What are you looking for?

Showing 9 of 116 Results in Market Definition

Labor-Market Monopsony

TL;DR tl;dr Background: Concerns have been raised that the proposed merger of grocers Kroger and Albertsons may leave the combined firm with monopsony power in the . . .


Background: Concerns have been raised that the proposed merger of grocers Kroger and Albertsons may leave the combined firm with monopsony power in the markets for wholesale produce  and for grocery workers. This follows last year’s ruling by a federal court blocking the merger of Penguin Random House LLC and Simon & Schuster, similarly on grounds of labor-market monopsony. The argument is that the company would dominate in areas where the merging firms formerly competed for employees and other inputs. The combined firm could then use that power to suppress wages, reduce employment, or impose unreasonable working conditions on workers.

This isn’t the first time U.S. antitrust regulators have targeted monopsony in labor markets. In addition to merger review, other recent efforts have included lawsuits against “no-poach” agreements, as well as the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) recent proposal to ban  noncompete agreements in employment contracts.

But… Monopsony power often derives from labor-market frictions that antitrust can’t address. Most labor markets aren’t highly concentrated and most workers have multiple potential employers from which to choose. In other words, labor markets are generally poor targets for antitrust enforcement. As explained below, this raises several significant challenges for antitrust enforcers.



So-called “company towns,” in which one firm dominates or actually owns a community, are rare. Most workers in the labor force have a broad range of employment opportunities across occupations, industries, and locations. A supermarket cashier can find employment at another supermarket, at another retail outlet, or shift their occupation to hospitality, food service, or distribution and logistics. They can also move to locations with better employment opportunities. A merger of supermarkets won’t suppress those opportunities.

The most compelling monopsony claims tend to concern labor markets that demand extensive or idiosyncratic skills, which couldn’t easily be transferred to other occupations or industries. For example, the Penguin/Simon & Schuster case centered on writers of bestsellers whose book advances exceed $250,000.


All antitrust claims require defining a relevant market, but the endeavor is significantly more complicated in the context of labor markets. 

For example, what is the relevant labor market for supermarket employees? Surely, Costco employees should be included, even if Costco does not technically qualify as a “supermarket,” but what about employees of other retailers? What about hospitality and fast-food workers? When examining the labor market for workers who lack extensive or idiosyncratic skills, just about any reasonable definition of the relevant market would be too large to allege that any one firm possesses market power.

In a perfect world, these questions could be tested empirically. Unfortunately, antitrust enforcers often don’t have the requisite data and must rely on anecdotal evidence to delineate labor markets.


U.S. workers are highly mobile. Roughly half of American adults live in a state other than the one in which they were born. Indeed, much of U.S. demographic history concerns people relocating for work. This makes it especially challenging to define a relevant geographic market for labor-monopsony claims. 

This is particularly true in urban environments, where there are many employment opportunities within commuting distance, especially for workers with fewer skills or less experience. Hence, stronger claims of labor-market monopsony tend to concern rural markets with limited job opportunities. It’s much easier to claim that Walmart holds labor-monopsony power in a small town than in even a medium-sized city.


Antitrust enforcers also need to account for the countervailing market power held by labor unions. Obtaining and exerting market power is unions’ raison d’être. As the old song says: “There is power in a union.”

For instance, if the FTC challenges the Kroger-Albertsons merger (as is expected) by alleging labor-market monopsony, the agency will have to contend with the fact that roughly 60% of the merged company’s workforce will be unionized. Attempts to exercise monopsony power would likely be dampened by the effects of unions collectively bargaining to maintain high wages and prevent layoffs.


The final challenge to labor-monopsony cases is that the primary purpose of antitrust enforcement is widely accepted to be protecting against harms to competition or to consumers. In labor cases, this will almost inevitably require important tradeoffs. 

While a merger might suppress the wages that would otherwise be paid by the merging companies, these wage reductions may then be passed on to consumers in the form of lower prices. Reduced labor input for a particular type of worker or workers does not mechanically translate into reduced output for consumers. This can be the case, for example, when a merger results in restructuring. 

In evaluating a merger, the agencies and the courts must balance the anticipated harms to employees against the potential benefits to consumers. This is a daunting task that may prove insurmountable in many cases.

For more on this issue, see the International Center for Law & Economics (ICLE) issue brief “Five Problems with a Potential FTC Challenge to the Kroger/Albertsons Merger.” See also, “FTC Should Allow Kroger-Albertsons Merger to Go Through” by Eric Fruits and Geoffrey Manne.


Continue reading
Antitrust & Consumer Protection

FTC v Amazon: Significant Burdens to Prove Relevant Markets and Net Consumer Harm

TL;DR tl;dr Background: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and 17 states this month filed a major antitrust complaint against Amazon. The much-anticipated suit comes more than . . .


Background: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and 17 states this month filed a major antitrust complaint against Amazon. The much-anticipated suit comes more than two years after Lina Khan became FTC chair and more than six years since her student note criticizing Amazon’s practices. The complaint describes a broad scheme in which Amazon (1) used various practices to prevent sellers from offering prices at Amazon’s rivals below the level at Amazon (anti-discounting), and (2) conditioned a product’s eligibility for Amazon Prime on whether the seller used Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA). This conduct allegedly violates Section 5 of the FTC Act as an unfair method of competition, Section 2 of the Sherman Act as maintenance of monopoly, and various state laws.

But… It will be difficult for the FTC and the states to prove Amazon’s monopoly power and to discredit the procompetitive justifications for the challenged conduct. Retail competition is robust and the proposed narrow markets are ripe for criticism. Moreover, the challenged conduct is core to Amazon’s offer of important consumer benefits, such as fast and reliable shipping. Whatever remedy the FTC ultimately pursues, it risks undermining the benefits Amazon has created for consumers and sellers alike.



The complaint relies on two overarching theories of anticompetitive conduct: anti-discounting and conditioning Prime eligibility on a seller using FBA.

The first is reminiscent of a challenge to “most-favored nation” (MFN) provisions, in which a defendant demands terms that are equivalent to or better than those given to its rivals. However, MFNs are agreements typically challenged under Section 1 of the Sherman Act; the FTC doesn’t explicitly claim that Amazon’s unilateral policy constitutes an MFN.

The second theory appears similar to a tying claim. But the FTC doesn’t allege an actual tie between the sale of two distinct products, perhaps because sellers cannot buy the Prime badge; they must qualify for it by meeting the two-day shipping requirement (which FBA ensures).


Both of the relevant markets put forward in the FTC’s complaint fail to reflect real-world competition.

Amazon allegedly possesses monopoly power in the “online superstore market.” According to the FTC, online “superstores” provide a unique breadth and depth of products and unique services that brick-and-mortar stores and smaller online retailers don’t. Thus the commission alleges that these rivals cannot constrain Amazon’s market power over consumers. 

This alleged market is so narrowly drawn that it appears to include just Amazon, eBay, and the online stores offered by Walmart and Target. This excludes single-brand online retailers, product-category-specific online retailers, and all brick-and-mortar stores. It beggars belief that these rivals don’t exert competitive constraints on Amazon. After all, no consumers shop exclusively online, and price-comparison services like Google Shopping facilitate shopping across all online outlets. This will almost certainly prove to be a sticking point when the case goes to trial.

The FTC also defines a relevant market for “online marketplace services”—i.e., the services needed to sell products online (including access to shoppers, online interface, pricing capabilities, customer reviews). This excludes traditional wholesalers and e-commerce platforms like Shopify that offer software allowing sellers to create their own online stores.

As with the first market, it’s hard to imagine these claims will be borne out by the evidence. Most retail sales still occur offline and manufacturers and brands readily access these outlets. And the recent success of new marketplaces like Shein and Temu—which entered the U.S. market during the FTC’s investigation of Amazon—further undermines both the alleged market and Amazon’s market power.


While both unlawful MFNs and unlawful tying would be legitimate theories of harm, both are also vertical restrictions reviewed under the rule of reason, which requires weighing the anticompetitive and procompetitive effects.

The economics literature shows that MFNs can promote efficiency by protecting investments that couldn’t have been recouped without the protections offered by an MFN, such as Amazon’s substantial investment in the infrastructure to deliver products within two days. These provisions can benefit consumers by cutting their search costs and offering retailers incentives to improve the quality of their search and display capabilities.

Economic theory also suggests that it can be cheaper to offer some products together, rather than selling them separately; in some cases, it may be necessary to sell the products together in order to offer the products at all. If Amazon’s FBA services are critical for it to dependably deliver on Prime’s promise of two-day-shipping, then the alleged tying may be procompetitive. 


While the FTC’s complaint doesn’t explicitly ask for Amazon to be broken up, it does ask for the court to provide “equitable relief, including but not limited to structural relief, necessary to restore fair competition.” 

It’s anyone’s guess what this means. “Fair competition” isn’t part of U.S. antitrust case law or mainstream economic terminology.

This seemingly innocuous wording may be used to impose the FTC’s idiosyncratic—and nostalgic—vision of online retail on Amazon. Worse, it may be a euphemism for breaking up the company.


Continue reading
Antitrust & Consumer Protection

Comments of the International Center for Law and Economics on the FTC & DOJ Draft Merger Guidelines

Regulatory Comments Executive Summary We appreciate the opportunity to comment on the Draft Merger Guidelines (Draft Guidelines) released by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ or Division) . . .

Executive Summary

We appreciate the opportunity to comment on the Draft Merger Guidelines (Draft Guidelines) released by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ or Division) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) (jointly, the agencies), Docket No. FTC-2023-0043. Our comments below mirror the structure of the main body of the Draft Guidelines: guidelines, market definition, and rebuttal evidence. Section by section, we suggest improvements to the Draft Guidelines, as well as background law and economics that we believe the agencies should keep in mind as they revise the Draft Guidelines. Our suggestions include, inter alia, the recission of some of the draft guidelines and the integration of others.

Much of the discussion around the guidelines focuses on whether enforcement should be more or less strict. But the stringency or rigor of antitrust scrutiny is not a simple dial to turn up or down. For example, what should be done with HHI thresholds? It may seem obvious that lower thresholds allow the agencies to challenge more mergers. In a world with limited agency resources, however, that may not be true. Under the 2010 Horizontal Merger Guidelines, the agencies did not challenge—much less block—all mergers leading to “moderately concentrated” or even “highly concentrated” markets. If we assume, as the Draft Guidelines appear to, that mergers leading to relatively high-concentration markets are generally more likely to be anticompetitive, lowering the thresholds would result in fewer of such challenges, to the extent that the agencies would necessarily allocate some of their scarce enforcement resources to matters that would not have raised competitive concerns under the thresholds specified in 2010.

Our main recommendations are as follows:

Guideline 1 places increased emphasis on structural presumptions and concentration measures. This rests on the assumption that the economy is becoming more concentrated, that this is problematic, and that lowering the thresholds would help to tackle this problem. But, as our comments explain, this seemingly simple story is not actually so simple. The changes contemplated by guideline 1 thus appear ill-founded. As written, guideline 1 could be used to block mergers without needing to show any actual harms to consumers or sellers/workers. Whether this is the intent or not, the answer should be made explicit. We argue that mergers should not be challenged based on concentration measures alone, given the long-known—but also recently empirically supported—disconnect between concentration measures and competitive harms.

Guideline 2: The guidelines mostly ignore the real distinctions between horizontal and vertical mergers. Guideline 2 is about horizonal mergers, as a footnote suggests, and provides an opportunity to make explicit that horizontal mergers exist, are unique, and will be treated differently than vertical mergers for reasons underlined by the guideline.

Guideline 6: To the extent that guideline 6 goes beyond what is included in guideline 5, it simply adds additional structural presumptions that are not justified by the law or the economics. In a part of the Brown Shoe decision ignored by the Draft Guidelines, the court wrote that “the percentage of the market foreclosed by the vertical arrangement cannot itself be decisive,” yet guideline 6 would make a structural-presumption decision. This is especially problematic in the context of vertical mergers, where the “foreclosure share” does not require an incentive to foreclose. As written, the guideline would treat as inevitable even foreclosure that was highly unprofitable.

Guideline 8: As concentration is not (by itself) harmful to consumers, neither is a trend toward concentration. As with guideline 1, guideline 8 should make explicit whether the intent is that it be used regardless of any harm to consumers. If an industry that has become more concentrated through more competition—as a large, recent economic literature documents is the norm—will the agencies block a merger that increases concentration but does not increase prices? Guideline 8 is especially problematic when paired with the statement that “efficiencies are not cognizable if they will accelerate a trend toward concentration.” This effectively negates any efficiency defense, since any efficiency will allow a merged party to win a larger share of the market. If these customers come from smaller competitors, that will increase concentration.

We conclude by explaining how the Draft Guidelines are not law and that it remains up to the courts whether to follow them. Historically, courts have followed such guidelines, given their reflection of current legal and economic understanding. These Draft Guidelines, by contrast, seem much more geared toward pursuing stronger merger enforcement. Rather than reflect current knowledge, the agencies are seemingly looking to reverse time and return to an outdated set of policies from which courts, enforcers, and mainstream antitrust scholars have all steered away. The net effect of these problems is to undermine confidence in the agency.

I.        Guideline 1: Mergers Should Not Significantly Increase Concentration in Highly Concentrated Markets

Draft Guideline 1 of the Draft Merger Guidelines (“Draft Guidelines”)[1] appears to suggest a standalone structural presumption[2] that mergers that “significantly increase” concentration in “highly concentrated” markets are unlawful; and it does so under a lower-threshold Herfindahl-Hirschman Index (“HHI”) for highly concentrated markets than that specified in the 2010 Horizontal Merger Guidelines, and a lower change in HHI than that specified in the 2010 Guidelines.

Several of these changes are salient. First, the Draft Guidelines replace a threshold HHI for “highly concentrated markets” of 2,500 with one of 1,800. Under the 2010 Guidelines, horizontal mergers that would increase HHI at least 100 points, resulting in an HHI of between 1,500 and 2,500 (inclusive), would be regarded as mergers that “potentially raise significant competitive concerns.” While they might warrant investigation, they would not implicate a structural presumption of illegality.

Second, under the considerably higher thresholds specified in 2010, mergers leading to highly concentrated markets that involved changes in HHI of between 100 and 200 would still be considered among those that “potentially raise significant competitive concerns,” and they would “often warrant scrutiny,” but they would not implicate a presumption of illegality. Only “[m]ergers resulting in highly concentrated markets that involve an increase in the HHI of more than 200 points [would] be presumed to be likely to enhance market power.”

Third, under the 2010 Guidelines, the presumption that mergers “likely to enhance market power” could be “rebutted by persuasive evidence showing that the merger is unlikely to enhance market power.” Draft guideline 1—even with lower thresholds for change and total market concentration, as measured by HHI—identifies no potential for rebuttal of the presumption.

Fourth, the 2010 Guidelines expressly identify mergers that are “unlikely to have adverse competitive effects and ordinarily require no further analysis”; namely, those involving increases in HHI of less than 100 and those resulting in an HHI less than 1,500. The Draft Guidelines do not identify any such mergers, whether under the 2010 thresholds or otherwise.

Fifth, the 2010 thresholds were specified in the Horizontal Merger Guidelines and, as such, applied to horizontal mergers. Other guidelines and agency practice recognized—correctly—that vertical mergers could raise competition concerns. At the same time, they recognized general distinctions between horizontal, vertical, and other “non-horizontal” mergers, such as “conglomerate mergers,” that are absent in—if not repudiated by—the Draft Guidelines. The lower thresholds and altered presumptions of the draft guideline 1 make no mention of horizontal-specific revisions; and, as we discuss below, draft guidelines 5-8 and 10 expressly extend the scope of the Draft Guidelines to vertical and other non-horizontal mergers.

If the Draft Guidelines’ “basis to presume that a merger is likely to substantially lessen competition” is not such a presumption of illegality, or is not so independent of market power, or is rebuttable, then revisions should say so. Also, if the agencies believe that there is any category of mergers that are unlikely to have adverse competitive effects, and unlikely to require further scrutiny, they should say so.

The Draft Guidelines state that this type of structural presumption provides a highly administrable and useful tool for identifying mergers that may substantially lessen competition. Unfortunately, this reasoning overlooks a crucial aspect of the antitrust apparatus (and of all regulation, for that matter): the error-cost framework. Administrability is a virtue, all things considered, but so is accuracy. Any given merger might be anticompetitive, but most are not, and enforcement should not routinely condemn benign and procompetitive mergers for the sake of convenience. As we explain below, the key insight is that policymakers should always consider antitrust enforcement as a whole. In other words, it is never appropriate to look at certain categories of judicial error in isolation (such as authorities wrongly clearing certain mergers). Instead, the challenge is to determine which set of rules and presumptions minimizes the sum of three social costs: false convictions, false acquittals, and enforcement costs.

When this is properly understood, it becomes clear that false negatives are only one part of the picture. It is equally important to ensure that new guidelines do not inefficiently chill or otherwise impede procompetitive deals. This is where proposals to lower current thresholds and alter existing presumptions run into trouble.

A.      Should Concentration Thresholds Be Lowered?

Draft guideline 1 puts concentration metrics front and center and introduces new structural presumptions. The Draft Guidelines evince a strong skepticism toward concentration that is unwarranted by the economic evidence. Two sets of questions are related: what, if anything, does the economic evidence say about the new HHI thresholds advanced by the Draft Guidelines? And what does the economic evidence indicate about strong structural presumptions in antitrust analysis?

Should new merger guidelines lower the HHI thresholds? We agree with comments submitted in 2022 by now-FTC Bureau of Economics Director Aviv Nevo and colleagues, who argued against such a change. They wrote:

Our view is that this would not be the most productive route for the agencies to pursue to successfully prevent harmful mergers, and could backfire by putting even further emphasis on market definition and structural presumptions.

If the agencies were to substantially change the presumption thresholds, they would also need to persuade courts that the new thresholds were at the right level. Is the evidence there to do so? The existing body of research on this question is, today, thin and mostly based on individual case studies in a handful of industries. Our reading of the literature is that it is not clear and persuasive enough, at this point in time, to support a substantially different threshold that will be applied across the board to all industries and market conditions. (emphasis added)[3]

Instead of following the economics literature, as summarized above, the Draft Guidelines lower the structural presumptions and add an additional one for when the merged firms share exceeds 30% and the HHI increase exceeds 100.

One argument for this increased emphasis on structural presumptions and concentration measures is that the economy is becoming more concentrated, that this is problematic, and that lowering the thresholds helps to tackle this problem. The following sections explain why the story is not so simple.

B.      Empirical Trends in Concentration

The first mistake is to suppose that concentration trends have reached unprecedented levels, that extant levels are generally harmful, and that current undue levels of concentration across the economy are due to lax antitrust enforcement. However, market concentration is not, in itself, a bad thing; indeed, recent research challenging the standard  account demonstrates that much observed concentration is driven by increased productivity, rather than by anticompetitive conduct or anticompetitive mergers. In addition, several recent studies show that local concentration—which is the most likely to affect consumers, and where most competition happens—has been steadily decreasing. In fact, as we show, increased concentration at the national level is itself likely the result of more vigorous competition at the local level. Further complicating matters for the “accepted” story (and exacerbated by these national/local distinctions) is the longstanding problem of drawing inferences from national-level concentration metrics for antitrust-relevant markets.

There is a popular narrative that lax antitrust enforcement has led to substantially increased concentration, strangling the economy, harming workers, and saddling consumers with greater markups in the process. Much of the contemporary dissatisfaction with antitrust arises from a suspicion that overly lax enforcement of existing laws has led to record levels of concentration and a concomitant decline in competition.

However, these beliefs—lax enforcement and increased anticompetitive concentration—wither under scrutiny.

1.        National versus local competition

Competition rarely takes place in national markets; it takes place in local markets. And although it appears that national-level firm concentration is growing, this effect is driving increased competition and decreased concentration at the local level, which typically is what matters for consumers. The rise in national concentration is predominantly a function of more efficient firms competing in more—and more localized—markets. Rising national concentration, where it is observed, is a result of increased productivity and competition, which weed out less-efficient producers.

This means it is inappropriate to draw conclusions about the strength of competition from national-concentration measures. This view is shared by economists across the political spectrum. Carl Shapiro (former deputy assistant attorney general for economics in the DOJ Antitrust Division under Presidents Obama and Clinton) for example, raises these concerns regarding the national-concentration data:

[S]imply as a matter of measurement, the Economic Census data that are being used to measure trends in concentration do not allow one to measure concentration in relevant antitrust markets, i.e., for the products and locations over which competition actually occurs. As a result, it is far from clear that the reported changes in concentration over time are informative regarding changes in competition over time.[4]

The 2020 report from the President’s Council of Economic Advisors sounds a similar note. After critically examining alarms about rising concentration, it concludes they are lacking, and that:

The assessment of the competitive health of the economy should be based on studies of properly defined markets, together with conceptual and empirical methods and data that are sufficient to distinguish between alternative explanations for rising concentration and markups.[5]

In general, competition is increasing, not decreasing, whether it is accompanied by an increase in concentration or not.

The narrative that increased market concentration has been driven by anticompetitive mergers and other anticompetitive conduct derives from a widely reported literature documenting increased national product-market concentration.[6] That same literature has also promoted the arguments that increased concentration has had harmful effects, including increased markups and increased market power,[7] declining labor share,[8] and declining entry and dynamism.[9]

There are good reasons to be skeptical of the national concentration and market-power data on their face.[10] But even more important, the narrative that purports to find a causal relationship between these data and the depredations mentioned above is almost certainly incorrect.

To begin with, the assumption that “too much” concentration is harmful assumes both that the structure of a market is what determines economic outcomes, and that anyone knows what the “right” amount of concentration is. But as economists have understood since at least the 1970s (and despite an extremely vigorous, but futile, effort to show otherwise), market structure is not outcome determinative.[11]

Once perfect knowledge of technology and price is abandoned, [competitive intensity] may increase, decrease, or remain unchanged as the number of firms in the market is increased.… [I]t is presumptuous to conclude… that markets populated by fewer firms perform less well or offer competition that is less intense.[12]

This view is well-supported, and it is held by scholars across the political spectrum.[13] To take one prominent, recent example, professors Fiona Scott Morton (deputy assistant attorney general for economics in the DOJ Antitrust Division under President Obama), Martin Gaynor (former director of the FTC Bureau of Economics under President Obama), and Steven Berry surveyed the industrial organization literature and found that presumptions based on measures of concentration are unlikely to provide sound guidance for public policy:

In short, there is no well-defined “causal effect of concentration on price,” but rather a set of hypotheses that can explain observed correlations of the joint outcomes of price, measured markups, market share, and concentration.…

Our own view, based on the well-established mainstream wisdom in the field of industrial organization for several decades, is that regressions of market outcomes on measures of industry structure like the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index should be given little weight in policy debates.[14]

Furthermore, the national concentration statistics that are used to justify invigorated antitrust law and enhanced antitrust enforcement are generally derived from available data based on industry classifications and market definitions that have limited relevance to antitrust. As Luke Froeb (former deputy assistant attorney general for economics in the DOJ Antitrust Division under President Trump and former director of the FTC Bureau of Economics under President Bush) and Greg Werden (former senior economic counsel in the DOJ Antitrust Division from 1977-2019) note:

[T]he data are apt to mask any actual changes in the concentration of markets, which can remain the same or decline despite increasing concentration for broad aggregations of economic activity. Reliable data on trends in market concentration are available for only a few sectors of the economy, and for several, market concentration has not increased despite substantial merger activity.[15]

Agency experience and staff research in the critical area of health-care competition represents a signal model of the application of applied industrial-organization research to policy development and law enforcement. Notably, the underlying research program has provided solid ground for blocking anticompetitive hospital mergers, while militating against SCP assumptions in provider mergers. Results suggest, for example, that various “the new screening tools (in particular, WTP and UPP) are more accurate than traditional concentration measures at flagging potentially anticompetitive hospital mergers for further review.”[16]

Most important, these criticisms of the assumed relationship between concentration and economic outcomes are borne out by a host of recent empirical studies.

The absence of a correlation between increased concentration and both anticompetitive causes and deleterious economic effects is demonstrated by a recent, influential empirical paper by Sharat Ganapati. Ganapati finds that the increase in industry concentration in non-manufacturing sectors in the United States between 1972 and 2012 is “related to an o?setting and positive force—these oligopolies are likely due to technical innovation or scale economies. [The] data suggests that national oligopolies are strongly correlated with innovations in productivity.”[17] The result is that increased concentration results from a beneficial growth in firm size in productive industries that “expand[s] real output and hold[s] down prices, raising consumer welfare, while maintaining or reducing [these firms’] workforces.”[18] Sam Peltzman’s research on increasing concentration in manufacturing has been on average associated with both increased productivity growth and widening margins of price over input costs. These two effects offset each other, leading to “trivial” net price effects.[19]

Several other recent papers look at the data in detail and attempt to identify the likely cause of the observed national-level changes in concentration. Their findings demonstrate clearly that measures of increased national concentration cannot justify increased antitrust intervention. In fact, as these papers show, the reason for apparently increased concentration trends in the United States in recent years appears to be technological, not anticompetitive. And, as might be expected from that cause, its effects appear beneficial. More to the point, while some products and services compete at a national level, much more competition is local—taking place within far narrower geographic boundaries.

By way of illustration, it hardly matters to a shopper in, say, Portland, Oregon, that there may be fewer grocery-store chains nationally if she has more stores to choose from within a short walk or drive from her home. If you are trying to connect the competitiveness of a market and the level of concentration, the relevant market to consider is local. The same consumer, contemplating elective surgery, may search in a somewhat broader geographic area, but one that is still local, not national, and best determined on a merger-by-merger basis.[20]

Moreover, because many of the large firms driving the national-concentration data operate across multiple product markets that do not offer substitutes for each other, the relevant product-market definition is also narrower. In other words, Walmart’s market share in, e.g., “retail” or “discount” retail implies virtually nothing about retail produce competition. In the real world, Walmart competes for consumers’ produce dollars with other large retailers, supermarkets, smaller local grocers, and local produce markets. It also competes in the gasoline market with other large retailers, some supermarkets, and local gas stations. It competes in the electronics market with other large retailers, large electronic stores, small local electronics stores, and a plethora of online sellers large and small—and so forth. For example, when the FTC investigated the Staples/Office Depot merger, it analyzed a far-narrower market than simply “office supplies” or “retail office supplies”; it found that general merchandisers such as Walmart, K-Mart, and Target accounted for 80% of office-supply sales “in the market for “consumable” office supplies sold to large business customers for their own use.”[21]

This conclusion is not mere supposition: In fact, recent empirical work demonstrates that national measures of concentration do not reflect market structures at the local level. Moreover, recent research published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York concludes that a focus on nationwide trends may be misleading, to the extent that the data omit revenue earned by foreign firms competing in the United States.[22] The authors note that accounting for foreign firms’ sales in the U.S. indicates that market concentration did not increase, but “remained flat” over the 20-year period studied. They argue that increasing domestic concentration was counteracted by increasing market shares associated with foreign firms’ sales.

In a recent paper,[23] the authors look at both the national and local concentration trends between 1990 and 2014 and find that:

  1. Overall, and for all major sectors, concentration is increasing nationally but decreasing locally.
  2. Industries with diverging national/local trends are pervasive and account for a large share of employment and sales.
  3. Among diverging industries, the top firms have increased concentration nationally, but decreased it locally.
  4. Among diverging industries, opening of a plant from a top firm is associated with a long-lasting decrease in local concentration.[24]

Source: Rossi-Hansberg, et al. (2020)[25]

Importantly, all of the above applies not only to product markets, but to labor markets, as well:

The proportion of aggregate U.S. employment located in all SIC 8 industries with increasing national market concentration and decreasing ZIP code level market concentration is 43 percent. Thus, given that some industries have also had declining concentration at both the national and ZIP code level, 78 percent (or over 3/4) of U.S. employment resides in industries with declining local market concentration.[26]

There are disputes about the data used in this study for sales concentration. Some authors argue it more likely reflects employment concentration, instead of sales concentration.[27] It is well-documented that employment concentration has been falling at the local level.[28]

Instead of relying on NAICS or SIC codes, Benkard, Yurukoglu, & Zhang construct concentration measures that are intended to capture consumption-based product markets.[29] They use respondent-level data from the annual “Survey of the American Consumer” available from MRI Simmons, a market-research firm. The survey asks specific questions about which brands consumers buy. They define markets into 457 product markets categories, separated into 29 locations. Product “markets” are then aggregated into “sectors.” Since they know the ownership of different products, even if the brand name is different, they can lump products into companies.

If antitrust enforcers want one paper to get a sense of aggregate trends, this is the one. Their study more closely matches and aggregates antitrust markets than studies that rely on NAICS codes. Against the narrative of the draft guidelines, they find falling concentration at the product-market level (the narrowest product), both at the local and the national level. At the sector level (which aggregates markets), there is a slight increase.

Source: Benkard, et al (2021)[30]

With any concentration measure, one must define the relevant market. As in any antitrust case, this is not trivial when defining markets to measure concentration for the overall economy. Some work, such as Autor, et al., use industries with “time-consistent industry definitions.”[31] Other work finds falling concentration, even at the national level, between 2007 and 2017, when one includes the full sample of industries.[32]

The main implication of these studies for the merger guidelines is not that we need to take a stance on a technical debate in the academic literature, but to recognize that such a healthy debate exists and that it would be unwise to proceed as if we know for certain the direction of empirical trends (and that the agencies can reverse them).

2.        Larger national firms can lead to less-concentrated local markets

What is perhaps most remarkable about this data is the unique role large firms play in driving reduced concentration at the local level:

[T]he increase in market concentration observed at the national level over the last 25 years is being shaped by enterprises expanding into new local markets. This expansion into local markets is accompanied by a fall in local concentration as ?rms open establishments in new locations. These observations are suggestive of more, rather than less, competitive markets.[33]

A related paper explores this phenomenon in greater detail.[34] It shows that new technology has enabled large firms to scale production and distribution over a larger number of establishments across a wider geographic space. As a result, these large national firms have grown by increasing the number of local markets they serve, and in which they are relatively smaller players.[35]

What appears to be happening is that national-level growth in concentration is driven by increased competition in certain industries at the local level. “The increasing presence of top ?rms has decreased local concentration in local markets as the new establishments of top ?rms gain market share from local incumbents.”[36] The net effect is a decrease in the power of top firms relative to the economy as a whole, as the largest firms specialize more and are dominant in fewer industries.

