4.4 Elasticity in areas other than price  (Page 3/15)

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With all of the elasticity concepts that have just been described, some of which are listed in [link] , the possibility of confusion arises. When you hear the phrases “elasticity of demand” or “elasticity of supply,” they refer to the elasticity with respect to price. Sometimes, either to be extremely clear or because a wide variety of elasticities are being discussed, the elasticity of demand or the demand elasticity will be called the price elasticity of demand or the “elasticity of demand with respect to price.” Similarly, elasticity of supply or the supply elasticity is sometimes called, to avoid any possibility of confusion, the price elasticity of supply or “the elasticity of supply with respect to price.” But in whatever context elasticity is invoked, the idea always refers to percentage change in one variable, almost always a price or money variable, and how it causes a percentage change in another variable, typically a quantity variable of some kind.

 $\begin{array}{rcl}\text{Cross-price elasticity of demand}& =& \frac{\text{% change in Qd of good A}}{\text{% change in price of good B}}\end{array}$ $\begin{array}{rcl}\text{Wage elasticity of labor supply}& =& \frac{\text{% change in quantity of labor supplied}}{\text{% change in wage}}\end{array}$ $\begin{array}{rcl}\text{Wage elasticity of labor demand}& =& \frac{\text{% change in quantity of labor demanded}}{\text{% change in wage}}\end{array}$ $\begin{array}{rcl}\text{Interest rate elasticity of savings}& =& \frac{\text{% change in quantity of savings}}{\text{% change in interest rate}}\end{array}$ $\begin{array}{rcl}\text{Interest rate elasticity of borrowing}& =& \frac{\text{% change in quantity of borrowing}}{\text{% change in interest rate}}\end{array}$

That will be how much?

How did the 60% price increase in 2011 end up for Netflix? It has been a very bumpy ride.

Before the price increase, there were about 24.6 million U.S. subscribers. After the price increase, 810,000 infuriated U.S. consumers canceled their Netflix subscriptions, dropping the total number of subscribers to 23.79 million. Fast forward to June 2013, when there were 36 million streaming Netflix subscribers in the United States. This was an increase of 11.4 million subscribers since the price increase—an average per quarter growth of about 1.6 million. This growth is less than the 2 million per quarter increases Netflix experienced in the fourth quarter of 2010 and the first quarter of 2011.

During the first year after the price increase, the firm’s stock price (a measure of future expectations for the firm) fell from about $300 per share to just under$54. In 2015, however, the stock price is at \$448 per share. Today, Netflix has 57 million subscribers in fifty countries.

What happened? Obviously, Netflix company officials understood the law of demand. Company officials reported, when announcing the price increase, this could result in the loss of about 600,000 existing subscribers. Using the elasticity of demand formula, it is easy to see company officials expected an inelastic response:

In addition, Netflix officials had anticipated the price increase would have little impact on attracting new customers. Netflix anticipated adding up to 1.29 million new subscribers in the third quarter of 2011. It is true this was slower growth than the firm had experienced—about 2 million per quarter.

Why was the estimate of customers leaving so far off? In the 18 years since Netflix had been founded, there was an increase in the number of close, but not perfect, substitutes. Consumers now had choices ranging from Vudu, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and Redbox, to retail stores. Jaime Weinman reported in Maclean’s that Redbox kiosks are “a five-minute drive for less from 68 percent of Americans, and it seems that many people still find a five-minute drive more convenient than loading up a movie online.” It seems that in 2012, many consumers still preferred a physical DVD disk over streaming video.

What missteps did the Netflix management make? In addition to misjudging the elasticity of demand, by failing to account for close substitutes, it seems they may have also misjudged customers’ preferences and tastes. Yet, as the population increases, the preference for streaming video may overtake physical DVD disks. Netflix, the source of numerous late night talk show laughs and jabs in 2011, may yet have the last laugh.

Key concepts and summary

Elasticity is a general term, referring to percentage change of one variable divided by percentage change of a related variable that can be applied to many economic connections. For instance, the income elasticity of demand is the percentage change in quantity demanded divided by the percentage change in income. The cross-price elasticity of demand is the percentage change in the quantity demanded of a good divided by the percentage change in the price of another good. Elasticity applies in labor markets and financial capital markets just as it does in markets for goods and services. The wage elasticity of labor supply is the percentage change in the quantity of hours supplied divided by the percentage change in the wage. The elasticity of savings with respect to interest rates is the percentage change in the quantity of savings divided by the percentage change in interest rates.

References

Abkowitz, A. “How Netflix got started: Netflix founder and CEO Reed Hastings tells Fortune how he got the idea for the DVD-by-mail service that now has more than eight million customers.” CNN Money . Last Modified January 28, 2009. http://archive.fortune.com/2009/01/27/news/newsmakers/hastings_netflix.fortune/index.htm.

Associated Press (a). ”Analyst: Coinstar gains from Netflix pricing moves.” Boston Globe Media Partners, LLC . Accessed June 24, 2013. http://www.boston.com/business/articles/2011/10/12/analyst_coinstar_gains_from_netflix_pricing_moves/.

Associated Press (b). “Netflix loses 800,000 US subscribers in tough 3Q.” ABC Inc . Accessed June 24, 2013. http://abclocal.go.com/wpvi/story?section=news/business&id=8403368

Baumgardner, James. 2014. “Presentation on Raising the Excise Tax on Cigarettes: Effects on Health and the Federal Budget.” Congressional Budget Office. Accessed March 27, 2015. http://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/45214-ICA_Presentation.pdf.

Funding Universe. 2015. “Netflix, Inc. History.” Accessed March 11, 2015. http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/netflix-inc-history/.

Laporte, Nicole. “A tale of two Netflix.” Fast Company 177 (July 2013) 31-32. Accessed December 3 2013. http://www.fastcompany-digital.com/fastcompany/20130708?pg=33#pg33

Liedtke, Michael, The Associated Press. “Investors bash Netflix stock after slower growth forecast - fee hikes expected to take toll on subscribers most likely to shun costly bundled Net, DVD service.” The Seattle Times . Accessed June 24, 2013 from NewsBank on-line database (Access World News).

Netflix, Inc. 2013. “A Quick Update On Our Streaming Plans And Prices.” Netflix (blog). Accessed March 11, 2015. http://blog.netflix.com/2014/05/a-quick-update-on-our-streaming-plans.html.

Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECC). n.d. “Average annual hours actually worked per worker.” Accessed March 11, 2015. https://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?DataSetCode=ANHRS.

Savitz, Eric. “Netflix Warns DVD Subs Eroding; Q4 View Weak; Losses Ahead; Shrs Plunge.” Forbes.com , 2011. Accessed December 3, 2013. http://www.forbes.com/sites/ericsavitz/2011/10/24/netflix-q3-top-ests-but-shares-hit-by-weak-q4-outlook/.

Statistica.com. 2014. “Coffee Export Volumes Worldwide in November 2014, by Leading Countries (in 60-kilo sacks).” Accessed March 27, 2015. http://www.statista.com/statistics/268135/ranking-of-coffee-exporting-countries/.

Stone, Marcie. “Netflix responds to customers angry with price hike; Netflix stock falls 9%.” News&Politics Examiner , 2011. Clarity Digital Group. Accessed June 24, 2013. http://www.examiner.com/article/netflix-responds-to-customers-angry-with-price-hike-netflix-stock-falls-9.

Weinman, J. (2012). Die hard, hardly dying. Maclean's, 125(18), 44.

The World Bank Group. 2015. “Gross Savings (% of GDP).” Accessed March 11, 2015. http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNS.ICTR.ZS.

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