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Abstract

The two leading online consumer-to-consumer platforms use very different revenue models: eBay.com in the United States uses a brokerage model in which sellers pay eBay on a transaction basis, whereas Taobao.com in China uses an advertising model in which sellers can use the basic platform service for free and pay Taobao for advertising services to increase their exposure. This paper studies how the chosen revenue model affects the revenue of a platform, buyers’ payoffs, sellers’ payoffs, and social welfare. We find that when little space can be dedicated to advertising under the advertising model, the brokerage model generates more revenue for the platform than the advertising model. When a significant proportion of space is dedicated to advertising under the advertising model, matching probability on a platform plays a critical role in determining which revenue model can generate more revenue: If the matching probability is high, the brokerage model generates more revenue; otherwise, the advertising model generates more revenue. Buyers are always better off under the advertising model because of larger participation by the sellers in the platform’s free service. Sellers are better off under the advertising model in most scenarios. The only exception is when the matching probability is low and the platform dedicates considerable space to advertising. Under these conditions, the sellers with payoffs similar to the marginal advertiser who is indifferent about advertising can be worse off under the advertising model. Finally, the advertising model generates more social welfare than the brokerage model.

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