Article | Production and Operations Management

Divide and Conquer: Competing with Free Technology under Network Effects

by Deishin Lee and Haim Mendelson

Abstract

We study how a commercial firm competes with a free open source product. The market consists of two customer segments with different preferences and is characterized by positive network effects. The commercial firm makes product and pricing decisions to maximize its profit. The open source developers make product decisions to maximize the weighted sum of the segments' consumer surplus, in addition to their intrinsic motivation. The more importance open source developers attach to consumer surplus, the more effort they put into developing software features. Even if consumers do not end up adopting the open source product, it can act as a credible threat to the commercial firm, forcing the firm to lower its prices. If the open source developers' intrinsic motivation is high enough, they will develop software regardless of eventual market dynamics. If the open source product is available first, all participants are better off when the commercial and open source products are compatible. However, if the commercial firm can enter the market first, it can increase its profits and gain market share by being incompatible with its open source competitor, even if customers can later switch at zero cost. This first-mover advantage does not arise because users are locked in, but because the commercial firm deploys a divide and conquer strategy to attract early adopters and exploit late adopters. To capitalize on its first-mover advantage, the commercial firm must increase its development investment to improve its product features.

Keywords: Profit; Product Launch; Network Effects; Open Source Distribution; Adoption; Competitive Strategy; Competitive Advantage;

Citation:

Lee, Deishin, and Haim Mendelson. "Divide and Conquer: Competing with Free Technology under Network Effects." Production and Operations Management 17, no. 1 (January–February 2008): 12–28.