IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Log in (now much improved!) to save this paper

Information Complements, Substitutes, and Strategic Product Design

Listed author(s):
  • Geoffrey G. Parker
  • Marshall W. Van Alstyne
Registered author(s):

    Competitive maneuvering in the information economy has raised a pressing question: how can firms raise profits by giving away products for free? This paper provides a possible answer and articulates a strategy space for information product design. Free strategic complements can raise a firm's own profits while free strategic substitutes can lower profits for competitors. We introduce a formal model of cross-market externalities based in textbook economics -- a mix of Katz & Shapiro network effects, price discrimination, and product differention -- that leads to novel strategies such as an eagerness to enter into Bertrand price competition. This combination helps to explain many recent firm strategies such as those of Microsoft, Netscape (AOL), Sun, Adobe, and ID. We also introduce the concept of a ''content-creator'' who adds value for end-consumers but may not be paid directly. Similar to the case of product dumping, this research implies that both firms and policy makers need to consider complex market interactions to grasp information product design and profit maximization. The model presented here argues for three simple and intuitive results. First, a firm can rationally invest in a product it intends to give away into perpetuity even in the absence of competition. The reason is that increased demand in a complementary goods market more than covers the cost of investment in the free goods market. Second, we identify distinct markets for content-providers and end-consumers and show that either can be a candidate for the free good. The decision on which market to charge rests on the relative elasticities as governed by their network externality effects. If the externality effect is sufficiently great, the market with the higher elasticity is the market to subsidize with the free good. It is also possible to charge both markets but to keep one price artificially low. Importantly, the modeling contribution is distinct from tying in the sense that consumers need never purchase both goods -- unlike razors and blades, the products are stand-alone goods. It also differs from multi-market price discrimination in the sense that the firm may extract no consumer surplus from one of the two market segments, implying that this market would have previously gone un-served. Third, a firm can use strategic product design to penetrate a market that becomes competitive post-entry. The threat of entry is credible even in cases where it never recovers its sunk costs directly. The model therefore helps to explain several interesting market behaviors such as free goods, upgrade paths, split versioning, and strategic information substitutes.

    If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    Paper provided by William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan in its series William Davidson Institute Working Papers Series with number 299.

    in new window

    Length: pages
    Date of creation: 01 Mar 2000
    Handle: RePEc:wdi:papers:2000-299
    Contact details of provider: Postal:
    724 E. University Ave, Wyly Hall 1st Flr, Ann Arbor MI 48109

    Phone: 734 763-5020
    Fax: 734 763-5850
    Web page:

    More information through EDIRC

    No references listed on IDEAS
    You can help add them by filling out this form.

    This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

    When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:wdi:papers:2000-299. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (WDI)

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

    If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.