How much will the San Francisco Giants charge for a baseball ticket? It all depends on, “past ticket sales, the day and time of the game, the teams’ records, the pitching match-up, the weather, the going rate on resale Web sites like StubHub and other data.” So, when 2 star pitchers were named for this year’s Memorial Day game between the Giants and the Colorado Rockies, tickets that had been selling for $17 rose as high as $25.
Somewhat similarly, during the 1980s, American Airlines was the first to use a flexible pricing system that was called yield management. After airline deregulation, American Airlines had to figure out how to compete against young upstart airlines with lower costs and lower fares. Their response was a computerized booking system that constantly changed fares. Suddenly, their revenue depended on when the flight was booked, whether the flier stayed over a Saturday night (which identified business travelers who would pay more than the discretionary traveler), and other variables. Just like the San Francisco Giants, American was maximizing revenue by pricing customers individually.
The Economic Lesson
Whenever they have some monopoly power, business firms act more as price makers than price takers. Price makers have the power to shift their own supply curve to a new position. As a result, they help to decide where supply will cross demand to determine price. By charging different prices for the same product, they can cater to different consumers with different demand curves. Price takers have much less control. Their price is determined by the intersection of a supply curve that many similar firms create and a demand curve shaped by many consumers.