These results turn the commonly accepted narrative on its head:

  1. First, rising concentration, where it is observed, is a result of increased productivity and competition that weed out less efficient producers. This is emphatically a good thing.
  2. Second, the rise in concentration is predominantly a function of more efficient firms competing in more—and more localized—markets. This means that competition is increasing, not decreasing, whether it is accompanied by an increase in concentration or not.
  3. Third, in labor markets, the effect of these dynamics is a reduction in monopsony power: “[T]he industrial revolution in services has implications on the employment of workers of different skills across locations. If labor markets are industry speci?c and local, the decline in local concentration of employment caused by the entry of top firms should reduce the monopsony power of employers in small markets.”[37]

Another paper takes a similar approach to analyze the effect of increased firm size on labor-market share.[38] In a complete refutation of the popular narrative, it finds that, while the labor-market power of firms appears to have increased, “labor market power has not contributed to the declining labor share because, despite an overall increase in national concentration, we ?nd that… local labor market concentration has declined over the last 35 years. Most local labor markets are more competitive than they were in the 1970s.”[39]

Further studies have corroborated these findings, noting that, on an industry-by-industry basis, the explanatory power of increasing concentration (or increasing firm size) is extremely weak. For example, while Autor, et al. (2020) attribute the purported decline in the labor share of the U.S. economy to the rise of “superstar” firms,[40] Stanford economist Robert Hall shows that the data is far more nuanced. Thus, comparing the employment shares of ?rms with 10,000 or more workers in the 19 NAICS sectors between 1998 and 2015, Hall finds that:

  1. “In four of the 19 sectors, very high-employment ?rms declined in importance over the 17-year span of the data. The weighted-average increase across all sectors was only 1.8 percentage points, from 25.3 percent to 27.1 percent. Thus it seems unlikely that rising concentration played much of a role in the general increase in market power.…”; and
  2. “[T]here is essentially no systematic relation between the mega-firm employment ratio… and the ratio of price to marginal cost.… Over the wide range of variation in the employment ratio, sectors with low market power and with high market power are found, with essentially the same average values. There is no cross-sectional support for the hypothesis of higher markup ratios in sectors with more very large ?rms and thus more concentration in the product markets contained in those sectors.”[41]

3.        It is not clear that industry concentration harms consumers

Economists have been studying the relationship between concentration and various potential indicia of anticompetitive effects—price, markup, profits, rate of return, etc.—for decades. There are, in fact, hundreds of empirical studies addressing this topic. Contrary to some common claims, however, when taken as a whole, this literature is singularly unhelpful in resolving our fundamental ignorance about the functional relationship between structure and performance: “Inter-industry research has taught us much about how markets look… even if it has not shown us exactly how markets work.”[42]

Though some studies have plausibly shown that an increase in concentration in a particular case led to higher prices (although this is true in only a minority share of the relevant literature), assuming the same result from an increase in concentration in other industries or other contexts is simply not justified: “The most plausible competitive or efficiency theory of any particular industry’s structure and business practices is as likely to be idiosyncratic to that industry as the most plausible strategic theory with market power.”[43]

As Chad Syverson recently summarized:

Perhaps the deepest conceptual problem with concentration as a measure of market power is that it is an outcome, not an immutable core determinant of how competitive an industry or market is… ??As a result, concentration is worse than just a noisy barometer of market power. Instead, we cannot even generally know which way the barometer is oriented.[44]

This does not mean that concentration measures have no use in merger enforcement. Instead, it demonstrates that market concentration is often unrelated to antitrust enforcement because it is driven by factors that are endogenous to each industry. Enforcers should be careful to not rely too heavily on structural presumptions based around concentration measures, as these may be poor indicators of the instances in which antitrust enforcement is most beneficial to consumers. The Draft Guidelines move in the opposite direction.

4.        Labor market concentration is falling; Should we decrease antitrust attention?

One way to see potential problems with structural presumptions is to consider labor markets. The best data aggregating labor-market concentration finds either low and/or falling concentration over recent decades at the local level. Studies that use administrative data from the Longitudinal Business Database find that local labor-market concentration has been declining, while national concentration has been increasing, across various definitions of “local.”[45]

Source: Rinz (2022)[46]

This fall in concentration has happened even as firms’ labor-market power appears to be rising—which, again, illustrates the disconnect between concentration and market power. According to one recent study in the American Economic Review, while the average labor-market power of firms appears to have increased nationally, “despite the backdrop of stable national concentration, we… find that [local concentration] has declined over the last 35 years.”[47]

Another study uses microdata from the Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics, mapped to the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, which records quarterly employment levels for each establishment in the United States that reports to state-level unemployment insurance departments.[48] They define markets using 6-digit SOC by metropolitan area. They find an average HHI that is relatively stable and low: the employment-weighted level of the employment HHI measure in the private sector is 0.0331.

In short, just as we should not use the low (or falling) average concentration as a reason to decrease HHI thresholds, we should not use high (or rising) average concentration to increase thresholds.

5.        Market structure and innovation.

The problem with the focus on market concentration can be seen clearly when looking at innovation. The draft guidelines rightly put increased innovation as a pro-competitive effect on par with increased output or investment, higher wages or improved working conditions, higher quality, and lower prices.[49]

However, this emphasis on innovation is in tension with the guidelines’ excessive focus on market concentration. How does a market’s structure affect innovation? This crucial question has occupied the world’s brightest economists for almost a century, from Schumpeter (who found that monopoly was optimal)[50] through Arrow (who concluded that competitive market structures were key),[51] to the endogenous-growth scholars (who empirically derived an inverted-U relationship between market concentration and innovation).[52] Despite these pioneering contributions to our understanding of competition and innovation, there is a growing consensus that no specific market structure is strictly superior at generating innovation. Just as the SCP paradigm ultimately faltered—because structural presumptions were a weak predictor of market outcomes[53]—so too have dreams of divining the optimal market structure for innovation.[54] Instead, in any given case, innovation depends on a plethora of sector- and firm-specific characteristics that range from the size and riskiness of innovation-related investments to regulatory compliance costs, the appropriability mechanisms used by firms, and the rate of technological change, among many others.

Despite this complex economic evidence, several antitrust agencies, including the FTC and the European Commission, believe they have cracked the innovation-market-structure conundrum. Throughout several recent decisions and complaints, these and other authorities have concluded that more firms in any given market will produce greater choice and more innovation for consumers. This could be referred to as the “Structuralist Innovation Presumption.”[55] This presumption notably plays an important role in the FTC’s recent case against Facebook, where the agency argues that:

Competition benefits users in some or all of the following ways: additional innovation (such as the development and introduction of new features, functionalities, and business models to attract and retain users); quality improvements (such as improved features, functionalities, integrity measures, and user experiences to attract and retain users); and consumer choice…[56]

Unfortunately, the Structuralist Innovation Presumption is a misguided heuristic that antitrust authorities around the globe would do well to avoid, as it is at odds with the mainstream economics of innovation.[57]

There is a vast empirical literature examining the relationship between market structure and innovation. While a comprehensive survey of the literature is beyond the scope of our comments, the top-level findings clearly suggest that  the relationship between market structure and innovation is not monotonic, and that it depends on several other parameters. For instance, surveying the econometric literature concerning the effect of industry structure on innovation, Richard Gilbert concludes that it is indeterminate:

Table 6.1 summarizes the conclusions from these interindustry studies for the effects of competition and industry structure on innovation. Unfortunately, these studies do not reach a consensus, other than to note that innovation effects can differ dramatically for firms that are at different levels of technological sophistication. Although some studies find a positive relationship between measures of innovation and competition (alternatively, a negative relationship between innovation and industry concentration), others find that the relationship exhibits an inverted-U, with the largest effects at moderate levels of industry concentration or competition, and at least one study reports a negative relationship between competition (measured by Chinese import penetration) and innovation (measured by citation-weighted patents and R&D investment. One consistent finding is that an increase in competition has less of a beneficial effect, and may have a negative effect, on innovation incentives for firms that are far behind the industry technological frontier.[58]

Along similar lines, high-profile studies reach opposite conclusions. For instance, looking at the semiconductor industry, Ronald Goettler and Brett Gordon find that concentrated market structures lead to higher innovation:

The rate of innovation in product quality would be 4.2 percent higher without AMD present, though higher prices would reduce consumer surplus by $12 billion per year. Comparative statics illustrate the role of product durability and provide implications of the model for other industries.[59]

Mitsuru Igami reaches the opposite conclusion while studying the hard-disk-drive industry:

The results suggest that despite strong preemptive motives and a substantial cost advantage over entrants, cannibalization makes incumbents reluctant to innovate, which can explain at least 57 percent of the incumbent-entrant innovation gap.[60]

Looking at the hospital industry, Elena Patel & Nathan Seegert find a negative relationship between competition and investment:

In particular, hospitals in concentrated markets increased investment by 5.1 percent ($2.5 million) more than firms in competitive markets in response to tax incentives. Further, firms’ investment responses monotonically increased with market concentration.[61]

Finally, some of the most universally recognized articles in this field stem from the empirical research of Aghion and coauthors.[62] Their work famously found that the relationship between product-market competition and innovation had an inverted-U shape. Stated differently, increased product-market competition is associated with higher innovative output, up to a point of diminishing returns.[63] According to some, this strand of research warrants a policy of greater antitrust enforcement, relying upon patents to generate ex post profits for innovators.[64]

This conclusion appears somewhat misguided, as Aghion et al.’s seminal paper paints a far more nuanced picture. The authors’ main finding is that product-market concentration has an ambiguous effect on innovation—on average.[65] This last qualification is often omitted in policy discussions. As a result, what is true for the economy as a whole does not necessarily hold on a case-by-case basis. Some comparatively concentrated industries may score highly in terms of innovation, while some moderately concentrated ones do not.[66] In other words, there are several endogenous factors that affect how increased product-market competition will influence innovation in a given case. For example, the authors show that greater product-market competition is more likely to have a positive effect on innovation in industries where firms are technologically “neck and neck” before an innovation takes places (as opposed to those industries where “laggard” firms can innovate to overtake incumbents).[67] In the first case, more competition mostly decreases pre-innovation rents, while in the second case it has a larger effect on post-innovation rents (this is because increased competition would have little to no effect on laggard firms’ pre-innovation rents, which are likely to be small). [68]

The upshot is that empirical economics do not paint a clear or consistent picture of the relationship between market structure and innovation. Antitrust authorities and courts should thus avoid the presumption that more concentrated-market structures hinder innovation to the detriment of consumers.

6.        Market structure and investment: lessons from telecom

As the previous section explained, mergers may lead to diverging price and innovation effect—as increased concentration might sometimes (though certainly not always) increase both market power and innovation output. This is not the only area where price and “non-price” effects may cut in opposite directions. Price competition and investments can also be inversely correlated.

Mergers among mobile-wireless providers provide a rich source of information to evaluate these effects. In a recent paper, ICLE scholars reviewed the sizable empirical literature on this topic, with much of the research focused on so-called “4-to-3” mergers that reduce the number of large, national carriers from four firms to three (though some have also persuasively argued that such a characterization may not be accurate).[69]

Of the 18 studies ICLE reviewed, eight analyzed changes in market concentration across multiple jurisdictions between 2000 and 2015, while 10 analyzed specific mergers. ICLE’s paper also reviewed a more recent study that considered the effects of U.S. market concentration in spectrum ownership on measures of quality.

Of the 10 studies that looked at specific mergers, about half found that short-term prices decreased following a merger, whereas half found that short-term prices increased. Even different studies of the same merger found wildly different effects on short-term prices, ranging from significant price decreases to significant price increases. Thus, looking at these price effects alone, the studies are, collectively, inconclusive.

The ICLE paper identified several reasons for these apparently divergent results, including:

  1. a lack of common measures of prices and price effects across studies;
  2. differences in the time period chosen; and
  3. difficulties accounting for variations in geography, demography, and regulatory regimes among jurisdictions (the latter also creates a potential for endogeneity bias).

Of those studies that considered the effect on long-term investment of such mergers, all found that capital expenditures—a proxy for investment and, presumably, long-term dynamic welfare—increased post-merger.

Indeed, several recent studies that looked more broadly at the effects of market concentration in the mobile-telecommunications industry suggest that increased concentration is correlated with increased investment and may therefore be correlated with greater dynamic benefits. These studies indicate that the highest levels of long-term country-wide investment occurred in markets with three facilities-based operators (though total investment was not significantly lower in markets with four facilities-based operators). In addition, a recent analysis found that U.S. markets with higher concentration of spectrum ownership had faster, more reliable cellular service (reflecting an increase in dynamic welfare effects).

Studies of investment also found that markets with three facilities-based operators had significantly higher levels of investment by individual firms. The implication is that, in such markets, individual firms have stronger incentives to make capital investments that enable long-term competition through expanded infrastructure and technological innovation, which affect the range, quality, and quantity of services provided to consumers. Studies also suggest this effect may be strengthened when the merger results in a more symmetrical market structure (i.e., the various facilities-based providers become more equal in market share). It is argued that increases in the number of competitors in asymmetric markets leads to disproportionately lower levels of investment by smaller firms. Thus, a merger between two smaller firms that results in greater market symmetry could result in higher levels of investment by the merged firms relative to the unmerged entities.

The results of ICLE’s review indicate that a merger that involves products or firms that compete along a variety of dimensions, in addition to price, must evaluate the effects of the merger across these dimensions, as well. In addition, relying on past empirical research to evaluate a current merger may overlook economic, technological, or regulatory changes that diminish the reliability of past experience to inform current events. This review of mobile-wireless-provider mergers reveals a number of factors that should be considered when seeking to understand the likely welfare effects of a given merger. These include:

  1. Whether the effects to be evaluated are limited to static price effects or also include qualitative measures, such as capital expenditures and other investment in quality of service, suggesting dynamic innovation effects;
  2. The timeframe over which the effects are evaluated;
  3. The effects on different tiers of service, especially those measured by hypothetical consumption profiles (known as “baskets” in mobile-wireless-provider mergers);
  4. The extent to which the effects of previous mergers may confound projected effects of the merger at hand; and
  5. Whether a transaction occurs during, or even as part of, a transition between different generations of technology (e.g., during an upgrade from 3G to 4G networks).

Further, it is well-known that process and product innovation does not arise solely from new entry; incumbent firms frequently are important sources of innovation, as well as of increased market competitiveness.[70] Dynamic analysis takes entry seriously, but it is much more sensitive to potential entry as a constraint on incumbents than a structuralist view would permit. Thus, for example, an incumbent mobile-wireless provider that offers wide coverage of 4G service must consider the potential capabilities of an existing competitor that currently has only sparse 4G coverage; it must incorporate potential threats from that competitor in its decision matrix when evaluating whether to upgrade its network to 5G in order to retain its customer base. An incumbent’s dominant position can quickly erode thanks to imperfect in-market substitutes, as well as from out-of-market firms that may decide to enter in the future.[71]

When evaluating the merits of a merger, authorities are charged with identifying the effects on the welfare of consumers. Crucially, this analysis must consider not only short-term price effects, but also long-term and dynamic effects, particularly in markets (like mobile telecommunications) in which competition occurs over both price and innovation. Based on the studies that we reviewed, 4-to-3 mergers appear to generate net long-term benefits to consumer welfare in the form of increased investment (presumably—although not conclusively, based on these studies—resulting in increased innovation), while the short-term effects on price are resolutely inconclusive.

II.      Guideline 2: Mergers Should Not Eliminate Substantial Competition Between Firms

While it is reasonable to consolidate the horizontal and vertical merger guidelines into one document, the draft essentially writes away the distinction between them. Footnote 30 suggests that Guideline 2 is about horizontal unilateral effects. If so, the application of the guideline to horizontal mergers specifically should be made explicit. Otherwise, readers are left with the impression that the Draft Guidelines intentionally avoid specificity, perhaps hoping to enhance the agencies’ prosecutorial discretion. That would be problematic, notwithstanding the possibility of line-blurring cases. In brief, a significant body of economic literature and judicial precedent recognizes the competitive importance of the distinction, and requires that the agencies treat horizontal and vertical mergers differently.

As Aviv Nevo and colleagues summarized, the distinction is especially important when thinking about efficiencies and other potential merger benefits:

Applying the same sort of skepticism about efficiencies in a vertical merger as in a horizontal merger can amount to assuming away a portion of the economics that is at the heart of the vertical investigation.

One clear example of this dual nature of vertical theories is the model of linear pricing, which generates a raising rivals’ cost incentive and also generates a potential procompetitive incentive in the form of elimination of double marginalization (“EDM”). Not every merger will present facts that fit this particular model. But, if that model is the basis of an investigation, its full range of implications should be considered.[72]

By rejecting—or implying a rejection of—a general distinction between horizontal and vertical mergers, the Draft Guidelines effectively enact a “horizontalization” of merger enforcement. The following subsection explains the importance of explicitly delineating horizontal and vertical mergers at certain points in the Draft Guidelines.

A.      Horizontal Mergers Are Different Than Vertical Mergers

Antitrust merger enforcement has long relied on a fundamental distinction between horizontal and vertical mergers (or horizontal and vertical theories of harm, to be more precise). Policymakers widely assume the former are more likely to cause problems for consumers than the latter. However, this distinction increasingly has been challenged by some antitrust scholars and enforcers. In recent years, antitrust authorities on both sides of the Atlantic—and several high-profile scholars—have put forward theories of harm that obscure the traditional distinctions among horizontal, vertical, and conglomerate mergers. This is epitomized by an alarmist 2020 article by Cristina Caffarra and co-authors that portrays nearly all tech mergers as horizontal, based on the supposition that, but for the acquisition, one of the merging firms likely would launch its own competing vertical product..[73] But the claim seems manifestly implausible, and the paper offers no evidence on its behalf. Of course, in a given case, under specific facts and circumstances, a large, diversified tech firm might consider or achieve entry into a vertical market. But a possibility under some facts and circumstances is a far cry from a general likelihood. The implication of this (and other) research is that mergers between firms that are either vertically related or active in unrelated markets routinely or typically have significant horizontal effects.[74] This can be the case, either when merging firms are potential competitors or when they compete in innovation markets (i.e., they have overlapping R&D pipelines, or may have them in the future).[75]

These concerns are compounded in the digital economy, where ostensibly non-competing firms may become competitors on one side of their platforms. For instance, it has been argued that Giphy, which offers a library of gif files, may ultimately compete with Facebook in ad markets.[76] Similarly, it has been claimed that Google’s acquisition of Fitbit—a producer of wearable health-monitoring devices—raises horizontal theories of harm, because Google would otherwise have developed its own wearable devices.[77] Such hypotheticals are sometimes deemed to be “reverse killer acquisitions,” on grounds that acquiring a rival enables the incumbent to not produce a good itself. Endorsing this approach to merger review wholeheartedly would have profound policy ramifications. Indeed, should authorities assume the counterfactual to a merger is that the acquirer will compete with the target directly, then every merger effectively becomes a horizontal one.

The influence of this research can be seen in the FTC’s loss in blocking Meta’s acquisition of Within Unlimited and the ongoing case against Meta, which centers on the company’s acquisitions of WhatsApp and Instagram.[78] For the Within case, the FTC wanted to turn a vertical merger (software and hardware) into a horizontal merger between potential competitors. The court was unwilling to accept the claim that, if the Within deal were blocked, Meta would likely develop its own VR fitness app to compete against Supernatural. Meta had no such product poised to enter the market, or even in late-stage development. The contingent probability of timely, competitively significant entry—inherent in a potential competition case—was simply too small or speculative to conclude that Meta was a potential competitor, and was further undermined by internal emails suggesting that they should partner with Peloton—an idea that got so little traction that they never even ran it past Peloton.

At the time of the WhatsApp and Instagram acquisitions, competition authorities around the world tended to analyze them (and the potential theories of harm they might give rise to) primarily as vertical. For instance, looking at Facebook’s purchase of WhatsApp, the European Commission concluded that “while consumer communications apps like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp offer certain elements which are typical of a social networking service, in particular sharing of messages and photos, there are important differences between WhatsApp and social network services.” This suggested the merging firms were likely active in separate markets.[79] The FTC’s clearance of that deal suggests that the agency largely adhered to the view that the merging entities were not close competitors.[80] Similarly, when the UK CMA reviewed Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram, it concluded that the two firms exercised only weak competitive constraints on each other:

To conclude, there are several relatively strong competitors to Instagram in the supply of camera and photo editing apps, and those competitors appear at present to be a stronger constraint on Instagram than Facebook’s new app.[81]

Reevaluating these deals almost a decade later, the FTC reached a diametrically opposite conclusion. In its Facebook complaint, the agency concluded that:

Failing to compete on business talent, Facebook developed a plan to maintain its dominant position by acquiring companies that could emerge as or aid competitive threats. By buying up these companies, Facebook eliminated the possibility that rivals might harness the power of the mobile internet to challenge Facebook’s dominance….

…As Instagram soared, Facebook’s leaders began to focus on the prospect of acquiring Instagram rather than competing with it….

…In sum, Facebook’s acquisition and control of WhatsApp represents the neutralization of a significant threat to Facebook Blue’s personal social networking monopoly, and the unlawful maintenance of that monopoly by means other than competition on the merits.[82]

While this change of heart could be characterized as the agency updating its position in light of new evidence concerning the nature of competition between the merging firms, there is also a clear sense that times have changed. Indeed, both antitrust agencies and scholars appear more willing to assume (i) that firms could become competitors absent a merger, and (ii) that mergers between them are likely to reflect efforts by the acquirer to anticompetitively maintain its market position. We address both these claims in the subsequent sections.

The most important difference between a horizontal merger and a vertical merger is the merging parties’ relationships with each other. A horizontal merger is between firms that compete in the same product and geographic market. A vertical merger is between firms with an upstream-downstream (e.g., seller-buyer) relationship. These distinctions are well-known and widely accepted. There has been no economic trend that would justify a redefinition of these distinctions.

Drawing on an example provided by Steve Salop, consider a hypothetical orange-juice market with firms that manufacture and engage in the wholesale distribution of orange juice, as well as firms that own the orchards that supply the oranges to be juiced.[83] A merger between manufacturer/wholesalers would be a horizontal merger; a manufacturer/wholesaler’s purchase of a firm owning orchards would be a vertical merger.

A horizontal merger removes a competing firm from the market and thereby eliminates substitute products or firms that produce the products.[84],[85] By definition, horizontal mergers reduce competition, but the attendant harm to consumers may be large, small, or infra-marginal, depending on the facts and circumstances of a given merger; and any consumer harms may be offset by benefits, such as economies of scale and other efficiencies.[86]

In contrast, in most cases, a vertical merger does not eliminate a competing firm from the market and does not involve substitutes.[87] In fact, vertical mergers typically involve complements, such as a product plus distribution or a critical input to a complex device.[88] In Salop’s orange-juice hypothetical, the manufacturer juices oranges, cans the juice, and operates a wholesaling operation to sell the canned juice to retailers. In this example, the wholesaling operations is a complement to the manufacturing process.

Although not necessarily “by definition,” in most cases, vertical mergers are undertaken to achieve efficiencies and reduce costs. For example, through the elimination of double marginalization and the resulting downward pressure on prices, vertical mergers present a stronger likelihood of improving competition than horizontal mergers.[89]

In a statement during the 2018 FTC hearings, FTC Commissioner Christine Wilson concluded that “we know that competitive harm is less likely to occur in a vertical merger than in a horizontal one,” and echoed some of Hoffman’s points:[90]

[I]n contrast to horizontal guidelines, the economics in vertical mergers indicate efficiencies are much more likely. Professor Shapiro went so far as to call them “inherently” likely at our hearing. Given this dynamic, it may be appropriate to presume that certain vertical efficiencies are verifiable and substantial in the absence of strong evidence to the contrary, even if we would not do so in a horizontal merger case.[91]

The economics of horizontal mergers comprises a long, well-established literature of theoretical models and empirical research. In contrast, there are fewer quantitative theoretical models that can be used to predict outcomes in vertical mergers. Moreover, those models that do exist have a far shorter track record than those used to assess horizontal mergers.[92]

Naturally, the real world is much more complicated. For example, Salop points out that some mergers involve firms that are already vertically integrated prior to the merger.[93] In these cases, the merger would involve both vertical and horizontal elements. Such mergers may lead to horizontal and vertical efficiencies that reinforce each other. They also may lead to horizontal and vertical harms that reinforce each other. Or they may lead to mix of horizontal and vertical efficiencies and harms that counteract each other. That may explain why empirical research on vertical mergers, discussed below, can yield sometimes wildly different results—even when using seemingly similar sets of data.

To be sure, there are no economic trends that would lead one to revisit the distinction between horizontal and vertical mergers. Nevertheless, there have been advances in economic theory that have led some to conclude that vertical mergers may not be as beneficial as once thought or that they may lead to anticompetitive consumer harm.

Some critics of the current state of vertical-merger enforcement assert a vertical merger can effectively become a horizontal merger—or have horizontal effects. If that is the case, then it is argued that vertical mergers should be evaluated in the same way as horizontal mergers. According to Salop, “[f]or the type of markets that are normally analyzed in antitrust, the competitive harms from vertical mergers are just as intrinsic as are harms from horizontal mergers.”[94] Thus, a vertically integrated firm faces an “intrinsic incentive[95] to foreclose downstream competition “by raising the input price it charges to the rivals of its downstream merger partner” in the same way that horizontal firms face “inherent upward pricing pressure from horizontal mergers in differentiated products markets, even without coordination.”[96]

In an implicit acknowledgement of the distinction between horizontal and vertical mergers, Salop describes the competition between an upstream firm and a downstream partner as indirect: “the upstream merging firm that supplies a downstream firm is inherently an ‘indirect competitor’ of the future downstream merging firm. That indirect competition is eliminated by merger. This unilateral effect is exactly parallel to the unilateral effect from a horizontal merger.”[97]

But the two are not “exactly parallel,” of course, because indirect competition is different from direct competition—Salop himself make the distinction. Even in Salop’s telling, the mechanism by which his vertical-leads-to-horizontal theory operates requires that (1) the upstream firm has market power and (2) post-merger, the merged firm forecloses supply or raises costs to the downstream firm’s horizontal rivals. While this is possible, it is not a necessary consequence of the transaction; and the risk of competitive harm, at the very least, must be a function of both the likelihood and degree of foreclosure. The presence of downstream horizontal competitors operates as an immediate and present constraint on the vertically integrated merged firm.

It may be helpful to explain using Salop’s orange-juice hypothetical:

Company A is a manufacturer and wholesale supplier of orange juice to retailers. It seeks to acquire Company B, an owner of orange orchards.… The merged firm may find it profitable to raise the price or cease supplying oranges to one or more rival orange juice suppliers.… This input foreclosure may lessen competition in the wholesale orange juice market, for example, by raising the price or reducing the quality of some or all types of orange juice.[98]

This is an excellent example because it highlights how complex even a straightforward hypothetical of raising rivals’ costs can get. Under the standard formulation, the vertically integrated firm would produce oranges at the orchard’s marginal cost—in theory, the price it pays for oranges would be the same both pre- and post-merger. Under this theory, if the vertically integrated orchard does not sell its oranges to the non-integrated manufacturer/wholesalers, then the other non-vertically integrated orchards will be able to charge a price greater than their marginal cost of production and greater than the pre-merger market price for oranges. The higher price of oranges used by non-integrated manufacturer/wholesalers will then be reflected in higher prices for orange juice sold by the manufacturer/wholesalers.

The merged firm’s juice prices will be higher post-merger because its unintegrated rivals’ juice prices will be higher, thus increasing the merged firm’s profits. The merged firm and unintegrated orchards would be the “winners;” unintegrated manufacturer/wholesalers and consumers would be the “losers.” Under a consumer welfare standard, the result could be deemed anticompetitive. Under a total welfare standard, anything goes.

But this classic example of raising rivals’ costs is based on some strong assumptions. It assumes that, pre-merger, all upstream firms price at marginal cost, which means there is no double marginalization. It assumes all the upstream firm’s products are perfectly identical. It assumes unintegrated firms do not respond by integrating themselves. If one or more of these assumptions is not correct, more complex models—with additional (potentially unprovable) assumptions—must be employed. What begins as a seemingly straightforward theoretical example is now a model-selection problem: which economic models best fit the facts and best predict the likely outcome.

In Salop’s example, it is assumed the merged firm would raise the price or refuse to sell oranges to rival downstream wholesalers. However, if rival orchards charge a sufficiently high price, the merged firm would profit from undercutting its rivals’ orange prices, while still charging a price greater than its own marginal cost. Thus, it is not obvious that the merged firm has an incentive to cut off supply to downstream competitors or charge a higher price. The extent of the pricing pressure on the merged firm to cheat on itself is an empirical matter that depends on how upstream and downstream firms will or might react. Depending on how other manufacturer/wholesalers and orchard firms react, the merged firm’s attempt at foreclosure may have no effect and there would be no harm to competition.

The hypothetical also assumes that commercial juicing is the only use for oranges and that juice oranges are the only thing that can be produced by citrus groves. It is possible that, rather than raising prices or foreclosing competitors, the merged firm would divert some or all of its juice oranges to a “secondary” market, such as the retail market for those who juice at home. They also could convert groves used to grow juice oranges to the production of strains of oranges and other citrus fruits that are sold as fresh produce. Indeed, fresh citrus fruits currently account for 10% of Florida’s crop and 75% of California’s.[99] This diversion would lead to a decline in the supply of juice oranges and the price of this key input would rise.

This strategy would raise the merged firm’s costs along with its rivals. Moreover, rival orchards can respond to this strategy by diverting their own groves from the production of fresh produce citrus to the juice market, in which case there may be no significant effect on the price of juice oranges. What begins as a seemingly straightforward theoretical example is now a complicated empirical matter and raises the antitrust question of whether selling into a “secondary” market constitutes anticompetitive conduct.

