Why Companies Should Compete for Your Privacy

Consumers are sometimes willing to trade personal data for lower prices. How should companies compete for that valuable information? A discussion with Ramon Casadesus-Masanell and Andrés Hervás-Drane. Open for comment; 1 Comment posted.

Competing with Privacy

Personal consumer information has become a valuable asset in the marketplace and an important element of firm strategy. While consumers are unable to control the disclosure practices of services that collect their personal information, they can decide which services to trust and how much information to provide. How do these choices shape competition? The analysis in this paper explains how firms engaging in disclosure choose to share the benefits with consumers by subsidizing them, and firms charging positive prices choose not to engage in disclosure. Competition is likely to increase the supply of both subsidized and no-disclosure services. Moreover, subsidized services have the potential to remain highly profitable under competition despite the fact that disclosure generates consumer disutility. Overall, these findings are particularly relevant to the business models of Internet firms. Findings also contribute to inform the regulatory debate on consumer privacy. Read More

Investment Incentives in Proprietary and Open-Source Two-Sided Platforms

While proprietary and open-source software have coexisted since the early days of the computing industry, competition between these two modes of development has intensified dramatically following the surge of the Internet in the mid-1990s. This paper provides a first step to better understand incentives to invest in proprietary and open platforms. Specifically, the authors examine a model of a proprietary and an open-source two-sided platform to study equilibrium investment in platform quality. Their analysis provides answers to three important questions: (1) How are the incentives to invest in platform quality affected by the degree of platform openness? (2) Which of these two modes of governance leads to investment closer to the social optimum? And (3), how are incentives to invest in platform quality moderated by competition between proprietary and open two-sided platforms? Comparing monopoly platforms reveals that for a given level of user and developer adoption, investment incentives are stronger in proprietary platforms. However, open platforms may receive larger investment because they may benefit from wider adoption, which raises the returns to quality investment. The authors also find that proprietary platforms may benefit from higher investment in competing open platforms when developers multi-home, a result that helps explain why a proprietary platform such as Microsoft has chosen to contribute to the development of Linux. Read More

When Does a Platform Create Value by Limiting Choice?

Platforms such as video games and smartphones need to attract users, and the best way to do so is to offer more and more applications. Is there ever a point where a platform should limit the variety available? Researchers Ramon Casadesus-Masanell and Hanna Halaburda observe that in many situations users enjoy consuming applications together. When such consumption complementarities are present, users may benefit if the platform limits choice. With fewer applications to choose from, it is easier for users to take full advantage from shared consumption. Read More

Business Model Innovation and Competitive Imitation

When and why should an entrant adopt a new business model when the innovation could be imitated by an incumbent? In this paper, HBS professor Ramon Casadesus-Masanell and University of Southern California professor Feng Zhu examine the desirability, or lack thereof, of business model innovations when they cannot be protected, opening the door to competitive imitation. Issues of competing through new business model design become more important given the increasing number of opportunities for business model configurations enabled by technological progress, new customer preferences, and deregulation. Read More

Mixing Open Source and Proprietary Software Strategies

Open source and proprietary software development used to be competing strategies. Now software firms are experimenting with strategies that mix the two models. Researcher Gaston Llanes discusses recent research into these "mixed source" strategies. Read More

From Strategy to Business Models and to Tactics

Drivers such as globalization, deregulation, or technological change, just to mention a few, are profoundly changing the competitive game. Scholars and practitioners agree that the fastest-growing firms in this new environment appear to have taken advantage of these structural changes to compete "differently" and innovate in their business models. However, there is not yet agreement on what are the distinctive features of superior business models. This dispute may have arisen, in part, because of a lack of a clear distinction between the notions of strategy, business model, and tactics. HBS professor Ramon Casadesus-Masanell and Joan Enric Ricart present an integrative framework to distinguish and relate the concepts of business model, strategy, and tactics. Read More

