Monopoly | Economics in Plain English - Part 2

Archive for the 'Monopoly' Category

Jan 28 2009

Product differentiation in imperfectly competitive markets – the MacBook Wheel

In  IB Economics, we are currently learning about how firms in imperfectly competitive markets differentiate their products in order to increase their market power and their price-making power.

In a market with a few large firms such as the laptop computer market, companies must do what they can to increase demand for their own products over those of their competitors. Apple Computer is an example of a company that has successfully differentiated its line of laptop computers in recent years, regularly improving the features of its line of MacBooks to attract consumers away from its competitors and into the world of Macs.

Last year Apple launched the MacBook Air, the lightest and thinnest laptop on the market, creating a huge buzz in the technology world and converting millions to Apple’s line of laptops. This year, Apple has launched yet another innovation in laptop computing, in the hope of once again increasing demand for its products, and making consumers think they cannot live without the sleek, shiny Apple computers. This year’s innovation? The “MacBook Wheel”… watch:

Apple Introduces Revolutionary New Laptop With No Keyboard

The goal of an imperfectly competitive firm like Apple is to increase its market power by increasing demand for its particular product through product differentiation, advertising, developing brand loyalty, and “hype”: all forms of non-price competition. If Apple were to simply charge a lower price than its competitors for its products, it would also succeed in increasing the amount of computers it sells to consumers, but may also end up accepting lower profits due to the lower prices it must sell for.

Through differentiation, which means making its products unique and attractive to consumers, Apple attempts to increase market demand for its computers, while simultaneously making demand less elastic. With higher, more inelastic demand, Apple gains price-making power over the laptop computer market, as can be seen in the graphs below, which show that after the successful launch of a new product like the MacBook wheel Apple is able to charge a higher price, produce a similar quantity, and earn greater economic profits.

In the video, one customer says that he’d buy “buy almost anything if it’s shiny and its made by Apple”. Such statements reflect that among loyal customers, demand for Apple’s products is highly inelastic. While the firm is certainly not a monopolist in the market for laptop computers, Apple has surely succeeded to increase its market power and thus its power over prices through product differentiation, brand loyalty, and the “hype” surrounding the launch of new products like the MacBook Wheel.

Discussion questions:

  1. In the graphs above, the slopes of the demand curve increases after successful product differentiation by Apple. Why does this happen?
  2. Assuming the market for laptop computers is monopolistically competitive, what will likely happen to Apples economic profits over time? What must Apple do if it wishes to maintain its profits in the long-run?
  3. What are some real ways companies like Apple and its competitors have attempted to differentiate their products over the years? Would YOU buys a MacBook Wheel if it were real?

309 responses so far

May 20 2008

One version of Windows XP per child…

Laptops for poor to run Windows XP – The Boston Globe

The cute little green alien-looking computer that is the XO PC (aka the “$100 computer” that costs $200) is now available with Windows XP. For anyone who’s had a chance to play with one of these machines, the Linux based operating system takes some getting used to for those of us used to the familiarity of Windows.

As it would turn out, education ministries in the developing world, the market the “one laptop per child” program targets for its cheap, durable PC, prefer machines with Windows on them over the unfamiliar Linux system as well:

…some countries, such as Egypt, want machines that run Windows, the most common personal computer operating system in the developed world.

“They said we would be in a much better position with a Windows-capable machine,” he said.

Meanwhile, Microsoft was working on a version of its Windows XP operating system that would work on the relatively low-powered XO computer.

“Lo and behold, they finalized [it] and have a very crisp-running machine with XP on it,” Kane said.

A statement from Microsoft said the Windows XP version of the XO will be capable of using hundreds of thousands of Windows-compatible programs and hardware accessories.

My first thought at this news was, “well, there goes any chance at achieving a $100 laptop for poor children in the developing world…” Windows XP, which retails for aroudn $250 in the rich world, would push the price of an XO from $200 to $450, if Microsoft were to charge the retail price for its operating system, that is.

In fact, Microsoft is making its popular operating system available for $3 per XO, which is probably close to the actual marginal cost to Microsoft of producing additional copies of XP. What’s the incentive for Microsoft to make this apparently charitable gesture to the OLPC program?

Mike Cherry, lead analyst for Windows at Directions on Microsoft, an independent software-research firm in Kirkland, Wash., said Microsoft doesn’t want cheap Linux-based computers to threaten the dominance of Windows.

“Let’s say they put Linux on there, and people say, ‘Hey this works pretty good,’ and they start looking at it for other applications as well,” he said. Getting Windows onto the XO laptop is one way to prevent this.

“I think it’s along the lines of not allowing anybody else to get a toehold,” Cherry said.

Sometimes when companies like Microsoft act in the pursuit of their own self-interest, society as a whole benefits. In economics we call this predatory pricing. Two firms, Microsoft and Linux, are competing for a larger foothold in developing countries where more new PC users are expected to emerge in the coming decades than anywhere else.

In the name of competition and its desire to maintain market share, Microsoft has taken a product that it usually charges the full monopolist price of $250 for and reduced its price to the marginal cost of $3. To prevent all PC users from taking advantage of this massive price reduction, however, the company will only make the $3 version of XP available on the XO, assuring that only the poorest, most technologically deprived consumers benefit from the company’s price discrimination.

While the price of the XP ready XOs will be about $10 higher, the ability to run thousands of Windows programs will surely give the OLPC program a greater appeal to education ministers and government officials in the developing world. Don’t be surprised if in the near future we begin to see more and more of the little green alien machines in the hands of the developing world’s school children.

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Oct 15 2007

SAS Economists Podcast #1: Demand for Eurest cafeteria food at SAS

By Emily Yeh and David Xu:

Introduction: So today on SAS Economists podcast we come to examine the economic practices of our beloved catering service, Eurest. For the last several years Eurest has held our stomachs and their breaths, as they poured out food for the school community’s enjoyment. But how much does the community really enjoy the services provided by Eurest? Too often complaints about the variety of food or taste and appeal are expressed by students and teachers when the name “Eurest” is mentioned.

Today, we will examine the alleged gap between price and quality for Eurest’s food. We’ll try to find out whether the prices charged for cafeteria food truly reflect the costs to Eurest, or whether it is monopoly power that result in the prices many students consider to be unreasonable. Does a lack of competition result in x-inefficiency on behalf of Eurest? If students had the benefit of greater variety and the freedom to eat off campus, how would Eurest match up against greater competition? What can the company do to achiever a higher level of customer satisfaction? These questions and more in the first EVER SAS Economists podcast!

To play, click on the viewer below and wait a couple of minutes for the video to load. It will play automatically once it has buffered.

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