Moreover, the merged firm may have legitimate business reasons for the merger and legitimate business reasons for reducing the supply of oranges to juice wholesalers. For example, “citrus greening,” an incurable bacterial disease, has caused severe damage to Florida’s citrus industry, significantly reducing crop yields.[100] A vertical merger could be one way to reduce supply risks. On the demand side, an increase in the demand for fresh oranges would guide firms to shift from juice and processed markets to the fresh market. What some would see as anticompetitive conduct, others would see as a natural and expected response to price signals.

Furthermore, it is not actually the case that the incentive to foreclose downstream rivals is “intrinsic,” nor is it the case that the effect is necessarily deleterious. In fact, as we discuss below, even when foreclosure can be shown, empirical evidence indicates that the consumer benefits from efficiencies tend to be greater than the harms from foreclosure.

A key difference between horizontal and vertical mergers is that any efficiency gains from a horizontal merger are not automatic and must be established. On the other hand, the realization of certain vertical-merger efficiencies, at least from the elimination of double marginalization, is automatic.[101] And, of course, additional merger benefits may be established for any given vertical merger.

The logic is simple: Potentially welfare-reducing vertical mergers are those that involve an upstream firm with market power. Thus, pre-merger, all downstream firms bear presumptively higher input costs. To realize their own profits, they must increase final-product prices to consumers by even more.[102] But after the merger, the merged downstream entity no longer pays the markup. As a result, it “enjoys lower input costs and thus increases its output, thereby increasing welfare.”[103] At the same time, of course, non-merged downstream firms bear a higher input price, and it is an empirical question whether the net consumer welfare effect will be positive or negative. But it is never a question that the two effects operate simultaneously, and that the reduction of double marginalization necessarily occurs. Indeed, it is most likely to arise and to lead to net consumer-welfare benefits precisely where there is the greatest potential for anticompetitive price increases to downstream rivals.[104]

All else being equal, the effect of removing a horizontal competitor by merger is automatic: less competition. That isn’t necessarily bad. It may be offset, and it may also enable innovation, more competition, or other results that benefit consumers. But in the first instance, former head-to-head competitors that merge are no longer competing. With vertical mergers, however, the effect is not to automatically reduce competition (indirect, potential, or otherwise). A vertically integrated firm might (or might not) choose to hurt unaffiliated downstream competitors by more than it benefits its integrated downstream firm—that might (or might not) be feasible and advantageous–but nothing is automatic. Assessing the competitive effect of such a merger necessarily means incorporating an added layer of uncertainty, complexity, and distance between cause and effect. In the absence of a few particular, tenuous, and stylized circumstances, “[i]n this model, vertical integration is unambiguously good for consumers.”[105]

In response, proponents of invigorated vertical-merger enforcement argue, in part, that:

[T]he claim that vertical mergers are inherently unlikely to raise horizontal concerns fails to recognize that all theories of harm from vertical mergers posit a horizontal interaction that is the ultimate source of harm. Vertical mergers create an inherent exclusionary incentive as well as the potential for coordinated effects similar to those that occur in horizontal mergers.[106]

But this fails to resolve anything. Moreover, the “analogy with horizontal mergers is misleading.”[107] It is uncontroversial (and far from “[un]recognized”) that “all theories of harm from vertical mergers posit a horizontal interaction that is the ultimate source of harm.”[108] All this says is that there could be harm of the sort that horizontal mergers might cause. But it does not acknowledge that the likelihood and extent of that harm are different in the vertical and horizontal contexts. Moreover, it does not note that the mechanism by which harm might arise is different and more complex in the vertical case. All in all, the probability of that outcome is lower in the case of a vertical merger, where it is dependent on an additional step that may or may not arrive and that may or may not cause harm.

III.    Guideline 4: Mergers Should Not Eliminate a Potential Entrant in a Concentrated Market

The wording of the guideline should be changed to reflect the fact that we are dealing with probabilities, as the body of the guideline makes clear. “Mergers should not eliminate a potential entrant with probable future entry in a concentrated market” would more closely match the body of the guideline.

The distinction between 4.A and 4.B should be eliminated. The only way for a potential entrant to exert competitive pressure is if the current competitors perceive the potential entrant to be a threat. Are the agencies claiming otherwise? Are there firms that no current competitors think about yet somehow still exert competitive pressure on the market? If the agencies mean as much, it should be explicit.

One difficulty with treating all potential competitors like actual competitors is that it assumes that all vertically related (or even non-related) firms could eventually threaten the acquiring incumbent. In other words, potential competition from a particular firm is probabilistic, with the likelihood varying according to the facts and circumstances of the individual case. This forces agencies to make complex assessments regarding the potential future evolution of competition. Beyond the scale that “for mergers involving one or more potential entrants, the higher the market concentration, the lower the probability of entry that gives rise to concern,” the guidelines do not offer guidance about how the relevant probabilities will be assessed.

A.      Potential Competition Is Inherently Probabilistic

The uncertainty involved in any merger involving a potential competitor has important ramifications for policymaking. Anticompetitive mergers are, by definition, possible (under the above theories) only when the acquired rival could effectively challenge the incumbent.[109] But these are, of course, only potential challengers; there is no guarantee that any one of them could or would mount a viable competitive threat.[110]

A first important consequence is that, while potential competitors are important constraints on existing markets, they do not generally offer the same degree of constraint as actual competitors.[111] As such, any analysis of a merger involving a potential competitor would have to assess and incorporate the probability of competition.[112] High-quality analysis of the effects of potential competition are few and far between but, according to at least one literature review, a potential competitor may have between one-eighth to one-third the effect on competition as an actual competitor. [113] Likelihoods may vary by industry, product category, and the specific facts and circumstances of the product market and firms at issue. The strength of this competitive constraint also depends on the firms’ perceptions: If both the incumbent and the rival heavily discount the probability of entry, then potential competition is unlikely to affect their behavior.[114]

This leads to a second important issue. Because the loss of a potential competitor will, in expectation, lead to less harm than that of an actual competitor, it is crucial that agencies tailor their responses accordingly. While the traditional remedies for anticompetitive horizontal mergers include divestments or outright prohibition, these remedies may no longer be appropriate in the face of potential competition theories of harm (although such remedies might sometimes remain necessary to fully remove potential anticompetitive harm). Decisionmakers should look at mergers from a cost/benefit standpoint, which, in turn, counsels weighing anticompetitive harms against procompetitive benefits. Because one would expect anticompetitive harms in potential-competition cases to be only a fraction of those in actual-competition cases, there is—all else being equal—a higher likelihood in the former that efficiencies will outweigh harms.

It is not clear how this can be addressed in terms of remedies: neither divestures nor prohibitions can realistically be made probabilistic or conditioned on future market outcomes, as firms could easily game this. At the very least, this probably means judges should set a high evidentiary bar for claims that a merger will reduce potential competition, and agencies should, at the margin, focus more heavily on traditional theories that involve more tangible risks of consumer harm.

This restrained approach to enforcement is—perhaps surprisingly, given the agency’s generally interventionist track record in digital markets—encapsulated by the European Commission’s stance in the Google /Fitbit merger, which many sought to frame as a potential competition case. Instead, the commission found that:

As regards Fitbit’s ability to compete in innovation with regard to smartwatches, the Commission notes that [Fitbit’s product strategy], there are also no competitive relationships that would lead to the Transaction reducing Google’s incentives to innovate in the future. Based on the Notifying Party’s submission, the Commission considers that there is no possible market assessed in this Decision where Fitbit is the only or main source of pressure on Google to innovate. For these reasons, the Commission considers that the Transaction would not unduly restrict competition in… innovation as regards the supply of smartwatches. This issue will, therefore, not be further discussed in this Decision.[115]

Review of mergers that involve potential competitors require agencies to make speculative assessments as to how competition will likely play out in a given market. Absent the ability to condition remedies on these future evolutions, error-cost considerations will often dictate that authorities clear mergers, despite a limited risk of future competitive harm.[116] Failing this, agencies and courts should, at the very least, set a high evidentiary bar for plaintiffs to bring forward such claims, or else numerous mergers will wrongly be prohibited as anticompetitive, to the detriment of consumers.

B.      Buying Up Every Potential Competitor Is Unlikely to Be a Successful Business Strategy

One cannot simply assume that mergers involving potential competitors are harmful. It is becoming a common theory of harm regarding non-horizontal acquisitions that they are, in fact, horizontal acquisitions in disguise. This is a form of the “horizontalization” discussed above. The acquired party may not be a direct competitor today but may become one in the future. Therefore, the theory goes, to reduce the competitive pressure they would otherwise face in the future, the incumbent will acquire a company that does not appear to be a competitor.

This argument to strengthen enforcement against mergers involving potential competitors is intuitive but it involves restrictive assumptions that weaken its applicability. The argument is laid out most completely by Steven Salop in his paper, Potential Competition and Antitrust Analysis: Monopoly Profits Exceed Duopoly Profits.[117] In it, he argues that:

Acquisitions of potential or nascent competitors by a dominant firm raise inherent anticompetitive concerns. By eliminating the procompetitive impact of the entry, an acquisition can allow the dominant firm to continue to exercise monopoly power and earn monopoly profits. The dominant firm also can neutralize the potential innovation competition that the entrant would provide.

Under the model that Salop puts forward, there should, in fact, be a presumption against any acquisition, since any firm is a potential competitor with a sufficiently small probability.[118] Given that a model like Salop’s animates lots of skepticism toward mergers with potential entrants, it is important to examine the model’s assumptions, including that, because monopoly profits exceed duopoly profits, incumbents have an incentive to eliminate potential competition for anticompetitive reasons.

The notion that monopoly profits exceed joint duopoly profits rests upon two restrictive assumptions that hinder the simple application of Salop’s model to antitrust in general and to the merger guidelines, in particular.

First, even in a simple model, it is not always true that monopolists have both the ability and incentive to eliminate any potential entrant simply because monopoly profits exceed duopoly profits. For the simplest complication, suppose there are two possible entrants, rather than the common assumption of just one entrant at a time. The monopolist must now pay each of the entrants enough to prevent entry. But how much? If the incumbent has already paid one potential entrant not to enter, the second could then enter the market as a duopolist, rather than as one of three oligopolists. Therefore, the incumbent must pay the second entrant an amount sufficient to compensate a duopolist, not their share of a three-firm oligopoly profit. The same is true for buying the first entrant. To remain a monopolist, the incumbent would have to pay each possible competitor duopoly profits.

Because monopoly profits exceed duopoly profits, it is profitable to pay a single entrant half of the duopoly profit to prevent entry. It is not, however, necessarily profitable for the incumbent to pay both potential entrants half of the duopoly profit to avoid entry by either.[119] With enough potential entrants, the monopolist in any market will not want to buy any of them out. In that case, the outcome involves no acquisitions.

If we observe an acquisition in a market with many potential entrants, which any given market may or may not have, there must be another reason for that deal besides monopoly maintenance. The presence of multiple potential entrants overturns the antitrust implications of the truism that monopoly profits exceed duopoly profits. The question turns instead to empirical analysis of the merger and market in question as to whether it would be profitable to acquire all potential entrants.

The second simplifying assumption that restricts applicability of Salop’s baseline model is that the incumbent has the lowest cost of production. He rules out the possibility of lower-cost entrants in Footnote 2: “Monopoly profits are not always higher. The entrant may have much lower costs or a better or highly differentiated product. But higher monopoly profits are more usually the case.” If one allows the possibility that an entrant may have lower costs (even if those lower costs won’t be achieved until the future, when the entrant gets to scale), it does not follow that monopoly profits (under the current higher-cost monopolist) necessarily exceed duopoly profits (with a lower-cost producer involved).

One cannot simply assume that all firms have the same costs or that the incumbent is always the lowest-cost producer. This is not just a modeling choice but has implications for how we think about mergers. As Manne, Bowman, & Auer argue:

Although it is convenient in theoretical modeling to assume that similarly situated firms have equivalent capacities to realize profits, in reality firms vary greatly in their capabilities, and their investment and other business decisions are dependent on the firm’s managers’ expectations about their idiosyncratic abilities to recognize profit opportunities and take advantage of them—in short, they rest on the firm managers’ ability to be entrepreneurial.[120]

Given the assumptions that all firms have identical costs and there is only one potential entrant, Salop’s framework would find that all possible mergers are anticompetitive and that there are no possible efficiency gains from any merger. Since the acquired firm cannot, by assumption, have lower costs of production, it cannot improve the incumbent’s costs of production. But, in fact, whether a merger is efficiency-reducing and bad for competition and consumers needs to be proven, not assumed.

If we take Salop’s acquisition model literally, every industry would have just one firm. Every incumbent would acquire every possible competitor, no matter how small—after all, monopoly profits are higher than duopoly profits, and so the incumbent both wants to and can preserve its monopoly profits. The model gives us no way to disentangle when mergers would stop. The merger, again by assumption, does not affect the production side of the economy but exists only to gain market power to manipulate the price. Since the model offers no downside to the incumbent of acquiring a competitor, it would acquire every last potential competitor, no matter how small, unless prevented by law.

Once we allow for the possibility that firms differ in productivity, however, it is no longer true that monopoly profits are greater than industry duopoly profits. We can see this most clearly in situations where there is “competition for the market” and the market is winner-take-all. If the entrant to such a market has lower costs, the profit under entry (when one firms wins the whole market) can be greater than the original monopoly profits. In such cases, monopoly maintenance alone cannot explain an entrant’s decision to sell. An acquisition could therefore be procompetitive and increase consumer welfare. For example, the acquisition could allow the lower-cost entrant to get to scale quicker. The acquisition of Instagram by Facebook, for example, brought the photo-editing technology that Instagram had developed to a much larger market of Facebook users and provided it with a powerful monetization mechanism that was otherwise unavailable to Instagram.

In short, the notion that incumbents can systematically and profitably maintain their market position by acquiring potential competitors rests on assumptions that, in practice, will regularly and consistently fail to materialize. It is thus improper to assume that most of these acquisitions reflect efforts by an incumbent to anticompetitively maintain its market position.

IV.    Guideline 5: Mergers Should Not Substantially Lessen Competition by Creating a Firm That Controls Products or Services That Its Rivals May Use to Compete

The word “may” in this context is much too open, appearing to include products that no firm would imagine using to compete—but may use—and products that have close substitutes that constrain competition. A better wording would be “likely use to compete” or, at least, “plausibly use to compete.” Alternatively, the guideline could use the language from the body of the guideline “have the ability and incentive,” since the incentive to restrict products and services that competitors use is what matters for predicting whether the merged party will restrict products and services.

The guideline should not use the phrase “make it harder for rivals to compete,” since that will include many pro-competitive mergers. If the merged firm is more productive and can outbid competitors for inputs, that merger makes it harder for rivals to compete. Would the agencies challenge such a merger? A better phrase would be that the “merged firm would have the ability and incentive to restrict access and thereby harm competition” or “merged firm would have the ability and incentive to weaken or exclude rivals and thereby harm competition.”

A.      Vertical Mergers Often Create Efficiencies That Make It Harder for Rivals to Compete

The language of “make it harder for rivals to compete” is especially problematic in vertical mergers, which guideline 5 is about, without saying as much. The reason is that vertical mergers often have pro-competitive effects that make it harder for rivals to compete. Most of the time, vertical mergers are benign or beneficial, often leading to cost reductions, synergies, new or improved products, and lower prices for consumers.[121] Again, as Aviv Nevo and colleagues summarized:

Applying the same sort of skepticism about efficiencies in a vertical merger as in a horizontal merger can amount to assuming away a portion of the economics that is at the heart of the vertical investigation.[122]

Critics of the “Chicago school orthodoxy” on vertical mergers pay special attention to “oligopoly” markets,[123] contending that “[a] stronger overarching procompetitive presumption for vertical mergers does not make sense in oligopoly markets where vertical merger enforcement would be focused.”[124] But the critics are simply wrong that the empirical evidence supports greater condemnation of vertical mergers, even in oligopoly markets. At best, the evidence from oligopoly markets is mixed. Rather than a rush to condemnation, there is a need for further research before adopting any new policies based on such ambivalent (at best) evidence.

Emerging criticisms of the so-called “orthodoxy” must either ignore or dismiss the hundreds of econometric studies famously reviewed by Lafontaine and Slade.[125] Indeed, this longstanding work is criticized by some as irrelevant or insufficient.[126] But the reality is that these studies constitute the overwhelming majority of the evidence we have; many, if not most, of the studies are well-done, even by modern standards.[127] The upshot of these studies, as Lafontaine & Slade put it, is that:

[C]onsistent with the large set of efficiency motives for vertical mergers that we have described so far, the evidence on the consequences of vertical mergers suggests that consumers mostly benefit from mergers that firms undertake voluntarily.[128]

Francine Lafontaine, while acknowledging the limitations of some of the evidence used for these studies, recently reiterated the relevance of the studies to vertical mergers, and restated the overall conclusions of the literature:

We were clear that some of the early empirical evidence is less than ideal, in terms of data and methods.

But we summarized by saying that the empirical literature reveals consistent evidence of efficiencies associated with the use of vertical restraints (when chosen by market participants) and, similarly, with vertical integration decisions.[129]

Margaret Slade reiterated this same conclusion in June 2019 at the OECD, where she noted that, even in light of further studies, “[t]he empirical evidence leads one to conclude that most vertical mergers are efficient.”[130] Moreover, as Slade noted, forecasting likely effects from vertical mergers using more modern tools—such as assessment of vertical upward pricing pressure—is a fraught and unreliable endeavor.[131]

Nonetheless, critics forward the claim that many newer studies demonstrate harm from vertical mergers. The implication is that the balance of evidence taken from these studies tips the scales against a presumption of benefits from vertical mergers:

Surveys of earlier economic studies, relied upon by commenters who propose a procompetitive presumption, reference studies of vertical mergers in which the researchers sometimes identified competitive harm and sometimes did not. However, recent empirical work using the most advanced empirical toolkit often finds evidence of anticompetitive effects.[132]

The implication is that the balance of evidence taken from these studies tips the scales against a presumption of benefits from vertical mergers. Yet the newer literature is no different than the old in finding widely procompetitive results overall, intermixed with relatively few seemingly harmful results. As scholars at the Global Antitrust Institute at George Mason Law School have noted in a thorough canvassing of the more-recent literature:

In sum, these papers from 2009-2018 continue to support the conclusions from Lafontaine & Slade (2007) and Cooper et al. (2005) that consumers mostly benefit from vertical integration. While vertical integration can certainly foreclose rivals in theory, there is only limited empirical evidence supporting that finding in real markets.[133]

Below, we briefly review the actual results of several of these recent studies—including, in particular, studies that were referenced at the recent 2018 FTC hearings to support claims that the “econometric evidence does not support a stronger procompetitive presumption.”[134]

Fernando Luco and Guillermo Marshall examined Coca-Cola and PepsiCo’s acquisitions of some of their downstream bottlers.[135] At the time, Dr Pepper Snapple Group remained independent in selling inputs to bottlers. Bottlers, even those that are vertically integrated with one of their upstream suppliers, purchased inputs from competing upstream suppliers. Based on their statistical analysis, the authors conclude that vertical integration in the carbonated-beverage industry was associated with price increases for Dr Pepper Snapple Group products and price decreases for both Coca-Cola and PepsiCo products bottled by vertically integrated bottlers. However, the market share of the products associated with higher prices was no more than 2%. Thus, the authors conclude: “vertical integration did not have a significant effect on quantity-weighted prices when considering the full set of products.”[136] Overall, the effect on consumers was either an efficiency gain or no change. As Francine Lafontaine notes, “in total, consumers were better off given who was consuming how much of what.”[137]

Justine Hastings and Richard Gilbert conclude that vertical integration is associated with statistically significant higher wholesale gasoline prices.[138] Using data from 1996-1998, their study examined the wholesale prices charged by a vertically integrated refiner/retailer and found the firm charged higher wholesale prices in cities where its retail outlets competed more with independent gas stations. Hastings and Gilbert conclude that their observations are consistent with a theory of raising rivals’ costs.[139]

In subsequent research, Christopher Taylor, Nicolas Kreisle, and Paul Zimmerman examine retail gasoline prices following the 1997 acquisition of an independent gasoline retailer by a vertically integrated refiner/retailer.[140] They estimate the merger was associated with a price increase of 0.4 to 1.0 cents per-gallon—about 1% or less—and was economically insignificant.[141] These results were at odds with Hastings’ earlier review of the same merger, which concluded that the replacement of independent retailers with branded vertically integrated retailers would result in higher prices.[142]

To explain the conflicting results between Hastings and Taylor et al., Hastings[143] highlights the challenges of evaluating vertical mergers with incomplete data or using different sets of data—even seemingly similar data can yield wildly different results. Because of the wide range of reported results and their sensitivity to the data used, caution should be exercised before inferring any general conclusions from this line of research.

Other commonly cited studies for the proposition that the more recent evidence on vertical mergers shows a greater likelihood of harm fare no better.

Gregory Crawford, Robin Lee, Michael Whinston, & Ali Yurukoglu examine vertical mergers between cable-programming distributors (MVPDs) and regional sports networks (RSNs).[144] Margaret Slade characterizes the findings of the paper as “mixed,” in that integration can be associated with both beneficial and harmful effects.[145] In a purely semantic sense, that is an accurate characterization. But the overall results in Crawford et al. overwhelmingly find procompetitive consumer-welfare effects:

In counterfactual simulations that enforce program access rules, we find that vertical integration leads to signi?cant gains in both consumer and aggregate welfare… Averaging results across channels, we find that integration of a single RSN with effective program access rules in place would reduce average cable prices by 1.2% ($0.67) per subscriber per month in markets served by the RSN, and increase overall carriage of the RSN by 9.4%. Combined, these effects would yield, on average, a $0.43 increase in total welfare per household from all television services, representing approximately 17% of the average consumer willingness to pay for a single RSN. We also predict that consumer welfare would increase….

On net, we find that the overall effect of vertical integration in the absence of effective program access rules—allowing for both efficiency and foreclosure incentives—is to increase consumer and total welfare on average, resulting in (statistically significant) gains of approximately $0.38–0.39 per household per month, representing 15–16% of the average consumer willingness to pay for an RSN….[146]

The implications of this well-designed and carefully executed study are clear. Indeed, Harvard economist Robin Lee, one of the study’s authors, concluded that the findings demonstrate that the consumer benefits of efficiency gains outweighed any harms from foreclosure.[147]

Ayako Suzuki reviewed the vertical merger between Time Warner and Turner Broadcasting in programming and distribution in the cable-television market.[148] The paper examined the merger’s effects on foreclosure, per-channel prices, basic-bundle product mix, and basic-bundle penetration.

The author found foreclosure following the merger in Time Warner markets for those rival channels that were not integrated with any cable distributors. After the merger, two independent channels, the Disney Channel and the Fox News Channel, were foreclosed from Time Warner markets. The paper notes that prior to the merger, two Turner channels (TBS and TCM) were foreclosed by Time Warner, but the foreclosure was ended after the merger: “Turner suffered from the low market shares of TBS and TCM in Time Warner markets, therefore it integrated itself with Time Warner in order to recover their market shares.”[149]

Suzuki concludes that per-channel prices decreased more in Time Warner markets than they would have in the absence of the merger.[150] The paper suggests transaction-cost efficiencies lowered the implicit cost to the channels’ distributor, causing input prices to shift downward, and in turn resulted in reduced cable prices to consumers.[151]

V.      Guideline 6: Vertical Mergers Should Not Create Market Structures That Foreclose Competition

Guideline 6 appears to add additional structural presumptions that are not justified by the law or the economics. On the law, the guideline says “If the foreclosure share is above 50 percent, that factor alone is a sufficient basis to conclude that the effect of the merger may be to substantially lessen competition, subject to any rebuttal evidence…” However, the section of Brown Shoe immediately following the one cited states:

Between these extremes, in cases such as the one before us, in which the foreclosure is neither of monopoly nor de minimis proportions, the percentage of the market foreclosed by the vertical arrangement cannot itself be decisive.[152]

On the economics, guideline 6 shares all the issues of the structural presumptions discussed around guideline 1 and more. The “foreclosure share” is the amount the merged firm could foreclose. It does not require an incentive to foreclose. If guideline 6 remains, foreclosure share needs to include an incentive to foreclose. Otherwise, the agencies could challenge a merger of a firm with 51 percent of an upstream market and a firm with 0.001 percent of a downstream market since “the foreclosure share is above 50 percent, [and] that factor alone is a sufficient basis to conclude that the effect of the merger may be to substantially lessen competition.”

The courts have recently rejected such arguments, so it is surprising to see them in the Draft Guidelines. In the recent Microsoft-Activision merger, the Draft Guidelines would certainly flag it to be blocked since Microsoft could pull Call of Duty from the Sony PlayStation consoles. But the courts concluded that Microsoft would not have an incentive to pull Call of Duty, since Sony has the biggest market share.[153]

VI.    Guideline 8: Mergers Should Not Further a Trend Toward Concentration

The agencies are well-justified to think about the dynamics of the market, not just the static snapshot. Unfortunately, guideline 8 maintains all the flaws of guideline 1 and adds a few more.

It is important to reiterate: concentration need not be harmful to consumers. In fact, the trade and industrial-organization literature that explicitly studies changes (or trends) in competition finds that increased competition increases concentration. As Chad Syverson summarizes:

Many empirical studies in varied settings have found that greater substitutability/competition—resulting from, say, reductions in trade, transport, or search costs—shifts activity away from smaller, higher-cost producers and toward larger, lower-cost producers.. [We] demonstrate that search cost reductions reallocate market share toward lower-cost and larger sellers, increasing market concentration even as margins fall. It is not an exaggeration to say that there are scores, perhaps hundreds, of such studies.[154]

This literature does not imply that every increase in concentration is pro-competitive. Instead, it simply means that a previous trend toward concentration need not be anticompetitive in any way. If there is an industry that has become more concentrated through more competition, will the agencies block a merger that increases concentration but does not increase prices?

Guideline 8 is especially problematic when paired with the statement “efficiencies are not cognizable if they will accelerate a trend toward concentration.”[155] Such a statement effectively negates any efficiency defense available to all but the very smallest firms. Efficiencies will almost always increase concentration—especially if those efficiencies come from economies of scale. If a merger creates efficiencies, the merged firm can lower costs, cut prices, and attract more customers. Attracting more customers with better products and prices will likely increase competition. The economic evidence is quite strong that efficiency increases concentration.

VII.  Guideline 11: When a Merger Involves Competing Buyers, the Agencies Examine Whether It May Substantially Lessen Competition for Workers or Other Sellers

Guideline 11 should be commended for mentioning lower wages as an anticompetitive harm. The other guidelines would benefit from focusing more on effects on prices, quality, and innovation, instead of structural presumptions.

Guideline 11 should, however, be restricted to the first two paragraphs: the first stating that merger analysis applies to buyer markets and the second (if there was any confusion) that labor markets are buyer markets. The rest of the guideline is a digression on the nature of labor markets that cites neither law nor economics. For example, the guidelines say, “labor markets are often relatively narrow.”[156] What is the justification for this claim in the merger guidelines, of all documents?

If the agencies have demonstrated a loss of competition in the labor market, the guidelines make clear that the Clayton Act does not allow for the consideration of offsetting effects in output markets. In the standard monopsony models in economics, there is no offsetting effect, so the point is irrelevant. Harm to sellers of inputs (workers) hurts consumers as well. This was the case in the recent successful action to  block Penguin-Random House from merging with Simon & Schuster.[157] The parties agreed that, if there was harm to the authors, there would be fewer books, harming consumers.[158] There was no need to think about offset harms.

The hard part is when the agencies have yet to prove loss of competition in the labor market, but that putative loss is being adjudicated. Thorny issues arise that make competition among buyers different from competition among sellers, but the guidelines do not offer any guidance here. For example, will the agencies consider a reduction in wages to be evidence of harm in labor markets? A merger that increases efficiency but does not decrease competition could still end up reducing workers’ wages if the efficiency gains require fewer workers. Perhaps the merger does not require fewer workers overall, but it does reduce employment of a subset of workers. Will the agencies regard that as a labor-market harm? The guidelines may not be the right place for these clarifications, but providing guidance on such tough issues would be more beneficial than making blanket statements about the nature of labor markets.

A.        Monopsony Is More Than the Mirror Image of Monopoly

The application of antitrust to monopsony is significantly more complicated than it might seem. On the surface, it may appear that monopsony is simply the “mirror image” of monopoly.”[159] There are, however, several important differences between monopoly and monopsony, and several complications raised by monopsony analysis that significantly distinguish the analysis required for each. Most fundamental among these, monopsony and monopoly markets do not sit at the same place in the supply chain.[160] This matters because all supply chains end with final consumers. Accordingly, from a policy standpoint, it is essential to decide whether antitrust ultimately seeks to maximize output and welfare at that (final) level of the distribution chain (albeit indirectly); whether intermediate levels of the distribution chain (e.g., an input market) should be analyzed in isolation; or whether effects in both must be somehow aggregated.

This has important ramifications for antitrust enforcement against monopsonies. As we explain below, competitive conditions of input markets have salient impacts on prices and output in product markets. Given this, any evaluation of monopsony must consider the “pass-through” to the final product market, while there is no such “mirror image” complication in the consideration of final-product monopoly markets. Along similar lines, treating the assessment of mergers in input markets as the simple mirror image of product-market mergers presents important problems for the way authorities address merger efficiencies, as traditional efficiencies and increased buyer power are often two sides of the same coin. Finally, it is unclear how authorities should think about market definition—a cornerstone of modern antitrust policy—in labor markets, in particular.

The upshot is that, while monopsony concerns are becoming more prevalent in academic and policy discussions, the agencies should be extremely hesitant as they move forward. Some have argued that “[m]mergers affecting the labor market require some rethinking of merger policy, although not any altering of its fundamentals.”[161] As we discuss below, however, while the economic “fundamentals” undergirding merger policy may not change for labor-market mergers, the “rethinking” required to properly assess such mergers does entail fundamental changes that have not yet been adequately studied or addressed. As many have pointed out, there is only a scant history of merger enforcement in input markets in general, and even less in labor markets.[162] It is premature to offer guidelines purporting to synthesize past practice and the state of knowledge when neither is well established.

