CFDP 1588

One-Way Essential Complements


Publication Date: November 2006

Pages: 39


While competition between firms producing substitutes is well understood, less is known about rivalry between complementors. We study the interaction between firms in markets with one-way essential complements. One good is essential to the use of the other but not vice versa, as arises with an operating system and applications. Our interest is in the division of surplus between the two goods and the related incentive for firms to create complements to an essential good.

Formally, we study a two-good model where consumers value A alone, but can only enjoy B if they also purchase A. When one firm sells A and another sells B, the firm that sells B earns a majority of the value it creates. However, if the A firm were to buy the B firm, it would optimally charge zero for B, provided marginal costs are zero and the average value of B is small relative to A. Hence, absent strong antitrust or intellectual property protections, the A firm can leverage its monopoly into B costlessly by producing a competing version of B and giving it away. For example, Microsoft provided Internet Explorer as a free substitute for Netscape; in our model, this maximizes Microsoft’s joint monopoly profits. Furthermore, Microsoft has no incentive to raise prices, even if all browser competition exits. This may seem surprising since it runs counter to the traditional gains from price discrimination and versioning. We also show that a essential monopolist has no incentive to degrade rival complementary products, which suggests that a monopoly internet service provider will offer net neutrality.

There are other means for the essential A monopolist to capture surplus from B. We consider the incentive to add a surcharge (or subsidy) to the price of B, or to act as a Stackelberg leader. We find a small gain from pricing first, but much greater profits from adding a surcharge to the price of B. The potential for A to capture B’s surplus highlights the challenges facing a firm whose product depends on an essential good.


Bundling, Complements, Monopoly leverage, Net neutrality, Price discrimination, Tying, Versioning

JEL Classification Codes: C7, D42, D43, K21, L11, L12, L13, L41, M21