Antitrust & Competition Policy Blog

Editor: D. Daniel Sokol
University of Florida
Levin College of Law

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Friday, March 15, 2013

Exclusionary pricing in a two-sided platform : some insights from the industrial organization theory in the Google case

Posted by D. Daniel Sokol

Estelle Malavolti and Toulouse School of Economics /ENAC-LEEA and Frederic Marty, OFCE-Sciences-Po describe Exclusionary pricing in a two-sided platform : some insights from the industrial organization theory in the Google case.

ABSTRACT: Firms operating in two-sided markets have to integrate in their optimal pricing structure the existence of indirect externalities across groups of consumers. Beyond direct externalities (network effects), such markets are characterized by the increasing value of the platform for the users on one side with the number on the other side. As for Internet search platforms such as Google, their value for advertisers depends on the number of users and especially of precisely targeted ones. As a consequence, the optimal price structure in a two-sided market cannot be symmetrical. In other words, the price structure is not neutral and has to take into account such linkages between these two groups of users. From an economic point of view, it may make sense to impose no charge for the group that generates the most valuable externalities. With antitrust inquiries, such specificity imposes to consider simultaneously both sides of the markets. Otherwise, the risk of false negative decisions may arise. On one side the pricing strategy might be interpreted as a predatory practice and on the other side as an exploitative abuse. As the number and the loyalty of users on one side is an essential input to competition between platforms on the other side, it might be rational to subsidize them by acquiring exclusive rights on some valuable contents and to implement bundling and tying strategies. The main risk lies in some market foreclosure. The market might evolve towards vertically integrated ecosystems, e.g. a silos model of competition. Furthermore, competition authorities have to define a sound economics-based theory of harm to disentangle practices that reduce consumer welfare (by increasing switching costs) from ones that might be finally welfare-enhancing. The issue of remedies arises inexorably from this point. Our paper sheds light on these industrial economics and competition law issues.

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