1.        Theoretical differences between monopoly and monopsony

Before getting to the practical differences of a monopoly case versus a monopsony case, consider the theoretical differences between identifying monopsony power versus monopoly power.[163] Suppose, for now, that a merger either generates efficiency gains or market power but not both. In a monopoly case, if there are efficiency gains from a merger, the quantity sold in the output market will increase. With sufficient data, the agencies will be able to see (or estimate) the efficiencies directly in the output market. Efficiency gains result in either greater output at lower unit cost or else product-quality improvements that increase consumer demand. In contrast, if the merger simply enhances monopoly power without efficiency gains, the quantity sold will decrease, either because the merging parties raise prices or quality declines. The empirical implication of the merger is seen directly in the market in question.

The monopsony case is more complicated, however. Ultimately, we can be certain of the effects of monopsony only by looking at the output market, not the input market where the monopsony power is claimed. To see this, consider again a merger that generates either efficiency gains or market (now monopsony) power. A merger that creates monopsony power will necessarily reduce the prices and quantity purchased of inputs like labor and materials. But this same effect (reduced prices and quantities for inputs) could be observed if the merger is efficiency-enhancing, as well. If there are efficiency gains, the merged parties may purchase fewer of one or more inputs. For example, if the efficiency gain arises from the elimination of redundancies in a hospital merger, the hospital will buy fewer inputs, hire fewer technicians, or purchase fewer medical supplies. This may even reduce the wages of technicians or the price of medical supplies, even if the newly merged hospitals are not exercising any market power to suppress wages.[164]

Decisionmakers cannot simply look at the quantity of inputs purchased in the monopsony case as the flip side of the quantity sold in the monopoly case, because the efficiency-enhancing merger can look like the monopsony merger in terms of the level of inputs purchased. The court can differentiate a merger that generates monopsony power from a merger that increases productive efficiencies only by looking to the output market. Once we look at the output market, as in a monopoly case, if the merger is efficiency-enhancing, there will be an increase in the output-market quantity. If the merger increases monopsony power, the firm perceives its marginal cost as higher than before the merger and will reduce output.[165]

In short, the assumption that monopsony analysis is simply the mirror image of monopoly analysis does not hold.[166] In both types of mergers—those that possibly generate monopoly or monopsony—the agencies and courts cannot look to the input market to differentiate them from efficiency-enhancing mergers; they must look at the output market. Therefore, it is impossible to discuss monopsony power coherently without considering the output market.

2.        Monopsony and merger efficiencies

In real world cases, mergers will not necessarily be either just efficiency-enhancing or just monopsony-generating, but a blend of the two. Any rigorous consideration of merger effects must account for both and make some tradeoff between them. The question of how guidelines should address monopsony power is inextricably tied to the consideration of merger efficiencies—particularly given the point above that identifying and evaluating monopsony power will often depend on its effects in downstream markets.

This reality raises some thorny problems for monopsony merger review that have not been well studied to date:

Admitting the existence of efficiencies gives rise to a subsequent set of difficult questions central to which is “what counts as an efficiency?.” A good example of why the economics of this is difficult is considering the case in which a horizontal merger leads to increased bargaining power with upstream suppliers. The merger may lead to the merging parties being able to extract necessary inputs at a lower price than they otherwise would be able to. If so, does this merger enhance competition in a possible upstream market? Perhaps not. However, to the extent that the ability to obtain inputs at a lower price leads to an increase in the total output of the industry, then downstream consumers may in fact bene?t. Whether the possible increase in the total surplus created by such a scenario should be regarded as off-setting any perceived loss in competition in a more narrowly de?ned upstream market is a question that warrants more attention than it has attracted to date.[167]

With “monopoly” mergers, plaintiffs must show that a transaction will reduce competition, leading to an output reduction and increased prices to consumers. This finding can be rebutted by demonstrating cost-saving or quality-improving efficiencies that would lead to lower prices or other forms of increased consumer welfare. In evaluating such mergers, agencies and courts must weigh the upward pricing pressure from reduced competition against the downward pricing pressure associated with increased efficiencies and the potential for improved quality.

As we have explained above, this analysis becomes more complicated when a merger raises monopsony concerns. In a simple model of monopsony, the merger would increase market power in the input market (e.g., labor), leading to a lower price paid for the input and a smaller quantity used of the input relative to pre-merger levels. Assuming no change in market power in the final product market, these cost savings would result in lower prices paid by consumers. Should such efficiency effects “count” in evaluating mergers alleged to lessen competition in input markets? It is surely too facile a response to assert that such efficiency effects would be “out of market” and thus irrelevant. Indeed, if antitrust enforcement truly seeks to promote consumer welfare, any evaluation of a “monopsony” merger must weigh these effects against the effects in the input market.

Some would argue these are the types of efficiencies that merger policy is meant to encourage. Others may counter that policy should encourage technological efficiencies while discouraging efficiencies stemming from the exercise of monopsony power.

But this raises another complication: How do agencies and courts distinguish “good” efficiencies from “bad?” Is reducing the number of executives pro- or anticompetitive? Is shutting down a factory or healthcare facility made redundant post-merger pro- or anticompetitive? Trying to answer these questions places agencies and courts in the position of second guessing not just the effects of business decisions, but the intent of those decisions (to a first approximation, the observed outcomes are identical). Even worse, it can create a Catch-22 where an efficiencies defense in the product market is turned into an efficiencies offense in the input market—e.g., a hyper-efficient merged entity may outcompete rivals in the product market, possibly leading to monopsony in the input market. In ambiguous cases this means the outcome may depend on whether it is challenged on the input or output side of the market, and it even implies that overcoming a challenge by successfully identifying efficiencies in one case creates the predicate for a challenge based on effects on the other side of the market.

A further complication arises when dynamic effects are considered, which may convert apparent harms even on only the seller side of an input market into benefits:

[T]he presence of larger buyers can make it more profitable for a supplier to reduce marginal cost (or, likewise, to increase quality). This result stands in stark contrast to an often expressed view whereby the exercise of buyer power would stifle suppliers’ investment incentives. In a model with bilateral negotiations, a supplier can extract more of the profits from an investment if it faces more powerful buyers, though the supplier’s total profits decline. Furthermore, the presence of more powerful buyers creates additional incentives to lower marginal cost as this reduces the value of buyers’ alternative supply options.[168]

None of this is to say the creation of monopsony power should categorically be excluded from the scope of antitrust enforcement, of course. But it is quite apparent that this sort of enforcement raises extremely complicated tradeoffs that are elided over or underappreciated in the current discourse and under-explored in the law. It would be deeply problematic to attempt to enshrine a particular view of these tradeoffs into guidelines given the current state of knowledge and practice in this area. Perhaps worse, it would almost surely undermine the efficacy and authority of guidelines in general, as courts are unlikely to find such guidelines to be the helpful distillation of economic and legal principles that they are today.

3.        Determining the relevant market for labor

In monopoly cases, agencies and courts face an enormous challenge in accurately identifying a relevant market. These challenges are multiplied in input markets—especially labor markets—in which monopsony is alleged. Many inputs are highly substitutable across a wide range of industries, firms, and geographies. For example, changes in technology, such as the development of PEX tubing and quick-connect fittings, allows for laborers and carpenters to perform work previously done exclusively by plumbers. Technological changes have also expanded the relevant market in skilled labor: Remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, demonstrates that many skilled workers are not bound by geography and compete in national—if not international—labor markets.

When Whole Foods attempted to acquire Wild Oats, the FTC defined the relevant market as “premium natural and organic supermarkets” as a way to exclude larger firms, such as Walmart and Kroger, from the relevant product market.[169] Yet even if one were to accept the FTC’s product market definition, it is unlikely that anyone would consider employment at a “premium natural and organic supermarket” as a distinct input market. This is because the skill set needed to work at Whole Foods overlaps with the skill set demanded by myriad retailers and other employers—and certainly overlaps with the skillset needed to work at Kroger.

Moreover, policies such as occupational licensing have the effect of arbitrarily defining the work that can be performed or the services provided by a wide range of workers. This raises the question whether firms should be scrutinized for exercising monopsony power when regulations may be limiting the scope of the relevant market and contributing to the monopsony conditions. A “whole-of-government” approach to competition,[170] in other words, would certainly work to reduce these artificial barriers to market scope before thwarting possibly efficiency enhancing mergers that appear monopsonistic only because of such government constraints.

Contrary to what some have claimed, applying the SSNIP test to input markets—in the form of a “small and significant but non-transitory reduction in wages” or “SSNRW”—would also raise significant difficulties.[171] For a start the necessary datapoints required to conduct a SSNRW test are much harder to obtain than is the case for the SSNIP. The SSNIP test asks whether a hypothetical monopolist could profitably raise prices 5-10% above the competitive baseline, whereas the SSNRW test questions whether a hypothetical monopsonist could profitably decrease wages by 5-10%. The former question is far more tractable than the latter. Indeed, under the SSNIP, profitability hinges on the quantity sold, as well as the difference between prices and costs—both of which are relatively amendable to measurement. This is less true of the SSNRW, which depends on the difference between prices paid for inputs and their “marginal revenue product.” The second of these two factors would prove extremely challenging, perhaps impossible, to measure. This makes the SSNRW significantly harder to apply than the SSNIP. At the same time, “wages” in many labor contexts consist of a complicated mix of factors, including some (e.g., “work environment”) that defy easy quantification. While there are, of course, issues with measuring quality changes in product markets, the problems are significantly magnified in labor markets, and laborers’ preferences are invariably more heterogenous across many more dimensions of the elements of labor’s “price.” Furthermore, the marginal revenue product of an input hinges on competitive conditions in the output market. This reinforces the sense that monopsony analysis inherently raises cross-market effects that are less prevalent in the monopoly case.

4.        Monopsony and the consumer welfare standard

As discussed in the previous sections, using antitrust enforcement to thwart potential monopsony harms is a task full of evidentiary difficulties, as well as complex tradeoffs. Perhaps more problematically, it is also unclear whether (and, if so, how) such an endeavor is consistent with the consumer welfare standard—the lodestar of antitrust enforcement—at least as it is currently understood and implemented by courts.

Marinescu & Hovenkamp assert that:

Properly defined, the consumer welfare standard applies in exactly the same way to monopsony. Its goal is high output, which comes from the elimination of monopoly power in the purchasing market.… [W]hen consumer welfare is properly defined as targeting monopolistic restrictions on output, it is well suited to address anticompetitive consequences on both the selling and the buying side of markets, and those that affect labor as well as the ones that affect products. In cases where output does not decrease, the anticompetitive harm to trading partners can also be invoked.”[172]

But this is far from self-evident. There are at least two problems with this reasoning.

For a start, the assertion that harm to input providers that does not result in reduced product output is actionable is based on a tenuous assertion that a mere pecuniary transfer is sufficient to establish anticompetitive harm.[173] This is problematic because such harms may actually benefit consumers. In the extreme example, all of the benefits of a better negotiating position are passed on to consumers.[174] The main justification for ignoring these cross-market effects (as with all market-definition exercises) is primarily a pragmatic one (though it is rather weakened in light of modern analytical methods).[175] Particularly in the context of inputs into a specific output market, these cross-market effects are inextricably linked and hardly beyond calculation. And as the enforcement agencies have previously recognized, “[i]nextricably linked out-of-market efficiencies, however, can cause the Agencies, in their discretion, not to challenge mergers that would be challenged absent the efficiencies.”[176]

The assertion that pecuniary transfers are actionable is also inconsistent with the fundamental basis for antitrust enforcement, which seeks to mitigate deadweight loss, but not mere pecuniary transfers that do not result in anticompetitive effects.[177]

Second, it is unclear whether the consumer welfare standard applies to input markets. At its heart, the consumer welfare standard focuses on the effects that a(n) (incipient) monopolist’s behavior may have on consumers. And courts have, arguably, extended this welfare calculation to all direct purchasers affected by anticompetitive behavior. Much less clear is whether courts have extended (or would extend) this notion of anticompetitive harm to input markets. This goes to the very heart of the consumer welfare standard.

As we explain above, lower wages could be consistent with both efficiency and monopsony.[178] Somewhat more problematically, these lower wages may also be accompanied by lower prices passed through to consumers (or at least the monopsonist’s direct purchasers, downstream).

Larger buyers may also be able to reduce their purchasing costs at the expense of suppliers…. The concept of buyer power as an efficiency defence rests squarely on such a presumption. What is more, the argument also posits that the exercise of buyer power will not only have distributional consequences, but also increase welfare and consumer surplus by reducing deadweight loss. As we spell out in detail below, welfare gains may arise both at the upstream level, i.e., in the transactions between the more powerful merged firm and its suppliers, as well as at the downstream level, where the creation of buyer power may translate into increased rivalry and lower prices. The extent to which final consumers ultimately benefit is of particular importance if antitrust authorities rely more on a consumer standard when assessing mergers. If total welfare is the standard, however, distributional issues are not directly relevant and any pass-on to consumers is thus only relevant in as much as it contributes to total welfare.[179]

This raises an obvious question: can the consumer welfare standard (and thus antitrust authorities and courts) reach a finding of anticompetitive harm if consumers (at least in the narrow market under investigation) are ultimately being charged lower prices? As the FTC summarized in closing the investigation of a merger between two pharmacy benefit managers, “[a]s a general matter, transactions that allow firms to reduce the costs of input products have a high likelihood of benefitting consumers, since lower costs create incentives to lower prices.”[180]

Consider Judge Breyer’s Kartell opinion. As Steve Salop explains:[181]

The famous Kartell opinion written by Judge (now Justice) Stephen Breyer provides an analysis of a buyer-side “cartel” (comprised of final consumers and their “agent” insurance provider, Blue Cross) that also is consistent with the true consumer welfare standard.… Buyer-side cartels generally are inefficient and reduce aggregate economic welfare because they reduce output below the competitive level…. However, a buyer-side cartel. comprised of final consumers generally would raise true consumer welfare (i.e., consumer surplus) because gains accrued from the lower prices would outweigh the losses from the associated output reduction, even though the conduct inherently reduces total welfare (i.e., total surplus).…

…Judge Breyer treated Blue Cross essentially as an agent for the customers it insured, rather than as an intermediary firm that purchased inputs and sold outputs as a monopolistic reseller. The court apparently assumed (perhaps wrongfully) that Blue Cross would pass on its lower input costs to its customers in the form of lower insurance premiums….

…In permitting Blue Cross to achieve and exercise monopsony power by aggregating the underlying consumer demands for medical care—i.e., permitting Blue Cross to act as the agent for final consumers—the Kartell court implicitly opted for the true consumer welfare standard. Blue Cross’s assumed monopsony conduct on behalf of its subscribers would thus lead to higher welfare for its subscribers despite reduced efficiency and lower aggregate economic welfare. Thus, this result represents a clear (if only implicit) judicial preference for the true consumer welfare standard rather than the aggregate economic welfare standard.

By this logic, it seems, the relevant “consumer” welfare in antitrust analysis—including mergers that increase either monopoly or monopsony power—is that of the literal consumer: the end-user of the final product. But this contrasts quite sharply with the standard mode of analysis in monopsony cases as the mirror image of monopoly, in which the merging parties’ “trading partner” (whether upstream or downstream) is the relevant locus of the welfare analysis.

Indeed, extended to more current potential cases, this mode of analysis raises a distinct problem for the agencies. Consider, for example, a hypothetical case against Kroger surrounding practices that exploit its buyer power.[182] Should such a challenge fail regardless of the effect on input providers because Kroger can be considered “an agent for the customers it [sells to]”? There is, as Salop seems to suggest,[183] some merit in such an approach, but it is certainly not how similar cases have been evaluated in the past.

There is no easy answer to the difficulty of assessing harm in upstream markets when downstream markets benefit. At first blush, excluding deadweight losses that stem from monopsony power (or at least forcing plaintiffs to show that downstream purchasers are also harmed) seems like legalistic reasoning that is largely incompatible with the welfarist ancestry of the consumer welfare standard.[184] Indeed, the consumer welfare standard is largely premised on the assumption that increased output is desirable, and deadweight losses are harmful to society, regardless of their second-order effects. It seems odd to depart from this reasoning just because a supplier, rather than a consumer, is being harmed. Not to mention that, from a welfare standpoint, inefficient switching, caused by a deadweight loss, is no less harmful in the monopsony context than the monopoly one.

But at least when it comes to law and antitrust practice, things are more complicated than that. Faced with what may potentially be intractable economic questions, antitrust courts have often decided to limit antitrust analysis to what economics generally refer to as partial equilibrium analysis. This likely explains why only direct purchasers can claim antitrust damages,[185] and why the Amex court chose to overlook potential harm to cash purchasers (as they were deemed to lie outside of the relevant market).[186] The upshot is that, with some notable exceptions (such as the case of two-sided markets in Amex), antitrust courts have been reluctant to analyze competitive effects in adjacent markets.

What might seem like an arbitrary decision appears more reasonable when one considers the sheer complexity of the task at hand. Economic behavior will often have second-order effects that run in an opposite direction to its first-order or “partial equilibrium” ones. A charcoal monopoly may cause buyers to opt for cleaner energy sources; a conservation cartel may maximize the long-term value of scarce resources.[187]

The question is whether antitrust law has a comparative advantage in dealing with these more “systemic” issues, or whether other legal frameworks are better adapted. Put differently, antitrust law’s main strength might be that it is mostly a consumer-oriented body of law that focuses on a single tractable problem: the prices consumers and other direct purchasers pay for goods. If that is true, then maybe other bodies of law (such as, e.g., labor and environmental laws) may be better suited to deal with broader harms. Indeed, in the case of each of these fields there exists a massive regulatory apparatus specifically designed to implement government standards. And, under the law as it stands, where antitrust law and a regulatory regime conflict, antitrust must give way.[188]

We do not purport to have a satisfactory answer to this complicated question. In fact, it is probably fair to say one does not exist. Antitrust law can either depart from its welfarist underpinnings—a large loss for its economic consistency—or it can follow those principles towards potentially intractable problems that may ultimately undermine its administrability and thus its usefulness as a policy tool. At this juncture, it is not clear there is a compromise that might enable enforcers to thread the needle to solve this complex conundrum. And if such a solution exists, it has yet to be articulated in a convincing manner that may lead to actionable insights for enforcers or courts.

Given all of this, the FTC and DOJ’s desire to adopt merger guidelines that address monopsony harms, while clearly important, seems premature compared to the state of the economic literature, and potentially unactionable under the consumer welfare standard. This is not to say the antitrust policy world should suddenly ignore monopsony harms, but rather that more research, discussion, and case law is needed before definitive guidelines can be written. And, ultimately, it may well be that legislative change is needed before any such guidelines will be enforceable before the courts.

VIII.     Market Definition

The difficulties discussed above should serve as a good reminder that market definition is but a means to an end. As William Landes, Richard Posner, and Louis Kaplow have all observed, market definition is merely a proxy for market power, which in turn enables policymakers to infer whether consumer harm (the underlying question to be answered) is likely in a given case.[189]

Given the difficulties inherent in properly defining markets, policymakers should redouble their efforts to precisely measure both potential barriers to entry (the obstacles that may lead to market power) or anticompetitive effects (the potentially undesirable effect of market power), under a case-by-case analysis that looks at both sides of a platform.

Unfortunately, this is not how the FTC has proceeded in recent cases or the current Draft Guidelines. The FTC’s Facebook complaint, to cite but one example, merely assumes the existence of network effects (a potential barrier to entry) with no effort to quantify their magnitude.[190] Likewise, the agency’s assessment of consumer harm is just two pages long and includes superficial conclusions that appear plucked from thin air:

The benefits to users of additional competition include some or all of the following: additional innovation…; quality improvements…; and/or consumer choice…. In addition, by monopolizing the U.S. market for personal social networking, Facebook also harmed, and continues to harm, competition for the sale of advertising in the United States.[191]

Not one of these assertions is based on anything that could remotely be construed as empirical or even anecdotal evidence. Instead, the FTC’s claims are presented as self-evident. Given the difficulties surrounding market definition in digital markets, this superficial analysis of anticompetitive harm is simply untenable.

In short, discussions around attention markets emphasize the important role of case-by-case analysis underpinned by the consumer welfare standard. Indeed, the fact that some of antitrust enforcement’s usual benchmarks are unreliable in digital markets reinforces the conclusion that an empirically grounded analysis of barriers to entry and actual anticompetitive effects must remain the cornerstones of sound antitrust policy. Or, put differently, uncertainty surrounding certain aspects of a case is no excuse for arbitrary speculation. Instead, authorities must meet such uncertainty with an even more vigilant commitment to thoroughness.

IX.   Rebuttal Evidence Showing That No Substantial Lessening of Competition Is Threatened by the Merger

Starting at page 39, we discussed how vertical mergers often are pro-competitive and introduce efficiencies. Even in the case of horizontal mergers, however, the best recent empirical work finds that efficiencies in many mergers.[192] While procompetitive efficiencies could be oversold by the merging parties, they cannot be assumed away, and the Draft Guidelines raise the burden on any efficiency defense beyond what is justified by the law or the economics. For example, the Draft Guidelines require that cognizable efficiencies “could not be achieved without the merger under review.”[193] First, “could not” is too high of a burden. Second, what if there were many similar mergers available that offered efficiencies, all of which were pro-competitive? The wording of draft guideline would not recognize those efficiencies, since they were not unique to the merger being considered. The wording of the 2010 HMGs is better: “The Agencies credit only those efficiencies likely to be accomplished with the proposed merger and unlikely to be accomplished in the absence of either the proposed merger or another means having comparable anticompetitive effects” (emphasis added).[194]

The most extreme version of “raising the burden of proof” is the statement: “efficiencies are not cognizable if they will accelerate a trend toward concentration (see Guideline 8) or vertical integration (see Guideline 6).”[195] Until that is removed, there effectively is no rebuttal, since most efficiencies will accelerate a trend toward concentration or involve vertical integration. As such, the above statement should be removed.

X.     Avoiding Damage to the Credibility of the Merger Guidelines

Conceptually, the role of guidelines is to codify the accepted knowledge in a particular area of antitrust for the sake of legal certainty, and not to drive the law toward a particular unsettled frontier of the discipline. It is highly doubtful, however, whether some of the issues raised in the Draft Guidelines enjoy anywhere near the level of consensus needed to justify being codified into guidelines. The problem with pretending that they do is that it risks turning “guidelines” into an opportunity for agencies to advocate for new antitrust law and set new antitrust policy, rather than offer a useful, albeit comparatively modest, tool for legal interpretation.

Relatedly, it is somewhat puzzling that the agencies feel compelled and empowered to issue new merger guidelines now. Typically, guidelines are issued in the face of new learnings or new jurisprudence with the potential to overhaul an area of antitrust law. Adoption of the 1982 guidelines, for instance, was preceded by a series of Supreme Court opinions that indicated a marked embrace of economic analysis in the Court’s antitrust analysis.[196] Nothing of this sort has, to our knowledge, preceded the agencies’ current proposals. If new economic or legal learning is not guiding the new guidelines, then what is? It is not cited in the Draft Guidelines. The most plausible explanation is that it is politics. This idea is further reinforced by the limited public debate surrounding the current process for adopting new guidelines, and the pervasiveness of certain contentious assumptions which indicate a clear political bias and preordained political intent.

Not that there isn’t precedent for this sort of approach. But the last time merger guidelines were (arguably) employed to advance a contentious political objective was more than 40 years ago.[197] By virtually any measure, subsequent updates to the guidelines have been aimed at attempting to incorporate relatively new-but-well-established learning and to synthesize updates to longstanding agency practice aimed at “getting it right,” particularly with respect to basic and ever-evolving procedural issues, like the use of thresholds. There has been, in other words, an overarching humility to the process, which has lent it a crucial authority in both courts and among practitioners and economic actors.

The 2010 [HMGs] are noteworthy because, although the agencies’ views are not binding on the judiciary, courts adjudicating merger challenges routinely cite them as persuasive. The Guidelines derive their persuasive value from laying out a consensus view on the framework that the FTC and DOJ have developed, over decades of experience, to analyze the effects of mergers. Reflecting precedent from courts and the agencies, and based on accepted economic principles, they garnered support at adoption and in case after case, serving as the touchstone for merging parties, enforcers, and judges alike.[198]

Indeed, where previous guidelines have strayed perhaps a bit too far into novelty, their influence on the courts has been minimal. Perhaps the best example of this has been the reception by courts of the 2010 Horizontal Merger Guidelines (“2010 HMGs”), particularly the intended diminishment of the role of technical analysis of market definition and the heightened reliance on relatively novel methods of direct evidence of competitive effects.[199] Although the 2010 HMGs have generally proved to be significantly influential,[200] courts’ have been decidedly reluctant to replace consideration of market definition with measures like the gross upward pricing pressure index (“GUPPI”) to assess unilateral effects.[201] Indeed, reliance on market shares to determine case outcomes has arguably increased.[202]

By contrast, the FTC’s recent rejection of the 2020 Vertical Merger Guidelines (“2020 VMGs”) was grounded in an obvious distaste for the specific outcomes it might have engendered.[203] Although nominally justified by a claimed lack of scholarly support,[204] that rhetoric was transparently faulty, particularly given the process by which the withdrawal was accomplished.[205] Indeed, as Carl Shapiro and Herbert Hovenkamp put it: “The Federal Trade Commission’s recent withdrawal of its 2020 vertical merger guidelines is flatly incorrect as a matter of microeconomic theory and is contrary to an extensive economic literature about vertical integration.”[206] To be sure, there was (and always will be) disagreement at the margins over best practices in merger analysis and enforcement. But nothing in the 2020 VMGs was unsupported by longstanding scholarship and practice (except, ironically, to the extent they may have gone too far at times toward repudiating the FTC majority’s preferences).[207]

And the same preference for simply stronger—not necessarily better—enforcement seems to be animating the agencies’ “very tendentious” (in the words of Doug Melamed) effort to produce new merger guidelines now.[208]  Indeed, in the press release announcing the guidelines-revision process, FTC Chair Khan and AAG Kanter declare at the outset that they have “launched a joint public inquiry aimed at strengthening enforcement against illegal mergers.”[209]

The Draft Guidelines are overwhelmingly concerned with the presumed dangers of underenforcement, but inexplicably pays almost no heed to the possibility, let alone the cost, of overenforcement. Leaving aside the fact that—in merger enforcement, as in antitrust law more generally—a sound error-cost framework takes a holistic view of the likelihood and cost of errors, underpinning the agencies’ slanted view are two popular, albeit unjustified, narratives that dissolve upon closer examination.

Ultimately, both these narratives appear designed to bolster the case for the type of politically motivated overhaul of the merger guidelines that the agencies have pre-committed themselves to, rather than to fulfill what is—and should remain—the primary purpose of merger guidelines: i.e., to codify state-of-the-art knowledge and practice in one area of antitrust law as a means to increase legal certainty.

Before the FTC and DOJ consider what recommendations should be incorporated into a new set of merger guidelines, it would be appropriate to briefly consider what the current review process should aim to achieve. This raises two critical questions: What is the ultimate aim of merger guidelines, and what should the process leading up to them look like?

A.      The Role of Merger Guidelines

Merger guidelines attempt to provide an authoritative and practical guide for enforcement and adjudication by explicating two important inputs into those processes. First, guidelines attempt to coalesce established agency thinking and practice to inform potential merging parties—effectively seeking to improve legal certainty by prefiguring how agencies are likely to respond to given situations. They also describe the “accepted wisdom” of merger analysis (especially that which stems from jurisprudence). “To be as effective and persuasive as possible, the Guidelines should reflect our best thinking about the competitive effects of mergers and appropriate merger enforcement policy.”[210] Updating merger guidelines may thus be necessary when the consensus—the economic and legal “best thinking” or the underlying jurisprudence—surrounding certain practices has evolved. “Indeed, many commentators regard the guidelines’ credibility arising from this collected institutional wisdom as a foundational principle of any further revisions to the Guidelines. This caution doubtlessly preserves consumer welfare by reducing the costs associated with uncertain antitrust enforcement.”[211]

As the Antitrust Modernization Commission (“AMC”) described them:

There is general consensus that the Merger Guidelines have acted as the “blueprint for the architecture” of merger analysis and, overall, provide a guide that “functions well.” The Guidelines have had a significant influence on judicial development of merger law, which is reflected in their widespread acceptance by the courts as the relevant framework for analyzing merger cases.… The Guidelines have also provided useful guidance and transparency to the business community and antitrust bar. Finally, the Guidelines have helped to influence the development of merger policy by jurisdictions outside the United States.[212]

Given these twin goals—providing legal certainty and “codifying” the accepted knowledge concerning certain antitrust situations—guidelines are not the place to set out a novel, activist agenda or push the boundaries of knowledge and practice.

This is no small detail. There is a vast difference between what may fairly be described as new learning (i.e., a new consensus gleaned from extensive scholarship and rigorous debate), on the one hand, and new interrogations (i.e., unresolved questions that pique the interest of some scholars), on the other. As the rest of our comment suggests, many of the questions currently contemplated by the agencies fall squarely within the latter category. Accordingly, while they arguably constitute an interesting research agenda for scholars, there is virtually no sense in which they justify drafting guidelines that seek to settle these unresolved issues and that, in doing so, lead to a significant departure from existing practice.

Our assertion here is further supported by the fact that guidelines do not have binding authority, either on enforcers or courts. Courts are under no obligation to adhere to antitrust guidelines, and they will be far less likely to look to them even for guidance if they espouse politicized, un-rigorous concepts. Accordingly, by importing novel and unresolved enforcement concepts (as well as approaches to merger enforcement) into their guidelines, the agencies may render them of little use both to the public and to the courts. As Tim Muris & Bilal Sayyed put it, “the Merger Guidelines have succeeded in significant part because they do not try to do too much.”[213] In short, there is a risk that the resulting updated guidelines will not describe the “state of the art” of the economic and legal understanding. As a result, they would no longer shed light on either agency practice or likely litigation outcomes. The guidelines would thus be devoid of any tangible purpose.

