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Search engine competition with network externalities


  • Argenton, C.

    (Tilburg University, School of Economics and Management)

  • Prüfer, J.

    (Tilburg University, School of Economics and Management)


The market for Internet search is not only economically and socially important, it is also highly concentrated. Is this a problem? We study the question of whether “competition is only a free click away.” We argue that the market for Internet search is characterized by indirect network externalities and construct a simple model of search engine competition, which produces a market share development that fits well the empirically observed developments since 2003. We find that there is a strong tendency toward market tipping and, subsequently, monopolization, with negative consequences on economic welfare. Therefore, we propose to require search engines to share their data on previous searches. We compare the resulting “competitive oligopoly” market structure with the less-competitive current situation and show that our proposal would spur innovation, search quality, consumer surplus, and total welfare. We also discuss the practical feasibility of our policy proposal and sketch the legal issues involved.

Suggested Citation

  • Argenton, C. & Prüfer, J., 2012. "Search engine competition with network externalities," Other publications TiSEM c76d07b9-7d86-42c4-9b47-c, Tilburg University, School of Economics and Management.
  • Handle: RePEc:tiu:tiutis:c76d07b9-7d86-42c4-9b47-c354c062d31b

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Baumol, William J, 1982. "Contestable Markets: An Uprising in the Theory of Industry Structure," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 72(1), pages 1-15, March.
    2. Jean‐Charles Rochet & Jean Tirole, 2006. "Two‐sided markets: a progress report," RAND Journal of Economics, RAND Corporation, vol. 37(3), pages 645-667, September.
    3. Yongmin Chen & Chuan He, 2011. "Paid Placement: Advertising and Search on the Internet," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 121(556), pages 309-328, November.
    4. Pollock Rufus, 2010. "Is Google the Next Microsoft: Competition, Welfare and Regulation in Online Search," Review of Network Economics, De Gruyter, vol. 9(4), pages 1-31, December.
    5. Greg Taylor, 2013. "Search Quality and Revenue Cannibalization by Competing Search Engines," Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 22(3), pages 445-467, September.
    6. Jean-Charles Rochet & Jean Tirole, 2007. "Introduction to the Symposium," CPI Journal, Competition Policy International, vol. 3.
    7. Song Yao & Carl F. Mela, 2008. "A Dynamic Model of Sponsored Search Advertising," Working Papers 08-16, NET Institute, revised Sep 2008.
    8. Song Yao & Carl F. Mela, 2011. "A Dynamic Model of Sponsored Search Advertising," Marketing Science, INFORMS, vol. 30(3), pages 447-468, 05-06.
    9. repec:oup:jcomle:v:6:y:2010:i:3:p:653-686. is not listed on IDEAS
    10. repec:oup:jcomle:v:5:y:2009:i:4:p:633-682. is not listed on IDEAS
    11. Anindya Ghose & Sha Yang, 2009. "An Empirical Analysis of Search Engine Advertising: Sponsored Search in Electronic Markets," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 55(10), pages 1605-1622, October.
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    Cited by:

    1. Emanuele Tarantino, 2012. "A Note on Vertical Search Engines’ Foreclosure," Chapters,in: Recent Advances in the Analysis of Competition Policy and Regulation, chapter 8 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    2. Lianos, I. & Motchenkova, E., 2012. "Market dominance and quality of search results in the search engine market," Discussion Paper 2012-036, Tilburg University, Tilburg Law and Economic Center.
    3. Tarantino, Emanuele, 2013. "A simple model of vertical search engines foreclosure," Telecommunications Policy, Elsevier, vol. 37(1), pages 1-12.
    4. Burguet, Roberto & Caminal, Ramon & Ellman, Matthew, 2015. "In Google we trust?," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 39(C), pages 44-55.
    5. Justus Haucap & Ulrich Heimeshoff, 2014. "Google, Facebook, Amazon, eBay: Is the Internet driving competition or market monopolization?," International Economics and Economic Policy, Springer, vol. 11(1), pages 49-61, February.
    6. Justus Haucap & Torben Stühmeier, 2016. "Competition and antitrust in Internet markets," Chapters,in: Handbook on the Economics of the Internet, chapter 9, pages 183-210 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    7. Etro, Federico, 2013. "Advertising and search engines. A model of leadership in search advertising," Research in Economics, Elsevier, vol. 67(1), pages 25-38.
    8. Federico Etro, 2012. "Leadership in Multi-sided Markets and Dominance in Online Advertising," Chapters,in: Recent Advances in the Analysis of Competition Policy and Regulation, chapter 11 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    9. Sang-Gun Lee & Chang-Gyu Yang & Sin-Bok Lee & Jae-Beom Lee, 2015. "A study on the antecedents and consequences of satisfaction and dissatisfaction in web portal usage," Service Business, Springer;Pan-Pacific Business Association, vol. 9(3), pages 567-586, September.
    10. Alexandre de Cornière & Greg Taylor, 2014. "Quality Provision in the Presence of a Biased Intermediary," Working Papers 14-06, NET Institute.
    11. Justus Haucap & Torben Stühmeier, 2016. "Competition and antitrust in Internet markets," Chapters,in: Handbook on the Economics of the Internet, chapter 9, pages 183-210 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    12. repec:zbw:zewexp:170570 is not listed on IDEAS
    13. Prüfer, Jens & Schottmuller, C., 2017. "Competing with Big Data," Discussion Paper 2017-006, Tilburg University, Tilburg Law and Economic Center.
    14. Bertschek, Irene & Briglauer, Wolfgang & Hüschelrath, Kai & Krämer, Jan & Frübing, Stefan & Kesler, Reinhold & Saam, Marianne, 2016. "Metastudie zum Fachdialog Ordnungsrahmen für die Digitale Wirtschaft: Im Auftrag des Bundesministeriums für Wirtschaft und Energie (BMWi)," ZEW Expertises, ZEW - Zentrum für Europäische Wirtschaftsforschung / Center for European Economic Research, number 147040.
    15. Haucap, Justus & Heimeshoff, Ulrich, 2017. "Ordnungspolitik in der digitalen Welt," DICE Ordnungspolitische Perspektiven 90, University of Düsseldorf, Düsseldorf Institute for Competition Economics (DICE).
    16. Jan KRÄMER & Michael WOHLFARTH, 2015. "Regulating Over-the-Top Service Providers in Two-Sided Content Markets: Insights from the Economic Literature," Communications & Strategies, IDATE, Com&Strat dept., vol. 1(99), pages 71-90, 3rd quart.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • L10 - Industrial Organization - - Market Structure, Firm Strategy, and Market Performance - - - General
    • K23 - Law and Economics - - Regulation and Business Law - - - Regulated Industries and Administrative Law
    • L86 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Services - - - Information and Internet Services; Computer Software


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