statistics, GENES, issue 131, pages 25-44.
    7. Maria Rosa Battaggion & Vittoria Cerasi, 2018. "Endogenous interlocking directorates," Working Papers 380, University of Milano-Bicocca, Department of Economics, revised 01 May 2018.
    8. Bloomfield, Matthew J., 2021. "Compensation disclosures and strategic commitment: Evidence from revenue-based pay," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 141(2), pages 620-643.
    9. Conze, Maximilian & Kramm, Michael, 2017. "The different effect of consumer learning on incentives to differentiate in Cournot and Bertrand competition," Ruhr Economic Papers 666, RWI - Leibniz-Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung, Ruhr-University Bochum, TU Dortmund University, University of Duisburg-Essen.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D4 - Microeconomics - - Market Structure, Pricing, and Design
    • L1 - Industrial Organization - - Market Structure, Firm Strategy, and Market Performance
    • L13 - Industrial Organization - - Market Structure, Firm Strategy, and Market Performance - - - Oligopoly and Other Imperfect Markets

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