This would be a real loss for consumers, as non-specialist courts currently do often look to guidelines in order to appropriately resolve complex merger issues. “The Guidelines accrued substantial institutional credibility and capital with courts due to their economic sophistication and consistency in application.”[214] As Christine Varney, assistant attorney general of the DOJ Antitrust Division in the Obama administration and a member of the Federal Trade Commission in the Clinton administration, put it: “many courts indicate that they consider the Guidelines in assessing mergers under the antitrust laws, some finding them more useful than others.”[215] Numerous scholars and practitioners echo this view and applaud the role of the HMGs in bringing focus and consensus to merger enforcement.[216] Given the speculative and politicized nature of the draft guidelines, there is good reason to doubt that many courts will find the resulting guidelines to fall on the “more useful” end of the scale.

B.      How Guidelines Are Adopted

The process the DOJ and FTC are following to produce their updated guidelines is also problematic. Indeed, if guidelines are released without real opportunity for input and without clear indication that that input has been considered in their formulation, they will be of little use.

It is not inherently problematic to revisit and revise the guidelines, of course; the agencies have done so on a somewhat regular basis since the first guidelines were issued in 1968. In all previous instances (and in the case of the agencies’ other guidelines), revisions were preceded by significant public input, debate, and consideration, leading to identification of an overarching consensus. To take one example, the FTC and DOJ ran an extensive series of workshops and consultations when they updated the HMGs in 2009-2010.[217] In a joint press release announcing the workshops, the agencies explained the goal of this process: “The goal of the workshops will be to determine whether the Horizontal Merger Guidelines accurately reflect the current practice of merger review at the Department and the FTC as well as to take into account legal and economic developments that have occurred since the last significant Guidelines revision in 1992.”[218] And as Christine Varney later elaborated on the agencies’ process and what they expected to glean from it:

In addition to inviting comments, [five] workshops have been held over the past two months.… Our nearly 100 panelists have included leading practitioners, economists, consumer advocates, industry executives, and academics. We have been fortunate to have both former and current government enforcers from the United States and around the world share their perspectives with us.… We’ve learned a lot from the workshops and the comments received so far, and this morning I would like to offer some views about what we’ve heard during this process and where I believe areas of consensus are emerging.”[219]

This is quite different from the perfunctory process seemingly contemplated, at least thus far, by those same agencies today.

One response may be that the substantial process used to develop the 2010 HMGs was itself unnecessary. Rather, the agencies are approaching the current revisions using the notice-and-comment procedures required by the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”).[220] The problem with this view is that the APA only applies agency rulemaking authorized by Congress—and, even then, it sets the procedural floor. Congress has not authorized the antitrust agencies to develop legally binding merger guidelines. This does not mean that it is impermissible for them to develop such guidelines as informal policy statement. It does mean, however, that such guidelines carry no force of law beyond their ability to persuade courts of their approach. On this account, adopting a minimal notice-and-comment approach offers minimal support for the proposed changes when compared to past guidelines—especially when normalized relative to the extent of the proposed changes. Modest changes might be supported by more modest procedure; substantial changes should be supported by more robust procedure.

To make matters worse, it is difficult to escape the sense that, whatever nominal process is employed by the agencies, the current guidelines-reform effort is intended to effect a predetermined, political outcome, irrespective of any actual consensus (or lack thereof) that emerges. We cannot know precisely how this process will unfold, of course, but there is considerable basis for concern. In particular, the FTC majority’s seriousness about engaging in apolitical, rigorous analysis must be called into question based on the inescapable pattern that has emerged from its recent conduct. In brief, the current FTC majority has undertaken a series of actions and adopted a series of governance policies that reveal an agency focused myopically on advancing a radical revision of antitrust law, as far as possible from the strictures of judicial review and without consultation from the antitrust community.[221]

This sense that politics, rather than evidence, is driving the current review process is further reinforced by the contents of the Draft Guidelines. Many of the claims therein demonstrate substantial bias and heavy reliance on contentious and unsupported assumptions. Indeed, the Draft Guidelines operate from the apparent assumptions (among others) that more enforcement is inherently better, that merger efficiencies are inconsistent with Section 7, and that distributional concerns should factor into merger review. The Draft Guidelines are overwhelmingly concerned with how the status quo may lead to false acquittals; the notions that authorities may err in the other direction, and that excessive enforcement may chill beneficial business activity, are conspicuously absent. Further, the inquiries of those questions often rely on cases that are woefully outdated and not reflective of a massive amount of subsequent economic learning and case law. Citations to cases throughout the draft guidelines are often one-sided and omit or ignore contrary authority.[222] This is notably the case of the guidelines’ repeated citations to Brown Shoe[223] (15 citations), Philadelphia National Bank[224] (eight citations), and Procter and Gamble[225] (six citations)—three mid-20th century cases that are widely decried as being out of tune with modern economics and social science.[226] In short, in their pursuit of strong merger enforcement, the agencies are seemingly looking to reverse time and return to an old set of learnings from which courts, enforcers, and mainstream antitrust scholars have all steered away.

The net effect of these problems is to undermine confidence in the agency. That effect that will carry over to the courts as they are confronted with the resulting guidelines, all the more so if the sanitizing effect of legitimate process is not applied going forward. Such undermining of confidence is a serious problem for effective guidelines, so much so that the FTC’s unremitting willingness to maneuver outside the bounds of established antitrust law and economics reveals perhaps a fundamental disdain for the opinion of the courts.


[1] U.S. Dep’t of Justice & F.T.C., Draft Merger Guidelines for Public Comment (Jul. 18, 2023), https://www.regulations.gov/comment/FTC-2023-0043-0001 [hereinafter “Draft Merger Guidelines” or “Draft Guidelines”].

[2] Draft Merger Guidelines, supra note 1, at 31 (“The Agencies may assess whether a merger may substantially lessen competition or tend to create a monopoly based on a fact-specific analysis under any one or more of the Guidelines discussed above.”)

[3] John Asker et al, Comments on the January 2022 DOJ and FTC RFI on Merger Enforcement, available at https://www.regulations.gov/comment/FTC-2022-0003-1847 at 15-6.

[4] Gregory J. Werden & Luke M. Froeb, Don’t Panic: A Guide to Claims of Increasing Concentration, 33 Antitrust 74, 74 (2018).

[5] Executive Office of the President, Council of Economic Advisers, Economic Report of the President 215 (Feb. 2020).

[6] See, e.g., Germán Gutiérrez and Thomas Philippon, Declining Competition and Investment in the U.S., NBER Working Paper No. 23583 (2017), https://www.nber.org/papers/w23583; Simcha Barkai, Declining Labor and Capital Shares, 75 J. Fin. 2021 (2020).

[7] See Jan De Loecker, Jan Eeckhout & Gabriel Unger, The Rise of Market Power and the Macroeconomic Implications, 135 Q. J. Econ. 561 (2020).

[8] See David Autor, et al., The Fall of the Labor Share and the Rise of Superstar Firms, 135 Q. J. Econ. 635 (2020).

[9] Ryan A. Decker, John Haltiwanger, Ron S. Jarmin & Javier Miranda, Where Has All the Skewness Gone? The Decline in High-Growth (Young) Firms in the U.S, 86 Eur. Econ. Rev. 4, 5 (2016).

[10] Several papers simply do not find that the accepted story—built in significant part around the famous De Loecker and Eeckhout study, see De Loecker, et al., supra note 2 —regarding the vast size of markups and market power is accurate. Among other things, the claimed markups due to increased concentration are likely not nearly as substantial as commonly assumed. See, e.g., James Traina, Is Aggregate Market Power Increasing? Production Trends Using Financial Statements, Stigler Center Working Paper (Feb. 2018), https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3120849; see also World Economic Outlook, April 2019 Growth Slowdown, Precarious Recovery, International Monetary Fund (Apr. 2019), https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/WEO/Issues/2019/03/28/world-economic-outlook-april-2019. Another study finds that profits have increased but are still within their historical range. See Loukas Karabarbounis & Brent Neiman, Accounting for Factorless Income, 33 NBER Macroeconomics Annual 167 (2018). And still another shows decreased wages in concentrated markets but also that local concentration has been decreasing over the relevant time period. See Kevin Rinz, Labor Market Concentration, Earnings, and Inequality, 57 J. Human Resources S251 (2022), available at http://jhr.uwpress.org/content/57/S/S251.full.pdf+html

[11] See Harold Demsetz, Industry Structure, Market Rivalry, and Public Policy, 16 J. L. & Econ. 1 (1973). See also, e.g., Richard Schmalensee, Inter-Industry Studies of Structure and Performance, in 2 Handbook of Industrial Organization 951-1009 (Richard Schmalensee & Robert Willig, eds., 1989); William N. Evans, Luke M. Froeb & Gregory J. Werden, Endogeneity in the Concentration-Price Relationship: Causes, Consequences, and Cures, 41 J. Indus. Econ. 431 (1993); Steven Berry, Market Structure and Competition, Redux, FTC Micro Conference (Nov. 2017), available at https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/public_events/1208143/22_-_steven_berry_keynote.pdf; Nathan Miller, et al., On the Misuse of Regressions of Price on the HHI in Merger Review, 10 J. Antitrust Enforcement 248 (2022).

[12] Harold Demsetz, The Intensity and Dimensionality of Competition, in Harold Demsetz, The Economics of the Business Firm: Seven Critical Commentaries 137, 140-41 (1995).

[13] See Nathan Miller, et al., supra note 12.

[14] Steven Berry, Martin Gaynor & Fiona Scott Morton, Do Increasing Markups Matter? Lessons from Empirical Industrial Organization, 33 J. Econ. Persp. 44, 48 (2019) (emphasis added). See also Jonathan Baker & Timothy F. Bresnahan, Economic Evidence in Antitrust: Defining Markets and Measuring Market Power, John M. Olin Program in L. & Econ., Stanford Law Sch. Working Paper 24 (Sep. 2006) (“The Chicago identification argument has carried the day, and structure-conduct-performance empirical methods have largely been discarded in economics.”).

[15] Gregory J. Werden & Luke M. Froeb, Don’t Panic: A Guide to Claims of Increasing Concentration, 33 Antitrust 74, 74 (2018).

[16] Christopher Garmon, The Accuracy of Hospital Screening Methods, 48 Rand J. Econ. 1068, 1070 (2017) (reviewing post-merger price changes for 28 hospital mergers, initially published as a BE Working Paper).

[17] Sharat Ganapati, Growing Oligopolies, Prices, Output, and Productivity, Working Paper (Oct. 6, 2018) at 13 (forthcoming in Am. Econ. J.: Microeconomics), https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3030966.

[18] Id. at 1.

[19] Sam Peltzman, Productivity and Prices in Manufacturing During an Era of Rising Concentration, Working Paper (May 10, 2018, rev. Feb. 3, 2021), https://ssrn.com/abstract=3168877.

[20] Regarding geographic market area for hospitals, see, e.g., Joseph Farrell, et al., Economics at the FTC: Hospital Mergers, Authorized Generic Drugs, and Consumer Credit Markets, 39 Rev. Indus. Org. 271 (2011) (initially published as BE Working Paper): Garmon, The Accuracy of Hospital Screening Methods, supra note 17.

[21] W. Kip Viscusi, Joseph E. Harrington, Jr. & David E. M. Sappington, Economics of Regulation and Antitrust (2005) at 214-15.

[22] Mary Amiti & Sebastian Heise, U.S. Market Concentration and Import Competition, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Working Paper No. 968 (May 2021), available at https://www.newyorkfed.org/medialibrary/media/research/staff_reports/sr968.pdf.

[23] Esteban Rossi-Hansberg, Pierre-Daniel Sarte & Nicholas Trachter, Diverging Trends in National and Local Concentration, in NBER Macroeconomics Annual 2020, Vol. 35 (Martin Eichenbaum & Erik Hurst eds., 2020).

[24] Rossi-Hansberg, et al., Presentation: Diverging Trends in National and Local Concentration, slide 3, available at https://conference.nber.org/conf_papers/f132587/f132587.slides.pdf.

[25] Rossi-Hansberg, et al, supra note 26, at 9.

[26] Id. at 14 (emphasis added).

[27] Ryan Decker, Discussion of “Diverging Trends in National and Local Concentration,” available at https://rdeckernet.github.io/website/2020ASSA_discussion_RST.pdf.

[28] See Rinz, supra note 11. See also David Berger, Kyle Herkenhoff & Simon Mongey, Labor Market Power, 112 AM. ECON. REV. 1147 (2022).

[29] C. Lanier Benkard, Ali Yurukoglu & Anthony Lee Zhang, Concentration in Product Markets, NBER, Working Paper No. 28745 (Apr. 2021), available at https://www.nber.org/papers/w28745.

[30] Id. at 4.

[31] Autor, et al. supra note 8. See David Autor, Christina Patterson & John Van Reenen, Local and National Concentration Trends in Jobs and Sales: The Role of Structural Transformation, NBER, Working Paper No. 31130 (Apr. 2023), available at https://www.nber.org/papers/w31130.

[32] Robert Kulick & Andrew Kard, A Tale of Two Samples: Unpacking Recent Trends in Industrial Concentration, AEI Economic policy Working Paper, available at https://www.aei.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/06/Kulick-Tale-of-Two-Samples-WP.pdf?x91208.

[33] Rossi-Hansberg, supra note 26 at 27 (emphasis added).

[34] Chang-Tai Hsieh & Esteban Rossi-Hansberg, The Industrial Revolution in Services, Working Paper (May 12, 2021), available at https://www.princeton.edu/~erossi/IRS.pdf.

[35] Id. at 4 (“[T]he increase in national industry concentration documented by Autor et al. (2017) and others, is driven by the expansion in markets per firms by top ?rms.”).

[36] Id. at 6.

[37] Id. at 41-42.

[38] Berger, et al., supra note 31.

[39] Id. at 1148.

[40] See Autor, et al., supra note 8.

[41] Robert E. Hall, New Evidence on the Markup of Prices Over Marginal Costs and the Role of Mega-Firms in the US Economy, Working Paper 16 (Apr. 27, 2018) (emphasis added), https://web.stanford.edu/~rehall/Evidence%20on%20markup%202018.

[42] Richard Schmalensee, Inter-Industry Studies of Structure and Performance, in 2 Handbook of Industrial Organization 951, 1000 (Richard Schmalensee & Robert Willig eds., 1989). See also Timothy F. Bresnahan, Empirical Studies of Industries with Market Power, in 2 Handbook of Industrial Organization 1011, 1053-54 (Richard Schmalensee & Robert Willig eds., 1989) (“[A]lthough the [most advanced empirical literature] has had a great deal to say about measuring market power, it has had very little, as yet, to say about the causes of market power.”); Frank H. Easterbrook, Workable Antitrust Policy, 84 Mich. L. Rev. 1696, 1698 (1986) (“Today it is hard to find an economist who believes the old structure-conduct-performance paradigm.”).

[43] Baker & Bresnahan, supra note 14, at 26.

[44] Chad Syverson, Macroeconomics and Market Power: Context, Implications, and Open Questions 33 J. Econ. Persp. 23, (2019) at 26.

[45] See Rinz, supra note 11

[46] Id. at S259.

[47] Berger et al., supra note 31 at 1148.

[48] Elizabeth Weber Handwerker & Matthew Dey, Some Facts About Concentrated Labor Markets in the United States. Industrial Relations: A Journal of Economy and Society, (2023), early view at https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/irel.12341.

[49] Draft Guidelines at 12.

[50] See J.A. Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy 72 (1976).

[51] See Kenneth Arrow, Economic Welfare and the Allocation of Resources for Invention, in The Rate and Direction of Inventive Activity: Economic and Social Factors 620 (Richard R. Nelson ed.,1962).

[52] See, e.g., Philippe Aghion, Nick Bloom, Richard Blundell, Rachel Griffith & Peter Howitt, Competition and Innovation: An Inverted-U Relationship, 120 Q. J. Econ. 702 (2005).

[54] See, e.g., Michael L. Katz & Howard A. Shelanski, Mergers and Innovation, 74 Antitrust L.J. 1, 22 (2007) (“The literature addressing how market structure affects innovation (and vice versa) in the end reveals an ambiguous relationship in which factors unrelated to competition play an important role.”).

[55] Dirk Auer, Structuralist Innovation: A Shaky Legal Presumption in Need of an Overhaul, CPI Antitrust Chronicle (Dec. 1, 2018).

[56] Amended complaint, Fed. Trade Comm’n v. Facebook, Inc., No. 1:20-cv-03590 (D.C. Cir. filed Aug. 19, 2021), available at https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/cases/ecf_75-1_ftc_v_facebook_public_redacted_fac.pdf, at 73.

[57] This is not to say that some economists do not believe that more competitive market structures generally lead to more innovation. But rather that these writings have (i) not garnered a wide consensus among the economics profession, and (ii) often rest on narrow assumptions that reduce their application to specific settings. See, e.g., Carl Shapiro, Competition and Innovation: Did Arrow Hit the Bull’s Eye?, in The Rate and Direction of Inventive Activity Revisited 400 (Josh Lerner & Scott Stern eds., 2011). See also Ilya Segal & Michael D. Whinston, Antitrust in Innovative Industries, 97 Am. Econ. Rev. 1712 (2007). For instance, both above papers conclude that exclusivity, though it may increase innovator’s ex-post profits, is unlikely to increase incentives to innovate because it prevents entry by more innovative rivals. To reach this conclusion, the authors notably assume that consumers that are bound by exclusivity contracts never find it profitable to purchase the innovation of a second firm (they assume that the innovation costs more to produce than the value to consumers of its incremental improvement). There is no reason to believe that this is, or is not, a good reflection of reality.

[58] Richard J. Gilbert, Innovation Matters: Competition Policy for the High-Technology Economy, 116 (2020)

[59] Ronald L. Goettler & Brett R. Gordon, Does AMD Spur Intel to Innovate More?, 119 J. Pol. Econ. 1141, 1141 (2011)

[60] Mitsuru Igami, Estimating the Innovator’s Dilemma: Structural Analysis of Creative Destruction in the Hard Disk Drive Industry, 1981–1998, 125 J. Pol. Econ. 798, 798 (2017)

[61] Elena Patel & Nathan Seegert, Does Market Power Encourage or Discourage Investment? Evidence From the Hospital Market, 63 J.L. Econ. 667, 667 (2020).

[62] See Aghion, et al., supra note 52, 701-28 (2005). The theoretical aspects of this paper are a refinement of previous seminal research by some of these authors, which found that increased product market competition had a negative effect on innovation. See P. Aghion & P. Howitt, A Model of Growth Through Creative Destruction, 60 Econometrica 323 (1992).

[63]  Id. at 707.

[64] See, e.g., Federico Etro, Competition, Innovation, and Antitrust: A Theory of Market Leaders and Its Policy Implications (2007) at 163-64.

[65] See Aghion, et al., supra note 52, at 714.

[66] Id. at 706.

[67] Id. at 702.

[68] Id.

[69] Eric Fruits, Justin (Gus) Hurwitz, Geoffrey A. Manne, Julian Morris & Alec Stapp, Static and Dynamic Effects of Mergers: A Review of the Empirical Evidence in the Wireless Telecommunications Industry, OECD Directorate for Financial and Enterprise Affairs Competition Committee, Global Forum on Competition. DAF/COMP/GF(2019)13 (Sep. 4, 2020), available at https://one.oecd.org/document/DAF/COMP/GF(2019)13/en/pdf.

[70] See, generally, Nicolai J. Foss & Peter G. Klein, Organizing Entrepreneurial Judgment (2012).

[71] See, e.g., J. Gregory Sidak & David J. Teece, Dynamic Competition in Antitrust Law, 5 J. Competition L. & Econ. 581 (2009).

[72] Asker, et al., supra note 3, at 34.

[73] Cristina Caffarra, Gregory S. Crawford & Tommaso Valletti, “How Tech Rolls”: Potential Competition and “Reverse” Killer Acquisitions, Antitrust Chronicle (May, 26, 2020) (“Large digital platforms in particular have exceptional abilities to pursue organic expansion but also opportunities to ‘roll up’ (willing) startups to ‘get there faster’, ‘buying’ instead of expending effort in rival innovation. Foregoing such effort is never good for consumers and society as a whole: while innovative effort is costly, it will often yield multiple providers and differentiated services, with socially desirable properties.”).

[74] See, e.g., Steven C. Salop, Potential Competition and Antitrust Analysis: Monopoly Profits Exceed Duopoly Profits, Working Paper (Apr. 28, 2021), available at https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3839631. See also C. Scott Hemphill & Tim Wu, Nascent Competitors, 168 U. Pa. L. Rev. 1879 (2019).

[75] See, e.g., Salop, id. See also Giulio Federico, Gregor Langus & Tommaso Valletti, Horizontal Mergers and Product Innovation, 59 Int’l J. Indus. Org. 1 (2018).

[76] CMA, Completed Acquisition by Facebook, Inc (now Meta Platforms, Inc.) of Giphy, Inc., Final Report (Nov. 30, 2021) at 223 (“We consider this evidence supports the view that GIPHY was an important player in a potentially growing segment of the display advertising market, and as such (taking account of the economic context, in particular the expected closeness of competition between Facebook and GIPHY) an important part of a dynamic competitive process with Facebook and others.”).

[77] See Caffarra, et al., supra note 74. (“What seems to be more frequent are cases where the acquisition may effectively extinguish the standalone effort of the buyer to expand in a particular space because the target immediately provides it with those capabilities.  This covers a broader set of possibilities as platforms continue to expand into adjacent fields by buying functionalities, capabilities, even whole businesses (see the recent example of Google/Fitbit).”).

[78] FTC v. Meta Platforms Inc., U.S. Dist. LEXIS 29832 (2023); Complaint, Fed. Trade Comm’n v. Facebook, Inc., No. 1:20-cv-03590 (D.C. Cir. filed Jan. 13, 2021).

[79] Case No COMP/M.7217—Facebook / WhatsApp (Oct. 3, 2014), at 61.

[80] Jessica L Recih, Letter Reminding Both Firms That WhatsApp Must Continue To Honor Its Promises To Consumers With Respect to the Limited Nature of the Data It Collects, Maintains, and Shares With Third Parties (Apr. 10, 2014), available at https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/public_statements/297701/140410facebookwhatappltr.pdf.

[81] CMA Case ME/5525/12—Anticipated acquisition by Facebook Inc of Instagram Inc (Aug. 22, 2012).

[82] Amended complaint, Fed. Trade Comm’n v. Facebook, Inc., No. 1:20-cv-03590 (D.C. Cir. filed Aug. 19, 2021), available at https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/cases/ecf_75-1_ftc_v_facebook_public_redacted_fac.pdf, at 26-41.

[83] Steven C. Salop, A Suggested Revision of the 2020 Vertical Merger Guidelines, Georgetown Law Faculty Publications and Other Works No. 2381 (Dec. 2021), https://scholarship.law.georgetown.edu/facpub/2381.

[84] D. Bruce Hoffman, Acting Dir., Bureau of Competition, Fed. Trade Comm’n, Remarks at the Credit Suisse 2018 Washington Perspectives Conference: Vertical Merger Enforcement at the FTC 4 (Jan. 10, 2018), available at https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/public_statements/1304213/hoffman_vertical_merger_speech_final.pdf.

[85] Although in some cases, such as a failing firm, the competing firm may have exited the market even if the merger did not occur.

[86] Hoffman, supra note 86.

[87] Id.

[88] Id.


[90] Christine S. Wilson, Comm’r, Fed. Trade Comm’n, Keynote Address at the GCR Live 8th Annual Antitrust Law Leaders Forum: Vertical Merger Policy: What Do We Know and Where Do We Go? (Feb. 1, 2019) at 4 & 9, available at https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/public_statements/1455670/wilson_-_vertical_merger_speech_at_gcr_2-1-19.pdf.

[91] Id.

[92] Hoffman, supra note 86.

[93] Salop, supra note 89.

[94] Competition and Consumer Protection in the 21st Century; FTC Hearing #5: Vertical Merger Analysis and the Role of the Consumer Welfare Standard in U.S. Antitrust Law; Before the FTC, Presentation Slides at 15 (Nov. 1, 2018), available at https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/public_events/1415284/ftc_hearings_5_georgetown_slides.pdf [hereinafter “Salop, Vertical Merger Slides”] (emphasis added). See also Serge Moresi & Steven C. Salop, When Vertical is Horizontal: How Vertical Mergers Lead to Increases in “Effective Concentration,” 59 R. Ind. Org. 177 (2021) (“there in an inherent loss of an indirect competitor that supported the non-merging competitors in the pre-merger world, which leads to reduced competition when there is an input foreclosure concern”).

[95] Id. (emphasis added).

[96] Id. (emphasis added).

[97] Id. (emphasis added).

[98] Salop, supra note 89.

[99] USDA, Citrus Fruits 2021 Summary (Sep. 2021), available at https://downloads.usda.library.cornell.edu/usda-esmis/files/j9602060k/kp78hg05n/1544cn77s/cfrt0921.pdf.

[100] Chad Miles, After Troubling New Forecast, Florida Citrus Advocate Says Industry Is “At A Crossroads,” WFTS (Jan. 24, 2022), https://www.abcactionnews.com/news/region-polk/after-troubling-new-forecast-florida-citrus-advocate-says-industry-is-at-a-crossroads.

[101] David Reiffen & Michael Vita, Comment: Is There New Thinking on Vertical Mergers? 63 Antitrust L. J. 917, 920 (1995) (“Some horizontal mergers do not create efficiencies; they are profitable only because of the post-merger anticompetitive conduct made possible by the transaction. By contrast, the primary lesson of both the older literature on vertical integration, as well as the newer ‘post-Chicago’ literature, is that this trade-off invariably exists for all vertical transactions that threaten to reduce consumer welfare.”). See also Joseph J. Spengler, Vertical Integration and Antitrust Policy, 58 J. Pol. Econ. 347 (1950); Robert H. Bork, The Antitrust Paradox: A Policy At War With Itself 219 (1978); Richard A. Posner, Antitrust Law 228 (1976).

[102] See, e.g., Michael A. Salinger, Vertical Mergers and Market Foreclosure, 103 Q.J. Econ. 345 (1988).

[103] Reiffen & Vita, supra note 107, at 921.

[104] Id. (“High price-cost margins increase the size of gain to the integrated firm as well as the potential for anticompetitive input price increases.… [And] the post-Chicago literature suggests that vertical mergers that occur in the presence of high premerger concentration are likely to result in lower prices to consumers.”).

[105] Cooper, et al., supra note 108, at 645.

[106] Jonathan B. Baker, Nancy L. Rose, Steven C. Salop, & Fiona Scott Morton, Five Principles for Vertical Merger Enforcement Policy, Georgetown Law Faculty Pub. and Other Works, Working Paper No. 2148 (2019), at 8 https://scholarship.law.georgetown.edu/facpub/2148 (emphasis added).

[107] Reiffen & Vita, supra note 107, at 920.

[108] See, e.g., Cooper, et al., supra note 108, at 642-45 (assessing the vast majority of post-Chicago theories of vertical harm under the heading “softening horizontal competition”).

[109] See, generally, Salop, supra note 79.

[110] Id.

[111] Id.

[112] See Dissenting Statement of Commissioner Joshua D. Wright, In the Matter of Nielsen Holdings N.V. and Arbitron Inc., FTC File No. 131-0058 (Sep. 20, 2013), at note 3 (“Nevertheless, competitive effects in actual potential competition cases still are more difficult, on balance, to assess than typical merger cases because the agency must predict whether a party is likely to enter the relevant market absent the merger. It is because of this uncertainty and the potential for conjecture that the courts and agencies have cabined the actual potential competition doctrine by, for instance, applying a heightened standard of proof for showing a firm likely would enter the market absent the merger.”) (citing B.A.T. Indus., 104 F.T.C. 852, 926-28 (1984) (applying a “clear proof” standard)).

[113] See Mergers That Eliminate Potential Competition, RESEARCH HANDBOOK ON THE ECONOMICS OF ANTITRUST LAWS 111 (Einer Elhauge, ed. 2012) (“All twelve studies [of airline markets] find that potential competition results in lower prices by incumbent carriers, in ten cases by statistically significant amounts. Except as noted below, the amounts range between one quarter of one percent to about two percent, and in all cases are less than the amount of the price decline from one additional actual competitor, specifically, from one eighth to one third as large.”).

[114] Id.

[115] Case No M.9660—Google/Fitbit, C (2020) 9105 final (Dec. 12, 2020), at 398.

[116] Geoffrey A. Manne, Sam Bowman & Dirk Auer, Technology Mergers and the Market for Corporate Control, 86 Mo. L. Rev. 1047 (2021). This is because the availability of mergers as an exit strategy have been shown to increase investments by firms. Regarding the effect of mergers on investment, see, e.g., Gordon M. Phillips & Alexei Zhdanov, Venture Capital Investments and Merger and Acquisition Activity Around the World, NBER, Working Paper No. 24082 (Nov. 2017), https://ssrn.com/abstract=3082265 (“We examine the relation between venture capital (VC) investments and mergers and acquisitions (M&A) activity around the world. We find evidence of a strong positive association between VC investments and lagged M&A activity, consistent with the hypothesis that an active M&A market provides viable exit opportunities for VC companies and therefore incentivizes them to engage in more deals.”). And increased M&A activity in the pharmaceutical sector has not led to decreases in product approvals; rather, quite the opposite has happened. See, e.g., Barak Richman, et al., Pharmaceutical M&A Activity: Effects on Prices, Innovation, and Competition, 48 Loyola U. Chi. L. J. 787, 799 (2017) (“Our review of data measuring pharmaceutical innovation, however, tells a different story. First, even as merger activity in the United States increased over the past ten years, there has been a steady upward trend of FDA approvals of new molecular entities (“NMEs”) and new biological products (“BLAs”). Hence, the industry has been highly successful in bringing new products to the market.”).

[117] See Salop, supra note 79.

[118] In this section, we focus on Salop’s comments because they represent a common perspective. As Salop himself points out “I do not think that any of the analysis in the article is new. I expect that all the points have been made elsewhere by others and myself.”

