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Free Content The Economics of Two-Sided Markets

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Abstract:

Broadly speaking, a two-sided market is one in which 1) two sets of agents interact through an intermediary or platform, and 2) the decisions of each set of agents affects the outcomes of the other set of agents, typically through an externality. In the case of a video game system, the intermediary is the console producer—Sony in the scenario above—while the two sets of agents are consumers and video game developers. Neither consumers nor game developers will be interested in the PlayStation if the other party is not. Similarly, a successful payment card requires both consumer usage and merchant acceptance, where both consumers and merchants value each others' participation. Many more products fit into this paradigm, such as search engines, newspapers, and almost any advertiser-supported media (examples in which consumers typically negatively value, rather than positively value, the participation of the other side), as well as most software or title-based operating systems and consumer electronics. This paper seeks to explain what two-sided markets are and why they interest economists. I discuss the strategies that firms typically consider, and I highlight a number of puzzling outcomes from the perspective of the economics of two-sided markets. Finally, I consider the implications for public policy, particularly antitrust and regulatory policy, where there have been a number of recent issues involving media, computer operating systems, and payment cards.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1257/089533009789176762

Publication date: June 1, 2009

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  • The Journal of Economic Perspectives (JEP) attempts to fill a gap between the general interest press and most other academic economics journals. The journal aims to publish articles that will serve several goals: to synthesize and integrate lessons learned from active lines of economic research; to provide economic analysis of public policy issues; to encourage cross-fertilization of ideas among the fields of thinking; to offer readers an accessible source for state-of-the-art economic thinking; to suggest directions for future research; to provide insights and readings for classroom use; and to address issues relating to the economics profession.
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