Strategies to Fight Ad-sponsored Rivals

Many companies choose to finance themselves using ad revenues and offer their products or services—from newspapers to software applications, television programs, and online search—free to consumers. Yet the emergence of ad-sponsored entrants in various industries poses significant threats to the incumbents in these markets whose business models are often based on subscriptions or fees charged to their customers. Faced with the threat from ad-sponsored entrants, incumbents must choose strategies to respond. HBS professor Ramon Casadesus-Masanell and University of Southern California professor Feng Zhu create an analytical framework to establish guidelines for incumbent firms facing these issues. The researchers consider four alternative business models: pure-subscription-based; pure-ad-sponsored; mixed-single-product; and mixed-product-line-extension. Analysis shows that the optimal strategic and tactical choices change dramatically in the presence of an ad-sponsored rival. This is the first study to provide a comprehensive analysis of the competition between a free ad-sponsored entrant and an incumbent that has the option of choosing different business models. Read More

Mixed Source

As most managers know, commercial firms may benefit from participating in open source software development by selling complementary goods or services. Open source has the potential to improve value creation because it benefits from the efforts of a large community of developers. Proprietary software, on the other hand, results in superior value capture because the intellectual property remains under the control of the original developer. While the straightforward rationale for "mixed source" (a combination of the two) is appealing, what does it mean for a business model? Under what circumstances should a profit-maximizing firm adopt a mixed source business model? How should firms respond to competitors' adoption of mixed source business models? And what are the right pricing structures under mixed source compared with the proprietary business model? In this paper the researchers analyze a model where firms with modular software must decide which modules to open and which to keep proprietary. Findings can be directly applied to the design of optimal business strategies. Read More

Platform Competition, Compatibility, and Social Efficiency

The last three decades have witnessed unprecedented growth in network industries such as video games, computers, credit cards, media, and telecommunications. These industries are often organized around physical or virtual platforms that enable distinct groups of agents to interact with one another, and are commonly referred to as two-sided markets or markets with two-sided platforms. An operating systems developer such as Microsoft, for example, provides a software platform that makes possible the completion of value-creating transactions between independent software vendors and users. A key attribute of the market that determines the intensity and scope of network effects is whether or not competing platforms are compatible. The effects of platform (in)compatibility on market outcomes, however, have largely been ignored by the literature on markets with two-sided platforms. This paper develops an explanation of why markets with two-sided platforms are often characterized by incompatibility with one dominant player that may choose to subsidize access to one side of the market. Read More

Competing Complements

Over the last two decades, an increasing number of industries have evolved from vertical integration to more horizontal structures where firms design and manufacture components that are later assembled by third parties for the final customer. In these horizontal industries, firms may be "complementors," rather than customers, suppliers, or competitors. Classic examples of complementors include Intel and Microsoft. Similar complementor relationships arise in industries such as communications, consumer electronics, automobiles, and health care. In these industries, complementor analysis may be as important as competitor analysis. The authors of this paper introduce competition into one side of complementor analysis, and suggest implications for managers, public policy, and the development of theory. Read More

The Value of Environmental Activists

With decidedly non-profit goals leading them on, how do environmental protection groups such as Greenpeace and World Wildlife Fund create value? Can it be measured? A Q&A with Harvard Business School professor Ramon Casadesus-Masanell and case writer Jordan Mitchell. Read More

Delivering the Digital Goods: iTunes vs. Peer-to-Peer

Apple's iTunes music download service and illegal peer-to-peer music downloads offer two contrasting approaches to delivering digital content to users. Can Apple and the recording industry seriously compete against free? Do iTunes and p2p help each other in some ways? Professor Ramon Casadesus-Masanell and collaborator Andres Hervas-Drane discuss their recent research on competition in digital distribution. Read More

Wintel: Cooperation or Conflict

Industries are becoming more horizontal. Products that used to be designed and manufactured by a single firm are now produced by different companies that must coordinate activities. Here, the authors detail the relationship between Intel and Microsoft (both integral to PCs) and, using a mixed-duopoly model, analyze the dynamics of cooperation verses competition. They find that costs associated with complementary R&D, conflicts of interest in pricing, and the possibility of competitors all factor in the decision of when to cooperate or compete. Read More

Microsoft vs. Open Source: Who Will Win?

Using formal economic modelling, professors Pankaj Ghemawat and Ramon Casadesus-Masanell consider the competitive dynamics of the software wars between Microsoft and open source. Read our interview. Read More