[119] For a simple example, consider a Cournot oligopoly model with an industry inverse demand curve of P(Q)=1-Q and constant marginal costs that are normalized to zero. In a market with N symmetric sellers, each seller earns in profits. A monopolist makes a profit of 1/4. A duopolist can expect to earn a profit of 1/9. If there are 3 potential entrants plus the incumbent, the monopolist must pay each the duopoly profit 3*1/9=1/3, which exceeds the monopoly profits of 1/4. In the Nash/Cournot equilibrium, the incumbent will not acquire any of the competitors since it is too costly to keep them all out.

[120] Manne, Bowman, & Auer, supra note 132, at 1080.

[121] For vertical mergers the welfare-enhancing effects are well-established. See, e.g., Francine Lafontaine & Margaret Slade, Vertical Integration and Firm Boundaries: The Evidence, 45 J. ECON. LIT. 629, 677 (2007) (“In spite of the lack of unified theory, over all a fairly clear empirical picture emerges. The data appear to be telling us that efficiency considerations overwhelm anticompetitive motives in most contexts. Furthermore, even when we limit attention to natural monopolies or tight oligopolies, the evidence of anticompetitive harm is not strong.”). See also, Global Antitrust Institute, Comment Letter on Federal Trade Commission’s Hearings on Competition and Consumer Protection in the 21st Century, Vertical Merger, Geo. Mason Law & Econ. Research Paper No. 18-27, 8–9 (2018), https://ssrn.com/abstract=3245940 (“In sum, these papers from 2009-2018 continue to support the conclusions from Lafontaine & Slade (2007) and Cooper et al. (2005) that consumers mostly benefit from vertical integration. While vertical integration can certainly foreclose rivals in theory, there is only limited empirical evidence supporting that finding in real markets. The results continue to suggest that the modern antitrust approach to vertical mergers 9 should reflect the empirical reality that vertical relationships are generally procompetitive.”). Along similar lines, empirical research casts doubt on the notion that antitrust merger enforcement (in marginal cases) raises consumer welfare. The effects of horizontal mergers are, empirically, less well documented. See, e.g., Robert W. Crandall & Clifford Winston, Does Antitrust Policy Improve Consumer Welfare? Assessing the Evidence, 17 J. ECON. PERSP. 3, 20 (2003) (“We can only conclude that efforts by antitrust authorities to block particular mergers or affect a merger’s outcome by allowing it only if certain conditions are met under a consent decree have not been found to increase consumer welfare in any systematic way, and in some instances the intervention may even have reduced consumer welfare.”). While there is some evidence that horizontal mergers can reduce consumer welfare, at least in the short run, see, e.g., Gregory J. Werden, et al., The Effects of Mergers on Price and Output: Two Case Studies from the Airline Industry, 12 MGMT. DECIS. ECON. 341 (1991), the long-run effects appear to be strongly positive. See, e.g., Dario Focarelli & Fabio Panetta, Are Mergers Beneficial to Consumers? Evidence from the Market for Bank Deposits, 93 AM. ECON. REV. 1152, 1152 (2003) (“We find strong evidence that, although consolidation does generate adverse price changes, these are temporary. In the long run, efficiency gains dominate over the market power effect, leading to more favorable prices for consumers.”). See, generally, Michael C. Jensen, Takeovers: Their Causes and Consequences, 2 J. ECON. PERSP. 21 (1988). Some related literature similarly finds that horizontal merger enforcement has harmed consumers. See B. Espen Eckbo & Peggy Wier, Antimerger Policy Under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act: A Reexamination of the Market Power Hypothesis, 28 J.L. & ECON. 119, 121 (1985) (“In sum, our results do not support the contention that enforcement of Section 7 has served the public interest. While it is possible that the government’s merger policy has deterred some anticompetitive mergers, the results indicate that it has also protected rival producers from facing increased competition due to efficient mergers.”); B. Espen Eckbo, Mergers and the Value of Antitrust Deterrence, 47 J. FINANCE 1005, 1027–28 (1992) (rejecting “the market concentration doctrine on samples of both U.S. and Canadian mergers. By implication, the results also reject the effective deterrence hypothesis. The evidence is, however, consistent with the alternative hypothesis that the horizontal mergers in either of the two countries were expected to generate productive efficiencies”).

[122] Asker, et al., supra note 3, at 34.

[123] See Baker, et al., supra note 106, at 13 (“[Treating vertical mergers more permissively than horizontal mergers, even in concentrated markets] would be tantamount to presuming that vertical mergers benefit competition regardless of market structure. However, such a presumption is not warranted for vertical mergers in the oligopoly markets that typically prompt enforcement agency review.”); Competition and Consumer Protection in the 21st Century: FTC Hearing #5: Vertical Merger Analysis and the Role of the Consumer Welfare Standard in U.S. Antitrust Law; FTC Transcript 164 (Nov. 1, 2018) [hereinafter “FTC Hearing #5”] at 14-15 (statement of Steven Salop, Professor, Georgetown University Law Center). See also Cooper, et al., supra note 108, at 643-48 (discussing such “post-Chicago” scholarship).

[124] Salop, Vertical Merger Slides, supra note 96, at 14.

[125] See Lafontaine & Slade, supra note 138. See also Cooper, et al., supra note 108; Daniel O’Brien, The Antitrust Treatment of Vertical Restraint: Beyond the Beyond the Possibility Theorems, in Report: The Pros and Cons of Vertical Restraints 22, 36 (2008) (“[Table 1 in this paper] indicates that voluntarily adopted restraints are associated with lower costs, greater consumption, higher stock returns, and better chances of survival.”).

[126] See, e.g., Salop, Vertical Merger Slides, supra note 96, at 17 (dismissing Lafontaine & Slade and attempting to adduce a few newer studies as contradictory and dispositive).

[127] It is fair to point out that, indeed, many of the studies look at the effects of vertical restraints rather than vertical mergers, per se. But such studies remain instructive, given that the theories of harm arising from vertical mergers arise from precisely the sorts of conduct at issue in these studies. If perfect alignment of facts were required, no economic theory or evidence would ever be relevant.

[128] Lafontaine & Slade, supra note 138, at 663.

[129] FTC Hearing #5 (statement of Francine Lafontaine, Professor, Michigan-Ross), supra note 140, at 93.

[130] Margaret E. Slade, Vertical Integration and Mergers: Empirical Evidence and Evaluation Methods, OECD (Jun. 7, 2019), https://one.oecd.org/document/DAF/COMP/WD(2019)68/en/pdf.

[131] Id. at 10-12.

[132] Baker, et al., supra note 106, at 11.

[133] Global Antitrust Institute, Comment at the Fed. Trade Comm’n Hearings on Competition and Consumer Protection in the 21st Century, The Consumer Welfare Standard in Antitrust Law (Sep. 7, 2018).

[134] Salop, Vertical Merger Slides, supra note 96, at 25. For a more comprehensive assessment of the recent empirical scholarship (finding the same overall results that we do), see id.

[135] Fernando Luco & Guillermo Marshall, Vertical Integration With Multiproduct Firms: When Eliminating Double Marginalization May Hurt Consumers (Jan. 15, 2018), https://ssrn.com/abstract=3110038.

[136] Id. at 22.

[137] FTC Hearing #5 (statement of Francine Lafontaine, Professor, Michigan-Ross), supra note 140, at 88.

[138] Justine S. Hastings & Richard J. Gilbert, Market Power, Vertical Integration, and the Wholesale Price of Gasoline, 33 J. Indus. Econ. 469 (2005).

[139] Id. at 471.

[140] Christopher T. Taylor, Nicolas M. Kreisle, & Paul R. Zimmerman, Vertical Relationships and Competition in Retail Gasoline Markets: Empirical Evidence from Contract Changes in Southern California: Comment, 100 Am. Econ. Rev. 1269 (2010).

[141] Id. at 1272-76.

[142] Justine Hastings, Vertical Relationships and Competition in Retail Gasoline Markets: Empirical Evidence from Contract Changes in Southern California, 94 Am. Econ. Rev. 317 (2004).

[143] Justine Hastings, Vertical Relationships and Competition in Retail Gasoline Markets: Empirical Evidence from Contract Changes in Southern California: Reply, 100 Am. Econ. Rev. 1227 (2010).

[144] Gregory S. Crawford, Robin S. Lee, Michael D. Whinston, & Ali Yurukoglu, The Welfare Effects of Vertical Integration in Multichannel Television Markets, 86 Econometrica 891 (2018).

[145] Slade, supra, note 147, at 6.

[146] Crawford, et al, supra note 160, at 893-94 (emphasis added).

[147] Competition and Consumer Protection in the 21st Century: FTC Hearing #3: Multi-sided Platforms, Labor Markets, and Potential Competition; FTC Transcript 101 (Oct. 17, 2018) (statement of Robin Lee, Professor, Harvard University), available at https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/public_events/1413712/ftc_hearings_session_3_transcript_day_3_10-17-18_0.pdf  (“[O]ur key findings are that, on average, across channels and simulations, there is a net consumer welfare gain from integration. Don’t get me wrong, there are significant foreclosure effects, and rival distributors are harmed, but these negative effects are oftentimes offset by sizeable efficiency gains. Of course, this is an average. It masks considerable heterogeneity. When complete exclusion occurs, which happens both in our simulations and in the data some of the times, consumer welfare is actually harmed.”).

[148] Ayako Suzuki, Market Foreclosure and Vertical Merger: A Case Study of the Vertical Merger Between Turner Broadcasting and Time Warner, 27 Int’l J. of Indus. Org. 532 (2009).

[149] Id. at 542.

[150] Id.

[151] Id.

[152] Brown Shoe, 370 U.S. at 329 ((emphasis added)

[153] FTC v. Microsoft Corporation et al., No. 23-cv-02880-JSC (N.D. Cal. Jul. 10, 2023), available at https://s3.documentcloud.org/documents/23870711/ftc-v-microsoft-preliminary-injunction-opinion.pdf.

[154] Syverson, supra note 48, at 27.

[155] Draft Merger Guidelines, at 34.

[156] Id. at 26.

[157] United States v. Bertelsmann SE & Co. KGaA, No. CV 21-2886-FYP, 2022 WL 16949715 (D.D.C. Nov. 15, 2022)

[158] Id. (“The defendants do not dispute that if advances are significantly decreased, some authors will not be able to write, resulting in fewer books being published, less variety in the marketplace of ideas, and an inevitable loss of intellectual and creative output.”)

[159] See, e.g., Roger G. Noll, Buyer Power and Economic Policy, 72 Antitrust L.J. 589, 589 (2005) (“[B]uyer power arises from monopsony (one buyer) or oligopsony (a few buyers), and is the mirror image of monopoly or oligopoly.”); Id. at 591 (“Asymmetric treatment of monopoly and monopsony has no basis in economic analysis.”).

[160] Of course, monopoly markets in intermediate products (i.e., products sold not to end users but to manufacturers who use them as inputs for products that are, in turn, sold to end users) may indeed sit in the same place in the supply chain as the typical monopsony market. Some, but not all, of the complications associated with monopsony analysis are relevant to these monopoly situations, as well.

[161] Ioana Marinescu & Herbert J. Hovenkamp, Anticompetitive Mergers in Labor Markets, 94 Indiana L.J. 1031, 1034 (2019) (“While the use of section 7 to pursue mergers among buyers is well established, there is relatively little case law.”)

[162] Id. at 1034.

[163] For purposes of this discussion, “monopoly” refers to any merger that would increase market power by a seller in a product market and “monopsony” refers to any merger that would increase market by the buyer in an input market.

[164] Some efficiency-enhancing mergers will be identifiable, of course. For example, if the merger raises quantities and prices for all inputs, that must be efficiency enhancing. The problem, as always, is with the hard cases.

[165] See C. Scott Hemphill & Nancy L. Rose, Mergers that Harm Sellers, 127 Yale L.J. 2078 (2018).

[166] In theory, one could force a monopsony model to be identical to monopoly. The key difference is about the standard economic form of these models that economists use. The standard monopoly model looks at one output good at a time, while the standard factor demand model uses two inputs, which introduces a trade-off between, say, capital and labor. See Sonia Jaffe, Robert Minton, Casey B. Mulligan, and Kevin M. Murphy, Chicago Price Theory (2019) at Ch. 10. One could generate harm from an efficiency for monopoly (as we show for monopsony) by assuming the merging parties each produce two different outputs, apples and bananas. An efficiency gain could favor apple production and hurt banana consumers. While this sort of substitution among outputs is often realistic, it is not the standard economic way of modeling an output market.

[167] John Asker & Volker Nocke, Collusion, Mergers, and Related Antitrust Issues, NBER Working Paper 29175 (Aug. 2021), at 42, https://www.nber.org/papers/w29175.

[168] Roman Inderst & Christian Wey, Countervailing Power and Dynamic Efficiency, 9 J. Eur. Econ. Ass’n 702, 715 (2011).

[169] FTC v. Whole Foods Mkt., Inc., 548 F.3d 1028, 1063 (D.C. Cir. 2008). See also Geoffrey Manne, Premium, Natural, and Organic Bullsh**t, Truth on the Market (Jun. 6, 2007), https://truthonthemarket.com/2007/06/06/premium-natural-and-organic-bullst (“In other words, there is a serious risk of conflating a ‘market’ for business purposes with an actual antitrust-relevant market.”).

[170] Executive Order 14036 on Promoting Competition in the American Economy, § 2(g) (Jul. 9, 2021) https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/07/09/executive-order-on-promoting-competition-in-the-american-economy (“This order recognizes that a whole-of-government approach is necessary to address overconcentration, monopolization, and unfair competition in the American economy.”

[171] Ioana Marinescu & Herbert J. Hovenkamp, Anticompetitive Mergers in Labor Markets, 94 Indiana L.J. 1031, 1050 (2019). (“The analogous question for considering monopsony in the labor market would be to identify the smallest labor market for which a hypothetical monopsonist in that market would find profitable to implement a “small and significant but non-transitory reduction in wages” (SSNRW)”).

[172] Id. 1062-63.

[173] As Marinescu & Hovenkamp note (attributing the point to Hemphill & Rose), “[i]n this case, there is merely a transfer away from workers and towards the merging firms. Yet. . . such a transfer is a harm for antitrust law as it results from a reduction in competition.” Id. at 1062 (citing Hemphill & Rose, supra note 211, at 2104-05).

[174] See, e.g., Kartell v. Blue Shield of Mass., Inc., 749 F.2d 922 (1st Cir. 1984). See also Steven C. Salop, Question: What Is the Real and Proper Antitrust Welfare Standard? Answer: The True Consumer Welfare Standard, 22 Loy. Consumer L. Rev. 336, 342 (2010) (“However, Judge Breyer treated Blue Cross essentially as an agent for the customers it insured, rather than as an intermediary firm that purchased inputs and sold outputs as a monopolistic reseller. The court apparently assumed (perhaps wrongfully) that Blue Cross would pass on its lower input costs to its customers in the form of lower insurance premiums.”).

[175] See Jan M. Rybnicek & Joshua D. Wright, Outside In or Inside Out?: Counting Merger Efficiencies Inside and Out of the Relevant Market, in William E. Kovacic: An Antitrust Tribute Vol. II (2014) at *10, SSRN version available at https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2411270) (“Despite the incorporation of efficiencies analysis into modern merger evaluation, and the advances in economics that allow efficiencies to be identified and calculated more accurately than at the time of Philadelphia National Bank, antitrust doctrine in the United States still supports a regime that fails to take into account efficiencies arising outside of the relevant market.”).

[176] U.S. Dep’t of Justice & Fed. Trade Comm’n, Commentary on the Horizontal Merger Guidelines (2006), available at http://www.justice.gov/atr/public/guidelines/215247.htm. See also U.S. Dep’t of Justice & Fed. Trade Comm’n, Horizontal Merger Guidelines (1992, rev. 1997) § 4 at n.36 (“In some cases, merger efficiencies are “not strictly in the relevant market, but so inextricably linked with it that a partial divestiture or other remedy could not feasibly eliminate the anticompetitive effect in the relevant market without sacrificing the efficiencies in the other market(s).”).

[177] See, e.g., Brunswick Corp. v. Pueblo Bowl-O-Mat, Inc., 429 U.S. 477, 487 (1977) (“Every merger of two existing entities into one, whether lawful or unlawful, has the potential for producing economic readjustments that adversely affect some persons. But Congress has not condemned mergers on that account; it has condemned them only when they may produce anticompetitive effects.”). See also Robert H. Bork, The Antitrust Paradox: A Policy at War with Itself (2021) at 110 (“Those who continue to buy after a monopoly is formed pay more for the same output, and that shifts income from them to the monopoly and its owners, who are also consumers. This is not dead-weight loss due to restriction of output but merely a shift in income between two classes of consumers. The consumer welfare model, which views consumers collectively, does not take this income effect into account.”).

[178] Hemphill & Rose distinguish monopsony power from increased buyer leverage, which does not result in a deadweight loss but is simply a redistribution from sellers to buyers. Leverage will be partially passed through to consumers as lower prices. Standard monopsony increases in bargaining power will not generate lower prices, since “[a]n increase in monopsony power increases the firm’s perceived marginal cost and reduces output. Far from lowering output prices, the increased monopsony power raises price in output markets (if the firm faces downward sloping demand for its output) or else leaves it unchanged.” Hemphill & Rose, supra note 211, at 2106.

[179] Roman Inderst & Greg Shaffer, Buyer Power in Merger Control, in ABA Antitrust Section Handbook, Issues in Competition Law and Policy (Wayne Dale Collins, ed. 2008) at 1611, 1612-13 (emphasis added).

[180] Statement of the Federal Trade Commission Concerning the Proposed Acquisition of Medco Health Solutions by Express Scripts, Inc., FTC File No. 111-0210, at 7 (Apr. 2, 2012), available at https://www.ftc.gov/sites/default/files/documents/closing_letters/proposed-acquisition-medco-health-solutions-inc.express-scripts-inc./120402expressmedcostatement.pdf.

[181] Salop, supra note 218, at 342 (“Efficiency benefits count under the true consumer welfare standard, but only if there is evidence that enough of the efficiency benefits pass through to consumers so that consumers (i.e., the buyers) would directly benefit on balance from the conduct.”)

[182] The same analysis can be applied to a hypothetical merger between, say, Kroger and Trader Joe’s in which we assume for the sake of argument there is no increase in seller power, but there is an increase in buyer power.

[183] It is worth noting that, although the analogy between Blue Cross and Kroger here seems quite apt and powerful, there can be little doubt that Salop would not condone this mode of analysis in a such a case against Kroger. Whether (if correct) that is a function of one person’s idiosyncratic preferences or an expression of the complication inherent in assessing consumer welfare in monopsony cases is uncertain.

[184] See, e.g., Gregory J. Werden, Monopsony and the Sherman Act: Consumer Welfare in a New Light, 74 Antitrust L.J. 707, 735 (2007). (“Predatory pricing that excludes competitors and results in monopsony is condemned by the Sherman Act, just as the Act condemns predatory pricing that excludes competitors and obtains a monopoly.… Protecting consumer welfare is the principal goal of the Sherman Act, but it is only a goal: The Sherman Act protects the people by protecting the competitive process. The competitive process could not be under mined any more clearly than it is when competing buyers conspire to eliminate the competition among themselves, and it matters not one whit under the Sherman Act whether the conspiracy threatens the welfare of conspirators’ customers or the welfare of end users. It is enough that the conspiracy threatens the welfare of the trading partners exploited by the conspiracy. Harm to them implies harm to people protected by the Sherman Act.”).

[185] See, Illinois Brick Co. v. Illinois, 431 U.S. 720 (1977); Hanover Shoe, Inc. v. United Shoe Machinery Corp., 392 U.S. 481 (1968).

[186] Ohio v. Am. Express Co., 138 S. Ct. 2274 (2018).

[187] See Jonathan H. Adler, Conservation Through Collusion: Antitrust as an Obstacle to Marine Resource Conservation, 61 Wash. & Lee L. Rev 3 (2004) (“The purported aim of antitrust law is to improve consumer welfare by proscribing actions and arrangements that reduce output and increase prices. Conservation aims to improve human welfare by maximizing the long-term productive use of natural resources, an aim that often requires limiting consumption to sustainable levels. While such conservation measures might increase prices in the short-run, when successful they enhance consumer welfare by increasing long-term production and ensuring the availability of valued resources over time.”).

[188] See, Credit Suisse Securities (USA) LLC v. Billing, 551 U.S. 264, *19-*20, *1-*2 (2007) (holding that where “(1) an area of conduct [is] squarely within the heartland of… regulations; (2) [there is] clear and adequate… authority to regulate; (3) [there is] active and ongoing agency regulation; and (4) [there is] a serious conflict between the antitrust and regulatory regimes. . . , [such] laws are ‘clearly incompatible’ with the application of the antitrust laws…[,]” thus “implicitly precluding the application of the antitrust laws to the conduct alleged”). See also U.S. v. Philadelphia Nat. Bank, 374 U.S. 321, 398-74 (1963) (Harlan, J. dissenting) (“Sweeping aside the ‘design fashioned in the Bank Merger Act’ as ‘predicated upon uncertainty as to the scope of § 7 of the Clayton Act’ (ante, p. 349), the Court today holds § 7 to be applicable to bank mergers and concludes that it has been violated in this case. I respectfully submit that this holding, which sanctions a remedy regarded by Congress as inimical to the best interests of the banking industry and the public, and which will in large measure serve to frustrate the objectives of the Bank Merger Act, finds no justification in either the terms of the 1950 amendment of the Clayton Act or the history of the statute.”).

[189] See William M Landes & Richard A Posner, Market Power in Antitrust Cases, 94 HARV. L. REV. 937 (1981) at 938 (“The standard method of proving market power in antitrust cases involves first defining a relevant market in which to compute the defendant’s market share, next computing that share, and then deciding whether it is large enough to support an inference of the required degree of market power.”); Louis Kaplow, Why (ever) Define Markets?, 124 Harv. L. Rev. 437, 515 (2010) (“The market definition / market share paradigm plays a prominent role in competition law regimes. Its central justification is that it offers a useful means of making inferences about market power, indeed one that is easier or more reliable than other means of market power determination. Upon analysis, however, it appears that this widely accepted view is always false….”).

[190] Complaint, Fed. Trade Comm’n v. Facebook, Inc., No. 1:20-cv-03590 (D.C. Cir. filed Jan. 13, 2021), at 19. Consider the following passage from the FTC’s complaint: “Direct network effects are a significant barrier to entry into personal social networking. Specifically, because a core purpose of personal social networking is to connect and engage with personal connections, it is very difficult for a new entrant to displace an established personal social network in which users’ friends and family already participate. A potential entrant in personal social networking services also would have to overcome users’ reluctance to incur high switching costs.” This analysis fails to examine whether users can and do coordinate among themselves to join rival networks. For a detailed discussion of these considerations, see, e.g., Daniel F Spulber, Consumer Coordination in the Small and in the Large: Implications for Antitrust in Markets With Network Effects, 4 J. Competition L. & Econ. 207 (2008). See also, Dirk Auer, What Zoom Can Tell Us About Network Effects and Competition Policy in Digital Markets, Truth on the Market (Apr. 14, 2019), https://truthonthemarket.com/2019/04/24/what-zoom-can-tell-us-about-network-effects-and-competition-policy-in-digital-markets.

[191] Complaint, Fed. Trade Comm’n v. Facebook, Inc., id. at 48.

[192] Vivek Bhattacharya, Gaston Illanes & David Stillerman, Merger Effects and Antitrust Enforcement: Evidence from U.S. Retail, NBER, Working Paper 31123 (2023), available at https://www.nber.org/papers/w31123; Mert Demirer & Omer Karaduman, Do Mergers and Acquisitions Improve Efficiency: Evidence from Power Plants, available at https://gsb-faculty.stanford.edu/omer-karaduman/files/2022/12/Draft.pdf; Celine Bonnet & Jan Philip Schain, An Empirical Analysis of Mergers: Efficiency Gains and Impact on Consumer Prices, 16 J. Comp. Law & Econ 1 (2020).

[193] Draft Guidelines, at 33.

[194] 2010 HMGs, at 30.

[195] Draft Guidelines, at 34.

[196] See, e.g., Reiter v. Sonotone Corp., 442 U.S. 330 (1979); Continental T.V., Inc. v. GTE Sylvania Inc., 433 U.S. 36 (1977); United States v. General Dynamics, 415 U.S. 486 (1974).

[197] See, e.g., Matt Stoller, The Secret Plot to Unleash Corporate Power, Big (Apr. 8, 2022), https://mattstoller.substack.com/p/the-secret-plot-to-unleash-corporate?s=r.

[198] Noah Joshua Phillips & Christine S. Wilson, Comm’rs, Fed. Trade Comm’n, Statement Regarding the Request for Information on Merger Enforcement (Jan. 18, 2022) at 1-2, available at http://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/public_statements/1599775/phillips_wilson_rfi_statement_final_1-18-22.pdf.

[199] See U.S. Dep’t of Justice & F.T.C., Horizontal Merger Guidelines (2010), available at https://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/atr/legacy/2010/08/19/hmg-2010.pdf [hereinafter “2010 HMGs”].

[200] Carl Shapiro & Howard Shelanski, Judicial Response to the 2010 Horizontal Merger Guidelines, 58 Rev. Indus. Org. 51 (2021).

[201] Jan M. Rybnicek & Laura C. Onken, A Hedgehog in Fox’s Clothing: The Misapplication of GUPPI Analysis, 23 Geo. Mason L. Rev. 1187, 1190 (2016). (“This paper argues that the GUPPI regularly fails to live up to its promise for two principal reasons: (1) the GUPPI all too often is based on inaccurate or incomplete data and (2) there is insufficient guidance to allow the business community and the antitrust bar to draw reliable conclusions about how the GUPPI will be incorporated into the agencies’ enforcement decisions.”).

[202] Adam Di Vincenzo, Brian Ryoo, & Joshua Wade, Refining, Not Redefining, Market Definition: A Decade Under the 2010 Horizontal Merger Guidelines, Antitrust Source (Aug. 2020) at 11, available at https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/publishing/antitrust-magazine-online/2020/august-2020/aug20_divincenzo_8_18f.pdf (“Market definition has retained a central and often outcome-determinative role in courts’ merger analysis beyond the presumption of anticompetitive effects; in this respect, market definition is as important today as it was prior to the 2010 Guidelines.”).

[203] Fed. Trade Comm’n, Federal Trade Commission Withdraws Vertical Merger Guidelines and Commentary (Sep. 15, 2021), https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/news/press-releases/2021/09/federal-trade-commission-withdraws-vertical-merger-guidelines-commentary.

[204] Id. (“The guidance documents… include unsound economic theories that are unsupported by the law or market realities.”).

[205] As the dissent from the withdrawal of the 2020 VMGs by Commissioners Philips and Wilson notes, “the FTC leadership continues the disturbing trend of pulling the rug out under from honest businesses and the lawyers who advise them, with no explanation and no sound basis of which we are aware .., with the minimum notice required by law, virtually no public input, and no analysis or guidance.” Noah Joshua Phillips & Christine S. Wilson, Comm’rs, Fed. Trade Comm’n, Dissenting Statement Regarding the Commission’s Rescission of the 2020 FTC/DOJ Vertical Merger Guidelines and the Commentary on Vertical Merger Enforcement (Sep. 15, 2021) at 1, https://www.ftc.gov/legal-library/browse/cases-proceedings/public-statements/dissenting-statement-commissioners-noah-joshua-phillips-christine-s-wilson-regarding-commissions. See also, id. at 6 (“The majority could have waited to rescind the 2020 Guidelines until they had something with which to replace it. It appears they prefer sowing uncertainly in the market and arrogating unbridled authority to condemn mergers without reference to law, agency practice, economics, or market realities.”).

[206] Carl Shapiro & Herbert Hovenkamp, How Will the FTC Evaluate Vertical Mergers?, ProMarket (Sep. 23, 2021), https://www.promarket.org/2021/09/23/ftc-vertical-mergers-antitrust-shapiro-hovenkamp. Other choice words used by Shapiro & Hovenkamp in their extremely short essay to describe the FTC majority’s asserted basis for withdrawing the 2020 Guidelines include: “baffling,” “reli[ant] on specious economic arguments,” “demonstrably false,” “ignor[ing] relevant expertise,” “contrary to a broad consensus among economists going back at least to. . . 1968,” “flatly inconsistent with the Horizontal Merger Guidelines,” and “likely to cause real harm.” Id.

[207] See, generally, Geoffrey A. Manne, Kristian Stout & Eric Fruits, The Fatal Economic Flaws of the Contemporary Campaign Against Vertical Integration, 68 Kansas L. Rev. 923 (2020).

[208] Doug Melamed, in Antitrust Policy and Its Different Perspectives: Where Do the Antitrust Professionals Agree and Disagree? (interview by Alden Abbott with Doug Melamed and Joshua Wright), The Bridge Podcast (Apr. 19, 2022), transcript available at https://www.mercatus.org/bridge/podcasts/04192022/antitrust-policy-and-its-different-perspectives (“I will say I think the request for information that the agencies put out is a little worrisome because I think it’s very tendentious. At the outset, they say, ‘We’re interested in information that will help us strengthen merger enforcement.’ I would have thought the appropriate question would be information that would help us improve merger enforcement. They ask for information about false negatives, they don’t ask for information about false positives.”).

[209] Press Release, Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department Seek to Strengthen Enforcement Against Illegal Mergers (Jan. 18, 2022), https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/news/press-releases/2022/01/federal-trade-commission-justice-department-seek-strengthen-enforcement-against-illegal-mergers (emphasis added).

[210] Christine A. Varney, Assistant Att’y Gen., Antitrust Div., U.S. Dept. of Justice, An Update on the Review of the Horizontal Merger Guidelines (Jan. 26, 2010) at 4, available at http://www.justice.gov/atr/public/speeches/254577.pdf.

[211] Judd E. Stone & Joshua D. Wright, The Sound of One Hand Clapping: The 2010 Merger Guidelines and the Challenge of Judicial Adoption, 39 Rev. Indus. Org. 145, 152 (2011).

[212] Report and Recommendations of the Antitrust Modernization Commission (Apr. 2007) at 54-55.

[213] Timothy J. Muris & Bilal Sayyed, Three Key Principles for Revising the Horizontal Merger Guidelines, Antitrust Source (Apr. 2010) at 3.

[214] Stone & Wright, supra note 366, at 157.

[215] Christine Varney, Assistant Att’y Gen., Antitrust Div., U.S. Dept. of Justice, Merger Guidelines Workshops (Sep. 22, 2009) at 4-5, available at http://www.justice.gov/atr/public/speeches/250238.pdf.

[216] See, e.g., Dennis Carlton, Revising the Horizontal Merger Guidelines, 6 J. Comp. L. & Econ. 1, 2 (2010) (“The Guidelines have proven to be a valuable and durable guide to antitrust practitioners and the courts”); William E. Kovacic, The Modern Evolution of Competition Policy Enforcement Norms, 71 Antitrust L.J. 377, 435 (“The Guidelines not only changed the way the U.S. courts and enforcement agencies examine mergers, but they also supplied an influential focal point for foreign competition authorities in the formulation of their own merger control regimes.”); Carl Shapiro, The 2010 Horizontal Merger Guidelines: From Hedgehog to Fox in Forty Years, 77 Antitrust L.J. 701, 703 (2010) (“One cannot help but marvel at how far merger enforcement has moved over the past forty years, with no change in the substantive provisions of the Clayton Act and very little new guidance on horizontal mergers from the Supreme Court”).

[217] Press Release, Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission to Hold Workshops Concerning Horizontal Merger Guidelines (Sep. 22, 2009), https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/department-justice-and-federal-trade-commission-hold-workshops-concerning-horizontal-merger.

[218] Id.

[219] Christine A. Varney, Assistant Att’y Gen., Antitrust Div., U.S. Dept. of Justice, An Update on the Review of the Horizontal Merger Guidelines (Jan. 26, 2010) at 3, available at http://www.justice.gov/atr/public/speeches/254577.pdf (emphasis added).

[220] 5 U.S.C. 553.

[221] We need not recount the entire series of actions here, but they include, inter alia: withdrawing the 2020 VMGs; rescinding the 2015 UMC Policy Statement; eviscerating HSR process by, among other things, suspending HSR early terminations and lowering merger-challenge thresholds; reinstating and expanding the use of prior-approval provisions; conducting business using “zombie votes”; and moving forward with competition rulemakings.

[222] There are myriad examples throughout the guidelines. To consider only a couple of examples, see, e.g., Draft Merger Guidelines fn 41 (citing Marine Bancorp for the proposition that “If the merging firm had a reasonable probability of entering the concentrated relevant market, the Agencies will usually presume that the resulting deconcentration and other benefits that would have resulted from its entry would be competitively significant” – Marine Bancorp speaks to the opposite circumstance, rejecting consideration of potential entry where state law prohibits such entry to occur at a meaningful scale); fn 53 (citing Brown Shoe at 328 for the proposition that, in the context of vertical mergers, “If the foreclosure share is above 50 percent, that factor alone is a sufficient basis to conclude that the effect of the merger may be to substantially lessen competition, subject to any rebuttal evidence.” – Brown Shoe at 329 further clarifies that “in which the foreclosure is neither of monopoly nor de minimis proportions, the percentage of the market foreclosed by the vertical arrangement cannot itself be decisive.”). Additionally, as other commentors note, the guidelines simply ignore decades of circuit and district court caselaw. In instances where they do cite to recent circuit court opinions, they do so improperly. See, e.g., Draft Merger Guidelines at fn 13 (citing United States v. AT&T, 916 F.3d 1029 (D.C. Cir. 2019) for the proposition that “Mergers Should not Substantially Lessen Competition by Creating a Firm that Controls Products or Services That Its Rivals May Use to Compete” – this was the government’s theory of harm in the case, not the court’s holding); fn 48 (citing FTC v. H.J. Heinz Co., 246 F.3d 708 (D.C. Cir. 2001) for the proposition that “the Agencies are unlikely to credit claims of commitments to protect or otherwise avoid harming their rivals that do not align with the firm’s incentives” – in the cited case the court was concern with “mere speculation and promises” that would protect rivals not “claims or commitments.”)..

[223] Brown Shoe Co. v. United States, 370 U.S. 294 (1962).

[224] United States v. Phila. Nat’l Bank, 374 U.S. 321 (1963).

[225] FTC v. Procter & Gamble Co., 386 U.S. 568 (1967).

[226] See, e.g., Douglas H Ginsburg & Joshua D Wright, Philadelphia National Bank: Bad Economics, Bad Law, Good Riddance, 80 Antitrust L.J. 377 (2015).


Continue reading
Antitrust & Consumer Protection

What’s Gone Up is Coming Down? Vertical Mergers in the 2023 DOJ-FTC Draft Merger Guidelines

Scholarship Abstract The economic theory of the firm teaches that vertical (and complementary goods) mergers differ fundamentally from horizontal mergers. Given incomplete contracting at arm’s length, . . .


The economic theory of the firm teaches that vertical (and complementary goods) mergers differ fundamentally from horizontal mergers. Given incomplete contracting at arm’s length, improved coordination post-merger tends to increase competition and improve market outcomes in the case of vertical merger but tends to lessen competition and degrade market outcomes in the case of horizontal merger. Countervailing effects can of course reverse these tendencies, but rational merger analysis should take the fundamental differences of merger types into account.

The economic analysis of Section II.5 of the Draft Merger Guidelines (DMGs) conveys a rational—though incomplete—antitrust treatment of vertical mergers based on sound economic analysis. The one glaring omission in Section II.5 is the absence of any discussion of the elimination of double marginalization (EDM)—a feature typically inherent to vertical mergers and thus a procompetitive effect rather than an exogenous efficiency requiring separate evidence and analysis. EDM arises from improved coordination between the merging parties, with the salutary effect of increasing competition in the relevant market. EDM can manifest as improvements in the merged firm’s product price or non-price features. We urge the Agencies to add a discussion of EDM to Section II.5 of the DMGs.

Section II.6 of the DMGs, however, stands in stark contradiction to the economic analysis in Section II.5. The market-share threshold for a presumption of harm in Section II.6 has no support in either economics or legal precedent, and the “plus factors” when the presumption threshold is not triggered offer no reliable indication of competitive harm. We urge the Agencies to entirely eliminate Guideline 6 and the material in Section II.6 from the DMGs.

Continue reading
Antitrust & Consumer Protection

Are Markups Really SO Bad?

TOTM Concentration is a terrible measure of [insert basically anything people actually care about]. Have I said that before? Concentration tells us nothing about market power, efficiency, or whether . . .

Concentration is a terrible measure of [insert basically anything people actually care about]. Have I said that before? Concentration tells us nothing about market power, efficiency, or whether policy changes can do anything to increase welfare. Economists know that, especially industrial organization (IO) economists.

If we want to measure market power for a seller, a better measure is the markup, defined as the ratio of price over marginal cost. If we want to measure market power for a buyer, we can look at the markdown. Either one is a better measure of market power (possibly bad) and often the very definition of market power.

Read the full piece here.

Continue reading
Antitrust & Consumer Protection

The Challenges of Using Ranks to Estimate Sales

Scholarship Abstract Researchers have frequently used publicly available data on product ranks to estimate nonpublic sales quantities, believing that there is a linear relationship between logged . . .


Researchers have frequently used publicly available data on product ranks to estimate nonpublic sales quantities, believing that there is a linear relationship between logged rank and logged sales values due to the assumption that sales follow a power law. However, using data on book sales, which are commonly thought to follow a power law, we find that the (double logged) relationship between ranking and sales is not linear, but actually concave. We demonstrate that this concavity is likely to cause poor predictions of sales in many instances. We also explore the use of nonlinear specifications as an alternative method to predict sales from ranks and find a simple specification that ameliorates many of these poor sales estimates. We illustrate some of the problems of applying a linear technique to this nonlinear relationship by examining the claim that the greater product variety made available to shoppers on the Internet has a large positive impact on social welfare, and also a claim about sales levels in top 20 and top 50 “charts.”

Continue reading
Innovation & the New Economy

Streaming, Competition and Contract Terms In Screen Production in Australia

Scholarship Abstract This paper assesses a common view that has surfaced recently in a growing number of Government, industry and academic studies, that first claims streaming . . .


This paper assesses a common view that has surfaced recently in a growing number of Government, industry and academic studies, that first claims streaming media services are likely to have adversely affected competition in media markets (both screen and music), and second recommends additional regulation of competition, or market power in streaming media markets. This paper exposes a number of common fundamental mistakes in the economic analysis underlying this view, in order to minimise the risk these mistakes are perpetuated, and adversely affect law and policy.

For this purpose the focus of analysis in this paper is on an assessment of a 2021 report commissioned by Screen Producers Australia (SPA), and prepared by Lateral Economics (LE) that focuses on screen production in Australia. The LE report is fairly representative of analysis that promotes competition law interventions into streaming media markets globally for two reasons. First the LE report is fundamentally based on the hypothesis that there is significant oligopsony market power, indeed LE claims a “profound imbalance in market power”, in this case between buyers and production companies in the screen production market in Australia. Second LE recommends additional regulation. Specifically LE recommends adoption of a UK-style terms of trade regulatory regime for the screen production market in Australia. The regime would regulate screen production contracts, and essentially require collective bargaining between a coalition of screen producers represented by an industry peak body (i.e. SPA) on the one hand, and streaming companies, as well as commercial and public service broadcasters on the other. LE recommends that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission oversee this.

I explore four common general mistakes made by those advocating more regulation of competition in streaming markets, that are clearly manifest in the LE Report. The first common general mistake is lack of clarity about the objective of the additional recommended regulation. As I show the LE report poses multiple narrow goals or objectives for its proposal. This multiplicity of goals begs questions about which goal takes primacy, and how to make trade-offs between them, while the narrow goals chosen neglect significant relevant wider concerns. I instead focus on the Government’s more fundamental, overarching, or higher-level objective, namely, the promotion of overall wellbeing, or social welfare as a whole. This is consistent with the Australian Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (CCA) that declares the general object of the law is “to enhance the welfare of Australians”. In this regard, LE explicitly acknowledges that it fails to address the impact of its proposed UK-style regulation on consumer welfare in Australia, claiming its discussion is only concerned with the relationship between buyers and sellers of screen productions. This is a serious mistake, as consumers will be considerably worse off under LE’s proposal, implying significant harm to the welfare of Australians, and therefore weighing heavily against LE’s recommended policy change.

The second common general mistake made by LE (and others) is that they do not clearly establish the problem their policy recommendation is supposed to solve. The common basis, or reason LE (and others) claim there is a need for additional regulation is the alleged existence of oligopsony market power – in LE’s case an alleged “profound imbalance in market power between buyers and production companies”. On the contrary however as I show there is no imbalance in market power. LE (like others) simply makes mistakes on three issues underlying market power, as follows.

• Market definition. The usual mistake made by those advocating more regulation of competition in streaming media is to adopt a market definition that is too narrow, which increases the likelihood of market power. LE made this mistake by focusing solely on incumbent streaming companies. As a result LE result calculated that the four firm market share of this narrowly defined market in Australia was 70-80% suggesting a high market concentration result. Given free-to-air (FTA), Internet-based protocol television (IPTV), and pay-tv services are however part of the same market, market shares should be calculated for the combined market, not separately as LE does. When one analyses streaming, FTA, IPTV and pay-tv services in one combined market, the level of the four firm market share (or concentration) is clearly very low, between 35% and 40% – much lower than the 70-80% cited by LE. This does not reveal a “profound imbalance” or very high concentration as claimed by LE.

• Barriers to entry. Another common mistake made by LE and others, is the failure to recognize that even if there is high market shares, or high concentration, low barriers to entry would limit any attempt to abuse market power, as such attempted abuse would encourage new entrants into the market, and therefore be disciplined by loss of market share to new entrants. LE does not carefully identify or assess barriers to entry. Relevant media markets however are contestable, with low barriers to entry, as shown by the recent entry of streaming companies into the Australian market.

• Cartel or collusive behaviors. A further common mistake is the failure to recognize that the abuse of oligopsony power requires explicit or tacit cartel or collusive behaviors. However, such behaviours would be hard to sustain in the current market, given the incentives for cartel participants to compete and cheat on any tacit or explicit cartel agreement to capture market share off other cartel participants, and the low barriers to entry. LE provides no evidence of the existence of cartel or collusive behaviors to refute this.

A third general common general mistake made by LE (and others) is to rely on little or nor evidence, and ignore alternative legitimate or efficient business or market explanations for the contractual or commercial behaviours they allege to be problematic. Despite the absence of any reason to be concerned with a profound imbalance of market power I nevertheless review the changes in contract terms that LE describes as evidence of abuse of market power between screen producers as sellers, and the buyers of their productions, including;

1) Price falls, or claims that Australian screen producers’ incomes have fallen; and
2) Scope widening: or claims the rights transferred to buyers by contract has widened to cover worldwide distribution and sequels; and
3) Duration Increases: or claims the rights transferred to buyers by contract has increased, from 2 to 4 year contracts, to 7 and 10 years, and even in perpetuity.

LE however fails to clearly establish factually that these contractual outcomes have actually occurred, and more importantly fails to refute reasonable alternative explanations for them: namely, that the new terms result from legitimate or efficient competitive market arrangements. On price falls for example, I conclude that even if they were to exist, they are most likely due to the more competitive market putting pressures on costs, or prices paid to producers, and that this is good for consumer’s welfare. On the other two alleged problems, contract scope widening and duration increases, again no evidence is presented that even support the claims made, but even if there were, these are likely to be efficient outcomes as the large streaming companies are likely to need broad scope and long duration contracts to justify the higher investment in the projects they fund, as well as in technology and in worldwide marketing and distribution. More efficient terms on scope and duration would also benefit consumers, and any regulation that threatens to alter such terms would be damaging to consumer interests.

A fourth general common mistake made by LE (and others) is their failure to consider whether current law adequately deals with any of the alleged problems or risks with contract terms. I show however that current Australian law in fact already clearly addresses the problems raised by LE. I also show that LE makes the further common related mistake of failing to look at the marginal effect of the proposed UK style law, compared to the current competitive market outcome and regulatory regime. I identify substantial marginal costs and little to no benefits to the regime as proposed by LE. In essence I show the proposed collective bargaining under the law involves the unnecessary legalisation and facilitation of cartel co-ordination on both sides of the market. It will enable buyers and sellers on the two sides of the market to share information and co-ordinate (in effect form an “unholy alliance”) and put up both of their prices, passing the price rises through to the end consumer, while reducing output and quality, further harming consumers. The regime will also add significantly to market transaction costs and regulatory costs, creating inefficiencies. As I show this will have significant adverse consequences for the welfare of Australians.

In short, my high-level cost-benefit, or regulatory impact analysis highlights that the additional regulation of competition in streaming media markets of the kind proposed by LE is very likely to be highly costly to the welfare of Australians. The exact opposite to that predicted by LE will occur. My analysis reveals LE’s proposals are likely to harm competition and create significant harm to the welfare of Australians. LE’s recommendations should not be followed. Instead, reliance should be placed on the highly competitive market that currently exists, with continued reliance on current law to deliver better outcomes for Australians.

Continue reading
Antitrust & Consumer Protection

Is Market Concentration Actually Rising?

Popular Media Everyone is worried about growing concentration in U.S. markets. Biden’s executive order last year on competition starts with the statement that “excessive market concentration threatens . . .

Everyone is worried about growing concentration in U.S. markets. Biden’s executive order last year on competition starts with the statement that “excessive market concentration threatens basic economic liberties, democratic accountability, and the welfare of workers, farmers, small businesses, startups, and consumers.” No word on the threat of concentration to baby puppies, but the takeaway is clear. Concentration is everywhere, and it’s bad.

Read the full piece here.

Continue reading
Antitrust & Consumer Protection

The Antitrust Assault on Ad Tech: A Law & Economics Critique

ICLE White Paper For years, regulators and competition watchdogs have expressed concern about competition in the digital advertising business. They note that digital advertising appears to be dominated by a few dominant firms, such as Google, Facebook, and—to a lesser extent—Amazon.

Executive Summary

For years, regulators and competition watchdogs have expressed concern about competition in the digital advertising business. They note that digital advertising appears to be dominated by a few dominant firms, such as Google, Facebook, and—to a lesser extent—Amazon. Some claim that this dominance allows these firms—and Google, in particular—to engage in anticompetitive conduct to extend their market power and to earn supercompetitive profit at the expense of advertisers, publishers, and consumers. This paper investigates the digital advertising market and assesses some of these claims. We conclude based on the information that is publicly available that many of the most significant claims made against Google’s advertising technology (ad tech) business are based on a misunderstanding of U.S. antitrust law, or of the details of the  ad tech market itself.

Digital advertising provides the economic underpinning for much of the Internet. Targeted digital advertising on independent websites is often facilitated by intermediaries that match advertisers and websites automatically, displaying ads to users for whom they are most relevant. This intermediation has advanced enormously over the past three decades. Some now allege, however, that the digital advertising market is monopolized by its largest participant: Google.

In particular, a lawsuit filed in December 2020 by the State of Texas and nine other U.S. states (later joined by five more states in March 2021) alleges anticompetitive conduct related to Google’s online display-advertising business. It has been reported that the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) may bring a similar lawsuit before the end of 2022.

Moreover, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators introduced the Competition and Transparency in Digital Advertising Act in May 2022. If passed by Congress and signed into law, the bill would require some of the largest Internet firms—such as Google, Facebook, and Amazon—to break up their digital advertising businesses. A summary of the bill claims that Google is the “leading or dominant” firm in “every part” of the ad tech “stack” and that it uses this dominance to “extract monopoly rents” from advertisers and publishers.

Our paper focuses on the open-display digital advertising business. Display ads are designed to be visually engaging, combining text, images, and a hyperlink to a website. These are distinct from search ads, which are text ads displayed along with organic Internet search results. Most of today’s digital display advertising appears on heavily trafficked owned-and-operated sites such as TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, and Amazon, in which the company providing the advertising space is the same company that operates the platforms that place the ads. In contrast, open-display space is supplied by independent publishers—such as The New York Times (nytimes.com), MLB.com, or The Weather Channel (weather.com)—and is usually facilitated by intermediaries.

This paper begins with an overview of digital advertising. The market’s history is one of dynamic innovation, with many new developments arising to solve problems created by previous innovations, address new innovations, and respond to market developments. The market’s structure has changed dramatically as advertisers, publishers, and consumers have responded to new technologies. These changes and innovations all must balance the competing demands of advertisers, publishers, and consumers to maximize the total value of the advertising platform. Thus, any antitrust evaluation of digital advertising must consider whether the market’s structure and the conduct of its participants may be procompetitive responses to prior market changes, as well as the extent to which the overall market structure may mitigate superficially problematic elements within it.

Of particular importance, digital advertising intermediaries that are vertically integrated into some or all components of the digital advertising “stack” of services use the prices charged to each side of the market to optimize overall use of the platform. As a result, pricing in these markets operates differently than pricing in traditional markets: pricing on one side of the platform is often used to subsidize participation on another side of the market, increasing the value to all sides combined. Consequently, pricing (or other terms of exchange) on one side of the market may appear to diverge from the competitive level when viewed for that side alone. While one side of the market may pay superficially higher fees, this cost can be offset by the benefits from increased participation on the other side of the market. In this way, using subsidies to increase participation on another side of the market creates valuable network effects for the side of the market facing the higher fees.

In the second half of the paper, we address some of the specific allegations of anticompetitive structures and conduct made in the Texas Complaint and by critics of the digital advertising industry. We conclude that a flawed premise underlies many of these allegations. It is a version of the “big is bad” argument, in which conduct by dominant incumbent firms that makes competition more difficult for certain competitors is viewed as inherently anticompetitive—even if the conduct confers benefits on users. Under this approach, the largest firms are seen as acting anticompetitively if they do not share their innovations or reveal their business processes to competing firms. As a result, creating new and innovative products, lowering prices, reducing costs through vertical integration, and enhancing interoperability among existing products is miscast as anticompetitive conduct.

In contrast, we note that U.S. antitrust law is intended to foster innovation that creates benefits for consumers, including innovation by incumbents. The law does not proscribe efficiency-enhancing unilateral conduct on the grounds that it might also inconvenience competitors, or that there is some other arrangement that could be “even more” competitive.

Moreover, U.S. antitrust law does not second guess unilateral conduct simply because it may hinder rivals. Any such conduct would first have to be shown to be anticompetitive—that is, to harm consumers or competition, not merely certain competitors. In multisided markets, this means finding not simply that some firms on one side of the market are harmed, but that the combined net effect of challenged conduct across all sides of the market is harmful. The Texas Complaint, however, is built on the alleged harm of reduced revenue to publishers, without considering the corresponding benefit of lower prices to advertisers (and the consumers of advertised products and services).

Based on the information publicly available, we conclude that many of the most significant claims made against Google’s ad tech business are based on a misunderstanding of U.S. antitrust law, or of the details of the ad tech market itself. Although we cannot be sure how the Texas et al v. Google case will develop once its allegations are fleshed out into full arguments, many of its claims and assumptions appear wrongheaded. If the court rules in favor of these, the result will be to condemn procompetitive conduct and potentially to impose costly, inefficient remedies that function as a drag on innovation.

Legislators, too, who may be concerned about Google’s conduct and tempted to impose regulatory requirements on tech companies should bear in minds the risk of the “Nirvana fallacy,” in which real-life conduct is compared against a hypothetical “competition-maximizing” benchmark and anything that falls short is deemed worthy of intervention. That fanciful approach would pervert businesses’ incentives to innovate and compete and would make an unobtainable “perfect” that exists only in the minds of some economists and lawyers the enemy of a “good” that exists in the market.


For years, regulators and competition watchdogs have expressed concern about competition in the digital advertising business. They note that digital advertising appears to be dominated by a few exceptionally large firms, such as Google, Facebook, and—to a lesser extent—Amazon. Some claim that this dominance allows these firms—and Google, in particular—to engage in anticompetitive conduct to extend their market power and to earn supercompetitive profits at the expense of advertisers, publishers, and consumers. This paper investigates the digital advertising market and assesses some of these claims. We conclude, based on the information that is publicly available, that many of the most significant claims made against Google’s advertising technology (ad tech) business are based on a misunderstanding of U.S. antitrust law, or of the details of the ad tech market itself.

Digital advertising provides the economic backbone for much of the Internet. By providing websites and apps a means to monetize their products without having to charge user fees, advertising enables access to entertaining and informative content without payment. Targeted advertising allows companies to inform potential customers of new products, giving new entrants a way to compete with popular incumbents, while effective targeting avoids wasting the time of those who aren’t likely to be interested. Advertising can endow products with new characteristics in customers’ minds and make consumers aware of product features they may not have known about.

Advertising on independent websites is often facilitated by intermediaries that match advertisers and websites automatically, targeting ads at the users to whom they are most relevant. This intermediation has advanced enormously over the past three decades. Some now allege, however, that the digital-advertising market is monopolized by its largest participant: Google. These allegations originate from various sources, including policy discussions, lawsuits, draft legislation, and academic reports.

In particular, a lawsuit filed in December 2020 by the State of Texas and nine other U.S. states (later joined by five more states in March 2021) alleges, among other things, anticompetitive conduct related to Google’s online display-advertising business.[1] This action is one of three currently pending lawsuits brought against Google by government antitrust enforcers in the United States; the other two relate to Google’s distribution agreements and search design.[2] It has been reported that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) may bring a similar lawsuit before the end of 2022.[3] Along similar lines, the European Commission opened an investigation into Google’s display-advertising services in June 2021[4] and the German competition authority has published a report regarding its inquiry into non-search advertising.[5] Among other things, the European Commission is investigating whether Google “has made it harder for rival online advertising services to compete in the so-called ad tech stack.”[6]

These ongoing cases follow regulatory reports and hearings examining the market, including a year-long study by the United Kingdom’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). The CMA investigation of digital advertising (including search and social-media advertising) has thus far produced recommendations for a code of conduct and “pro-competitive interventions” into the market, as well as a new regulatory body to oversee these measures.[7] The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is also conducting its own study of the digital advertising market,[8] and both houses of the U.S. Congress have held hearings on the market in recent years.[9] In October 2020, the Democratic majority staff of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law issued a report that recommended, among other things, regulation for the display advertising market.[10]

The digital  advertising industry has also drawn the attention of legislators. In May 2022, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators introduced a bill that would require some of the largest Internet firms to break up their digital advertising businesses.[11] Dubbed the Competition and Transparency in Digital Advertising Act (CTDAA), the measure was introduced by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and co-sponsored by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). Sen. Lee’s summary of the CTDAA identifies several allegations against the largest firms in the digital advertising business, with an emphasis on Google.[12] The summary claims that Google is the “leading or dominant” firm in “every part” of the “ad tech stack” and that it “exploits” conflicts of interest to “extract monopoly rents” from advertisers and publishers. Because of these monopoly rents, consumers are harmed in the form of higher prices for advertised goods and services and lower quality of online content, according to Lee’s press release.[13]

A 2020 paper published by the Omidyar Network—itself based on an interim CMA report produced during the authority’s then-pending investigation[14]—alleged anticompetitive practices within Google’s display advertising business and laid out a “roadmap” for a prospective antitrust case.[15] Other legal and economic consultants have also voiced concerns about Google’s role in the digital advertising industry.[16] These critiques were published before the Texas Complaint and provide more detail underlying the allegations and arguments described in the Texas Complaint. For that reason and because it may influence further lawsuits and regulatory interventions in the digital advertising market, including the DOJ’s, we also evaluate several of the Roadmap’s findings and conclusions.

This paper investigates the digital advertising market and assesses the aforementioned claims that it is uncompetitive. It explains some of the complex dynamics that underpin this market, thereby shedding light on the weaknesses and deficiencies in many of the arguments made about it, particularly those behind the Texas Complaint. This analysis is relevant to the entire Internet and to the wider economy, not just to Google and the display-advertising market. Many of the allegations made in the Texas Complaint would, if upheld by a court, have profound implications for antitrust law by establishing precedents that successful platforms effectively have a legal duty to act as essential facilities for their competitors; that efficiency-enhancing innovation by incumbent platforms is anticompetitive (particularly when it is not shared with competitors); and that courts or regulators can impose remedies that put these duties into effect without consideration of the harmful tradeoffs and unforeseen consequences that could themselves constrain competition and innovation. Such an approach would severely affect not only Google and the ad tech industry, but also businesses operating in unrelated markets and industries.

We begin with an overview and history of digital advertising. It is a history of dynamic innovation, with many new developments arising to solve problems created by previous innovations, address new innovations, and respond to market developments. These innovations must balance the competing demands of advertisers and publishers. The market’s structure has changed dramatically as advertisers, publishers, and consumers have responded to recent technologies. Because of this dynamism, we argue that it is a mistake to conclude that market structure and firm conduct at some specific point in time was ideal or better from a competition point of view, or that deviations from that paradigm represent a problem for competition enforcers to correct.

In the second half of the paper, we address some of the specific allegations of anticompetitive structures and conduct made in the Texas Complaint and by critics of the digital advertising industry. We conclude that a flawed premise underlies many of these allegations. Fundamentally, the allegations stem from an assertion that conduct engaged in by dominant, incumbent firms that makes competition more difficult for competitors is anticompetitive—even if the conduct confers benefits on users. This often amounts to a claim that the largest firms are acting anticompetitively by innovating and developing their business processes and products in ways that create benefits for one or more digital advertising constituents and for the advertising ecosystem more generally, including by creating new and innovative products, lowering prices, reducing costs through vertical integration, and enhancing interoperability between existing products.

I. Overview of the Digital Advertising Industry

For many people, digital ads are “just there.” They appear on one’s Facebook timeline, get inserted into one’s Twitter feed, or show up in the middle of an online news article. Unseen to most users is a complex stack of services that match advertisers with advertising space, using real-time auctions and other algorithms to deliver ads targeted to produce a user response, such as buying a product, supporting a cause, or visiting another website.

In this section we explain that digital advertising is just one small part of a much broader advertising and marketing industry. We provide a concise history of how the business evolved from simple banner ads to highly targeted display ads. Through this evolution, digital advertising has become a multisided market where intermediaries must balance the demands of advertisers, publishers, and users to maximize the total value of the advertising platform. Because of this balancing, it is a mistake for policymakers and regulators to focus only on a single set of users or a single segment of the stack of digital advertising services.

A.   Digital advertising is part of a broader advertising and marketing market

The Texas Complaint alleges that Google has market power in six distinct product markets, each of which the states claim to be nationwide in geographic scope. Four of these distinct product markets involve intermediation in the sale of “open” display ads on third-party websites and two involve intermediation in the sale of “in-app” display ads on mobile devices.[17] As we note in our earlier paper, it is likely that the states allege overly narrow product-market definitions.[18] In particular, structure and conduct viewed within a broader digital advertising market, overall advertising market, or marketing market indicates than no single firm has significant market power.

Digital advertising comprises about half of U.S. advertising revenues (Figure 1), while advertising itself accounts for about half of marketing activities. Marketing includes advertising, as well as events, sales promotion, direct marketing, telemarketing, product placement, and merchandising. Within digital advertising, advertisers have a broad set of options about where and how to run ads, including:

  • Search ads, in which the ad is displayed as a search-engine result (e.g., Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo);
  • Display ads on a site owned and operated by the firm that sells the ad space (e.g., Facebook, YouTube, Amazon Marketplace);
  • “Open” display ads on a third party’s site (e.g., The New York Times, Dallas Morning News, Runner’s World); or
  • “In-app” display ads served on mobile apps.

While total advertising spending in the United States has increased by about 15% since 2009, as a share of the economy spending has been relatively flat at slightly less than 1% of GDP.[19] As mentioned, about half of total U.S. advertising dollars go to digital channels, up from approximately 10% a decade ago. Approximately 30% of ad spending goes to TV and less than one-quarter goes to radio, newspapers, magazines, billboards, and other “offline” forms of media.[20]

Figure 1: U.S. Advertising Spending Over Time

Source: Benedict Evans, News by the Ton

It is well-understood that television broadcasters and cable networks compete with digital services.[21] And they do so on virtually all dimensions: for user attention, for labor, for content and other inputs—and for advertising. The same is true of competition for advertising among digital publications, newspapers, radio, magazines, video games, music streaming, and podcasts. The fact that offline and online advertising—to say nothing of marketing more broadly—employ distinct processes does not consign them to separate markets. Indeed, it is widely accepted that online advertising has drawn advertisers from offline markets, as previous technological innovations drew advertisers from other channels before them.[22] Moreover, while there is evidence that, in some cases, offline and online advertising may be complements as well as substitutes,[23] the distinction between these cases is becoming less and less meaningful as the revolution in measuring the effectiveness of advertising has changed how marketers approach different levels of what is known as the marketing “funnel.”[24] For example, economist David Evans’ review of the literature concludes that digital advertising is a segment of the broader advertising business in which different forms of advertising compete and complement each other:

Advertisers base decisions about the level and allocation of their budgets on formal or informal analyses of the rate of return on investment. For these ad campaigns, the different advertising methods can be substitutes to the extent they provide alternative ways of delivering messages to an audience, and complements to the extent they can reinforce each other.[25]

Economists Avi Goldfarb and Catherine Tucker demonstrate that display-advertising pricing is sensitive to the availability of offline alternatives.[26] Although advertising technology and both supplier and consumer preferences continue to evolve, the weight of evidence suggests a far more unified and integrated economically relevant market between offline and online advertising than their common semantic separation would suggest:

We believe our studies refute the hypothesis that online and offline advertising markets operate independently and suggest a default position of substitution. Online and offline advertising markets appear to be closely related. That said, it is important not to draw any firm conclusions based on historical behavior.[27]

In summary, there is evidence that open-display and in-app ads compete with search ads, while digital ads compete with offline advertising. Thus, courts and regulators should be skeptical of overly narrow market definitions focused on only small slices of a much larger relevant market for advertising.

B.   A simplified description of digital display advertising

The combination of software and processes that facilitate digital advertising transactions is known as the “ad tech stack.” The stack consists of several software components to match advertisers with publishers.

Advertiser ad servers are used by advertisers and media agencies to store ads, deliver them to publishers, track their activity, and assess their effectiveness (by, for example, tracking conversions). Demand-side platforms (DSPs) automate the purchase of advertising inventory by collecting bids in real-time auctions from multiple advertiser ad servers. DSP bids are based on the advertiser’s objectives, data about the final user, and data on impressions or conversions. Publisher ad servers manage publishers’ inventory and determine whether and where to serve a particular ad on a publisher’s site. Supply-side platforms (SSPs) automate the sale of publishers’ inventory, typically through real-time auctions involving multiple DSPs.

In general, the process of buying and selling digital ads through open-display auctions works as follows (Figure 2):

  1. When a user opens a webpage (or uses an app), the publisher’s ad server sends a bid request to SSPs for the advertising impressions available on that page for that user.
  2. The SSPs send bid requests to multiple DSPs for the ad impressions.
  3. DSPs evaluate the advertising opportunity based on user data and the objectives of their advertisers’ campaigns and send bids to the SSPs.
  4. SSPs rank the bids received based on price and other priorities set by the publisher. The SSPs send their winning bids to the publisher.
  5. The publisher ad server compares bids received from SSPs, along with any pre-existing direct deals between the publisher and specific advertisers and decides which ad to serve on the page.

Figure 2: A Simplified View of the Digital Advertising Stack

Source: OECD, CMA

While this process applies to most programmatic transactions, there are many variations. For example, there are diverse ways in which SSPs are contacted and asked to submit their bids. To the extent that a publisher and advertiser have a pre-existing, direct agreement, there are differences in how these arrangements are handled and integrated with deals arranged through automated platforms. The specific approach used to match ads with ad inventory will reflect a balance among different sides of a multisided market. One approach might increase the prices received by sellers (publishers) but expose buyers (advertisers) to increased risk of overpayment. Other methods might reduce risks to advertisers, but also reduce the prices received by publishers.

C.   A brief history of digital advertising

This history of the digital advertising market is a history of iterative innovation, with new developments and services arising to solve problems created by previous innovations and to respond to changing market conditions. At the heart of these innovations is an attempt to balance the competing demands of advertisers, publishers, and consumers. Given that this is a dynamic market, it would be mistaken to conclude that the market structure at some specific point was the “correct” one from a competition point of view. Moreover, it would be a mistake to conclude that deviations from some previous “ideal” world present a problem that can be corrected by disruptive regulation.

Digital advertising originally worked similarly to conventional print and broadcast advertising. Online publishers would negotiate with advertisers (or their ad agencies) to sell ad space on their websites, giving relevant advertisers information about their readership gathered through market research. All users would see the same ads. The resulting system was poorly targeted, inefficient, and carried high fixed costs, including the cost of things like market research and the transaction costs of publishers hiring sales teams and advertisers hiring ad agencies to do business with one another. Inevitably, these fixed costs meant that only larger publishers and larger advertisers could engage in the online market profitably.

In 1993, O’Reilly & Associates Inc. introduced its Global Network Navigator (GNN) magazine and other ad-supported online publications, which first rolled out clickable ads. O’Reilly is credited with the first attempt to create an “advertising medium” on the Internet.[28] The price of ads ranged from $500 for a one-page business profile to $5,000 for up to 25 pages about the company placing the ad.[29] A year later, Wired magazine’s digital affiliate HotWired ran what later became known as the web’s first banner ads. The ad—for AT&T’s “You Will” campaign—cost $30,000 for a three-month dedicated placement in a section of HotWired’s site.[30]

The first step toward automating this process came with the introduction of ad-server software on both the publisher and advertiser sides, which allowed each side to automate parts of the ad-placement process. Ad servers allowed publishers to automatically describe the type of content on their pages, which in turn allowed advertisers to place ads tailored to that content. An article about hiking could automatically indicate to a department store to place ads selling walking boots, for instance. It also allowed the publisher to sell to many advertisers without having to transact directly with any of them. Ad servers also allowed advertisers to browse and manage campaigns across a large, aggregated number of publishing sites, instead of having to interact with sales teams one by one. This process was, however, still negotiated directly, and often left publishers with unused “remnant” advertising space that they had not been able to sell.

To solve this problem, ad networks entered the market. These functioned as intermediaries between advertisers’ and publishers’ ad servers, aggregating unsold remnant ad space and allowing advertisers to buy that space en masse without having to deal directly with each publisher. Ad networks did not replace direct sales, but they allowed for residual space to be bought and sold more easily, increasing the amount of ad inventory available and lowering the fixed costs to use it. This, in turn, made the market feasible for smaller publishers, who would otherwise be unable to attract direct deals to sell ad space, and for advertisers to conduct large-scale ad campaigns across many publishers (including small ones).

In 1995, GNN was acquired by AOL.[31] That same year, marketing-communications agency Poppe Tyson spun off its Internet advertising division as DoubleClick, with the objective of “responding to advertisers’ need to be able to buy millions of impressions on the Internet without having to buy from hundreds of different sites.”[32] The company created “subnets” of publishers to target specific categories of consumers.[33]

Also in 1995, ad agency WebConnect, the first ad network, began to collaborate with its clients to identify the websites that their ideal consumers visit. WebConnect then placed ads on the websites where they were more likely to be seen by the audience most relevant to their clients. The company also produced a tool to prevent “ad fatigue,” which occurs when users are repeatedly shown the same ad.[34]

In 1998, GoTo.com, which was renamed Overture in 2001, launched its ad-supported search engine.[35] Search result rankings were based on an open-market bidding process. Advertisers on GoTo were informed of the amounts other advertisers were bidding for a click-through within the results for a given search term, and any advertiser could increase its bid to obtain a higher ranking, a process GoTo described as “pay for performance.”[36] One of GoTo’s key innovations was linking advertising pricing to click-throughs, rather than to page views.[37]

To drive home just how efficient these ads could be, [GoTo.com’s founder Bill Gross] came up with an audacious pricing scheme. Instead of paying for page-views—an old-media model that had come to dominate the Web—advertisers would pay only when people actually clicked on their ads. And their placement on the GoTo.com results page would be determined through an auction, so that more desirable keywords would command higher prices, while less common keywords could be had for as little as a penny per click. As a search engine, GoTo.com had nothing on Google. But as a way of making money on searches, it was ingenious.[38]

During the dot-com boom of the late 1990s, banner ads spread throughout the Internet, though growth was tempered by user complaints that the ads slowed page loading.[39] The dotcom bust wiped out many of the firms that were the biggest buyers of digital banner ads. In response, Wired predicted that digital advertising would undergo a “facelift.”[40]

Old media revenues will wither as mainstream advertisers storm the Net. Instead of stuffing junk mail into the mailbox outside your house, they’ll send it directly to your inbox. And companies get smarter, choosing sites that take better aim at their quarry, er, potential customers.

“It’s very much a targeted medium,” Robin Neilfield, co-founder of NetPlus Marketing. “You have to analyze the content on a site, you can’t just buy based on demographics.”[41]

Because ad networks were not comprehensive—they did not carry the entire inventory of the Internet—publishers began to use yield managers (later known as SSPs) to compare bids for their ad space and to decide which to accept. SSPs effectively allowed publishers to aggregate demand from a larger number of ad networks, which themselves aggregated demand from advertisers. This process allowed ad space to be more easily commoditized, with an SSP helping to identify an ad space’s relevance to potential advertisers.

As indirect sales became possible, ad exchanges emerged to sell ad space using real-time auctions. Ad space could be tagged according to characteristics like audience type, relevance to the advertiser, and/or prominence and quality of the ad, with bids gauged accordingly.

Finally, DSPs on the advertiser side allowed advertisers to engage with many ad networks and ad exchanges at one time. These also allowed advertisers to track campaigns and measure performance of different ads with different publishers, and to adjust their campaigns accordingly. Most ad exchanges now have DSP functionality built in.

In 2000, Google introduced a new self-service advertising product called AdWords (now Google Ads) that allowed businesses to purchase text ads on search-results pages. At the time it was reported that AdWords was designed to attract small-to-midsize advertisers with budgets of $5,000 or less.[42] AdWords differed from GoTo/Overture in a major way. GoTo/Overture placed ads within search results, with results ranked by bid. In contrast, AdWords placed ads separate from search results with pricing based on pageviews.[43] In this way, Google could display ads without compromising the relevance of search results. In 2002, it launched AdWords Select, its pay-per-click, auction-based search-advertising product.[44]

In 2003, Google acquired Applied Semantics, whose AdSense display advertising product allowed it to sell targeted ads on third-party websites.[45] With AdSense, the display-ad server was able to read text on a publisher’s site and serve relevant ads, considering factors like the user’s geographic location, age, demographics, and the search made.[46] AdSense was the forerunner of programmatic display advertising, the process of automating the buying and selling of ad inventory in real time through an automated bidding system. In 2005, Google introduced the Quality Score model, which considers an ad’s click-through rate, as well as the bid price, in placing ads.[47]

YouTube was launched in 2005 and acquired by Google the following year, when the company also introduced video ads. In 2007, Google acquired DoubleClick.[48]

Around 2015, “header bidding” began to roll out, with publishers Meredith Corp. and Townhall Media as two of largest early adopters.[49] Before header bidding, it was difficult for every demand-side partner to submit a bid for every ad request. As a result, publishers relied on approaches such as “ad waterfalls”[50] to try to get the most from each partner. Because of the way ad waterfalls are configured (based on historical, not real-time, data), publishers believed ad waterfalling led to winning bids that were below what some bidders might be willing to pay.[51] Client-side[52] header bidding was adopted as a way to increase real-time price competition among multiple SSPs, leading to higher returns for publishers and a more efficient allocation of ad space to advertisers.

Despite the widespread adoption of header bidding—as of the second quarter of 2021, about two-thirds of publishers were using it[53]—the technology has its own challenges. For example, the addition of extra code on the webpage, which client-side header bidding requires, can slow down the publisher’s website, driving away users.[54]

As an alternative to client-side header bidding, server-side header bidding was introduced. Prebid launched in 2015 as an independent and open-source option. Google released Open Bidding in April 2016 and Amazon introduced Transparent Ad Marketplace (“TAM”) at the end of 2016. In these alternatives, the auction among SSPs takes place in a remote server controlled by a third party (the provider of the server-side header-bidding solution) instead of in the user’s browser. This helps to improve site-load speed. On the other hand, this solution leads to less revenue for publishers and reduces the availability of data to advertisers and publishers.[55]

Over the past decade, the price of digital advertising has fallen steadily, while output has risen. U.S. digital-ad spending grew from $26 billion in 2010 to $189 billion in 2021, an average annual increase of 20%.[56] Over the same period, the Producer Price Index for Internet-advertising sales declined by an annual average of 4%.[57] The rise in spending in the face of falling prices indicates that the number of ads bought and sold increased by approximately 25% annually. The combination of increasing quantity, decreasing cost, and increasing total revenues are consistent with a growing and increasingly competitive market, rather than one of rising concentration and reduced competition.

D.   Digital advertising is a multisided market

The digital advertising market can be thought of as a complex multi-step and multisided market that involves three key parties—advertisers, publishers, and intermediaries—and is aimed at a fourth: consumers. In contrast, critics of the current structure of and conduct in the digital advertising industry have characterized it as a “straightforward and traditional” market in which publishers supply an inventory of ad space and advertisers are buyers of the ad space.[58] In this simplistic account of the market, for a given supply of inventory, publishers would seek to maximize the price received per ad, while advertisers would seek to minimize the price paid per ad. Targeting of ads would be based on the demographics of a publisher’s readership or the content of the publication, rather than the individual characteristics of each reader. In general, this is how the market initially operated before the introduction of clickable ads. But even this simple formulation is quite complex. Advertisers expect to maximize the return on their investment in advertising. Even at a low price, advertising expenditures would be wasted if that investment were not converted to increased sales of the advertiser’s product or service.

The invention of clickable ads with which users could interact changed the objective function of digital advertising. Publisher revenues and advertising costs became linked to individual consumers acting on an ad by, for example, clicking on it. Rather than paying or receiving a price-per-ad based on the size of a publication’s user base, advertising expenditures became a function of a price-per-click (or other action) and the number of clicks. This meant that the rewards for relevance—as well as the complexities of determining relevance—were greater because some viewers might be persuaded to act there and then.

In this multisided market, ad intermediaries must balance the interests of at least three constituencies: (1) advertisers creating ads and placing them; (2) publishers defining inventory and displaying ads; and (3) users consuming published content who view and act on ads. Intermediaries in these markets often benefit from network effects, through which the value of the platform to each user depends in part on the number and quality of other users on the platform.[59]

The quality and relevance of users is assessed by collecting information on the users as they browse the web. This information can include which ads they have viewed and clicked in the past, their geographical location, as well as their demographics, financial situation, and topics of interest. Broadly speaking, a larger network with diverse users provides more information and is better able to target ads to relevant users, benefiting advertisers, publishers, and consumers.

Network effects are not always positive, however, nor are they always captured by the platform that facilitates them.[60] While access to consumer data can help to improve the quality of the ads displayed—and increase the value of those ads to advertisers and publishers—claims that such access provides increasing returns to scale are not borne out by the burgeoning empirical literature on the topic. Summarizing these empirical findings, economist Catherine Tucker concludes that “empirically there is little evidence of economies of scale and scope in digital data in the instances where one would expect to find them.”[61]

Intermediaries in multisided markets often face difficult optimization problems caused by the interrelated demands of participants on different sides of the market, each group of whom benefits from the existence and size of the other, but whose interests conflict across many margins.[62] This highlights the key distinction between “straightforward and traditional” markets and multisided markets.

Ad tech intermediaries that are vertically integrated into some or all components of the ad tech stack use prices charged to each side of the market to optimize overall use of the platform. As a result, pricing in these markets operates differently than pricing in traditional markets. Pricing on one side of the platform is often used to subsidize participation on another side of the market, increasing the value to all sides combined. Consequently, pricing (or other terms of exchange) may appear to one side of the market to diverge from the competitive level when viewed for that side alone. While one side of the market may pay higher fees, this cost can be offset by the benefits from increased participation on the other side of the market. Thus, using subsidies to increase participation on another side of the market creates valuable network benefits for the side of the market facing the higher fees.

For example, among the criticisms of digital advertising business practices is the use of “second-price auctions” rather than “first-price auctions.”[63] First-price auctions are those most familiar to people: multiple bidders offer prices, and the highest bidder wins the auction and pays an amount equal to her winning bid. In a second-price auction, the highest bidder wins the auction but pays an amount based on the next-highest bid. In markets with many bidders possessing the same information, first-price auctions and second-price auctions would be expected to produce the same amount of revenue under the well-known auction-theory concept of revenue equivalence.[64]

The choice of auction approach reflects the tensions between different sides of the market in a multisided market. On the one hand, under certain circumstances, a first-price auction tends to increase the prices received by sellers (here, publishers), but exposes buyers (here, advertisers) to an increased risk of overpayment.[65] On the other hand, under certain conditions, a second-price auction reduces risks to advertisers, but also reduces the prices received by publishers.[66] It would be expected that an ad tech intermediary would balance these competing interests to maximize total revenues flowing through the ad tech stack, to maximize its profitability. In such a multisided market, it would be a mistake to focus only on one side of the market and ignore the effects that decisions such as this have on the other participants.

The extent to which ad tech intermediaries—in particular, vertically integrated services like Google’s—act to optimize the overall value of the platform is critical to understanding how these markets work. It also highlights how misleading it can be to assume that these processes can be analyzed as “straightforward and traditional” markets.

II. Antitrust Primer: Effective Competition Is not an Antitrust Offense

A flawed premise underlies much of the Texas Complaint, the Omidyar Network’s Roadmap report, and the CTDAA legislation. Fundamentally, most of the charges that each of these level against Google and Facebook’s ad tech businesses derive from an assertion that conduct engaged in by dominant incumbent firms that makes competition more difficult for competitors is anticompetitive—even if the conduct confers benefits on users. This often amounts to a claim that the largest firms are acting anticompetitively by innovating and developing their business processes and products in ways that create benefits for one or more digital advertising constituents and for the advertising ecosystem more generally. These include creating new and innovative products, lowering prices, reducing costs through vertical integration, and enhancing interoperability between existing products, among other things.

This approach entails an argument—made explicit in the Texas Complaint and the Omidyar Roadmap—that Google harms competition by creating obstacles for rivals without offsetting “incremental efficiencies.”67F[67] According to the report, this means that, even if Google’s practices produce benefits for such constituents as advertisers, publishers, or consumers, they could possibly be reimagined to create even more competition or achieve the same benefits in ways that better prop up rivals. According to the Roadmap, the practices should therefore be condemned as anticompetitive.68F[68]

But that is not how the law—or the economics—works. Such an approach converts manifestly beneficial aspects of Google’s ad tech business into anticompetitive defects, essentially arguing that successful competition creates barriers to entry that merit correction through antitrust enforcement. The CTDAA takes this argument a step further by imposing “best interests,” “best execution,” and “transparency” obligations on large firms and mandating divesture of parts of the largest firms to facilitate more entry by competitors. This approach turns U.S. antitrust law (and basic economics) on its head. As some of the most famous words of U.S. antitrust jurisprudence have it:

A market may, for example, be so limited that it is impossible to produce at all and meet the cost of production except by a plant large enough to supply the whole demand. Or there may be changes in taste or in cost which drive out all but one purveyor. A single producer may be the survivor out of a group of active competitors, merely by virtue of his superior skill, foresight and industry. In such cases a strong argument can be made that, although, the result may expose the public to the evils of monopoly, the Act does not mean to condemn the resultant of those very forces which it is its prime object to foster: finis opus coronat. The successful competitor, having been urged to compete, must not be turned upon when he wins.69F[69]

U.S. antitrust law is intended to foster innovation that creates benefits for consumers, including innovation by incumbents. The law does not proscribe efficiency-enhancing unilateral conduct on the grounds that it might also inconvenience competitors, or that there is some other arrangement that could be “even more” competitive. Under U.S. antitrust law, firms are “under no duty to help [competitors] survive or expand.”70F[70]

To be sure, the arguments are couched in terms of anticompetitive effect rather than being described merely as commercial disagreements over the distribution of profits. But these effects are simply inferred, based on assumptions that Google and Facebook’s vertically integrated business models entail an inherent ability and incentive to harm rivals. For example, Google is alleged to be able to surreptitiously derive benefits from display advertisers by “leveraging” its search-advertising capabilities,71F[71] or by “withholding YouTube inventory,”72F[72] rather than altruistically opening it up to rival ad networks, or by using its access to data to improve its products without sharing that data with competitors.

All these charges may be true, but none is inherently anticompetitive. Under U.S. law, companies are not obligated to deal with rivals and certainly are not obligated to do so on rivals’ preferred terms.73F[73] In the Texas Complaint, for example, the court, citing Charych v. Siriusware, noted, “[D]efendants were under no obligation to develop an interface that was compatible with plaintiffs’ product.”74F[74] As long ago as 1919, the U.S. Supreme Court held that “[i]n the absence of any purpose to create or maintain a monopoly, the [Sherman Act] does not restrict the long recognized right of [a] trader or manufacturer engaged in an entirely private business, freely to exercise his own independent discretion as to parties with whom he will deal.”75F[75] More recently (in 2004) the Court held:

Firms may acquire monopoly power by establishing an infrastructure that renders them uniquely suited to serve their customers. Compelling such firms to share the source of their advantage is in some tension with the underlying purpose of antitrust law, since it may lessen the incentive for the monopolist, the rival, or both to invest in those economically beneficial facilities.76F[76]

Moreover, U.S. antitrust law does not second guess unilateral conduct simply because it may hinder rivals. Any such conduct would first have to be shown to be anticompetitive—that is, to harm consumers or competition, not merely certain competitors.77F[77] In two-sided markets, this means finding not simply that some firms on one side of the market were harmed, but rather that the combined net effect of challenged conduct across all sides of the market was harmful.78F[78]

In the platform context, understanding whether there is harm to competition at all requires an assessment of the effects of conduct on all sides of the platform. “[N]o economic basis exists for establishing a presumption that ‘harm’ on one side of a two-sided platform is sufficient to demonstrate that market output has been restricted, or that consumer welfare has otherwise been harmed.” In fact, “[s]eparating the two markets allows legitimate competitive activities in the market for general purposes to be penalized no matter how output-enhancing such activities may be.”79F[79]

The Texas Complaint, however, is built on the alleged harm of reduced revenue to publishers, without considering the corresponding benefit of lower prices to advertisers, or the net effect on consumers.80F[80]

Beyond that, antitrust law does not condemn conduct on the basis that an enforcer (or a court) is able to identify or hypothesize alternative conduct that might provide similar benefits at lower cost. In alleging that there are ostensibly “better” ways that Google could have pursued its product design, pricing, and terms of dealing, both the Texas Complaint and Omidyar Roadmap do just that—assert that, had the firm only selected a different path, an alternative could have produced even more benefits or an even more competitive structure. This line of thinking seems to be one motivation for the CTDAA’s remedies.

The reason that the possibility of “better” theoretical arrangements cannot serve as the basis for antitrust intervention is that there are limits to what can be achieved through intervention, not least because of limitations on legislators’ and enforcers’ knowledge about the competitive dynamics of the markets they seek to regulate.81F[81] A practice’s departure from a theoretical competitive benchmark may be inextricably linked to the social benefits it generates. When this is the case, enforcement that requires the practice or product to change in order to adhere to a theoretical standard may end up undermining the benefits of the practice in the first place. That is particularly true in the context of the sort of “vertical foreclosure” arguments leveled against Google in the advertising space, in which it is alleged that the combination of different levels of the ad-supply chain by Google limits the ability of competitors to enter and compete effectively.82F[82] It is surely conceivable that the product improvements conferred by the combination of different functions into a single platform—e.g., greater efficiency, realization of network effects, more effective targeting—could be replicated by a different means that might also facilitate “even more competition.” But such an approach is fraught with the risk of serious and costly error.83F[83]

The alleged cure of tinkering with benefit-producing unilateral conduct by applying an “even more competition” benchmark is worse than the supposed disease. The adjudicator is likely to misapply such a benchmark, deterring the very conduct the law seeks to promote. As then-Judge Stephen Breyer explained in the context of above-cost low pricing (another “defect” that both the Texas Complaint and the Roadmap claim constitutes anticompetitive conduct by Google84F[84]), “the consequence of a mistake” is “to penalize a procompetitive price cut,” conduct that, from an antitrust perspective, is “the most desirable activity.”85F[85] That commentators or enforcers may be able to imagine alternative, theoretically more desirable, conduct is beside the point.

Similarly, subjecting the kinds of product-design decisions at issue in the Google case to refined balancing of benefits and harms would deter innovation. “To weigh the benefits of an improved product design against the resulting injuries to competitors is not just unwise, it is unadministrable. There are no criteria that courts can use to calculate the ‘right’ amount of innovation, which would maximize social gains and minimize competitive injury.”86F[86] Put simply, “no one can determine with any reasonable assurance whether one product is ‘superior’ to another.”87F[87]

For these reasons, a “product improvement by itself does not violate Section 2, even if it is performed by a monopolist and harms competitors as a result.”88F[88] “Any other conclusion would unjustifiably deter the development and introduction of those new technologies so essential to the continued progress of our economy.”89F[89] A benefit-creating product design, even if it hinders rivals, is “necessarily tolerated by the antitrust laws.”90F[90]

Nor does U.S. law condemn a firm’s decision not to share a product improvement with rivals on terms rivals might prefer, even when such sharing might lead to greater competition in the short term. “Compelling” innovators “to share the source of their advantage” with rivals, among other evils, “may lessen the incentive for the monopolist, or rival, or both” to invest in innovation.91F[91] Except in extremely limited circumstances, firms can decide the terms on which they offer their products and services.

Directly rejecting the Roadmap’s suggestion—and the CTDAA’s mandate—of compelling dealings on terms that might produce greater competition, the Supreme Court has decreed that the “Sherman Act . . . does not give judges carte blanche to insist that a monopolist alter its way of doing business whenever some other approach might yield greater competition.”92F[92] Firms are not obliged to go into new lines of business or abandon existing lines to throw lifelines to rivals.93F[93]

The law similarly encourages vertical integration, because it tends to foster innovation-enhancing synergies and lower prices by eliminating double marginalization.94F[94] As the Roadmap elsewhere admits, it is “not in itself uncommon” to see vertical integration result in “fewer and fewer companies,” even “in competitive markets.”95F[95] Thus, vertical integration by internal expansion—even by a monopolist—is presumptively lawful.96F[96] The Roadmap and the CTDAA, however, simply disregard this, instead presumptively condemning vertical integration that hinders rivals by creating efficiencies.97F[97] Again, this is simply not a defensible interpretation of U.S. antitrust law, nor should it be.

III. Allegations Against Google in Digital Display Advertising

Critics of the digital advertising industry—and Google’s role in it—have leveled numerous allegations. These include claims that Google “leverages” its ownership of YouTube to obtain and exert market power in the buying and selling of other digital-display ads. Some claim that Google anticompetitively uses cross-subsidies, charging supercompetitive prices at one end of the ad tech stack to subsidize supra-competitive prices at another end of the stack. It is also alleged that Google has superior information about consumers that it will not provide to competitors, giving Google an anticompetitive advantage. It is claimed that steep entry barriers—some allegedly erected by Google—inhibit entry and allow the company to achieve a supercompetitive “take rate” from its intermediation services. While the lawsuits may provide additional information and data to support these claims, we argue that, with the limited public information available to us, it is not clear that any of them constitute anticompetitive conduct.

A.   ‘Leveraging’ market power in video streaming into the digital open-display market

The Omidyar Roadmap argues that Google, by virtue of its vertical integration throughout the intermediary stack and into the supply side (as the owner of YouTube), has the incentive and ability to derive unwarranted benefits from its display advertising business. It alleges, for example, that, by offering a single interface for placing both search and display ads, “Google leverages its monopoly position in search to coerce advertisers into using Google’s display products.”98F[98] In support it cites the CMA as saying:

Google may also be able to leverage its market power in search into the open display market. Smaller advertisers often choose to single-home to minimize transaction costs. Advertisers that wish to single-home have a strong incentive to use Google Ads as they can use it to access Google search advertising and YouTube inventory as well as the open display market.99F[99]

An earlier version of the Texas Complaint echoed these claims:

Google’s practice of withholding YouTube video inventory from rival ad buying tools… effectively locks single-homing small advertisers into Google’s ad buying tool. In addition, other providers of ad buying tools indicate that it does not make economic sense to try to compete with Google Ads for small advertisers, because they cannot achieve sufficient scale with smaller advertisers who want to buy display, YouTube, and even search ads, through just one tool.100F[100]

And, similarly, the Roadmap also argues that most sources of demand for Google Ads purchase ad space through AdX because Google “designed its exchange in such a way that it operates more efficiently with requests from Google’s own ad server than it does when requests come from rival ad servers.”101F[101]

All these assertions describe efficiency-enhancing behavior as anticompetitive. The report does not allege that Google preferences its own ad exchange in ways that harm advertisers; rather, the company’s products simply work better together (which is not unusual when different software products must interact) and it is thus in advertisers’ best interests for Google to act this way.

U.S. law, rightly, does not consider efficiencies obtained from vertical integration in this way to be anticompetitive. Nor do efficiencies that rivals cannot beat qualify as “barriers to entry.” The alternative—requiring Google to refrain from using the cheapest and/or fastest option available, because doing so makes its product better than all competitors—would mean reduced innovation, higher overall costs, and no benefit to either advertisers or publishers.

Later, the Roadmap makes another similar allegation: that Google “leverages” its ownership of YouTube, and the fact that only Google’s DSP can place ads on YouTube, to give itself an anticompetitive advantage in open-display advertising because rival DSPs are inherently limited by being unable to place ads on YouTube. An earlier version of the Texas Complaint echoed this claim.102F[102]

The Roadmap characterizes this conduct as “a contractual way to deny interoperability,”103F[103] but there is no contractual restraint here. How Google distributes YouTube’s ad inventory is a unilateral distribution decision permitted under U.S. law. And Google’s policy is not unusual in any way: many other websites that carry video advertising—including Hulu, Instagram, and Twitter—self-distribute their own inventory and do not make it available for resale by third parties.104F[104] Google does not have a duty to maximize its competitors’ profits by allowing them to resell YouTube inventory.

Access to YouTube is also not essential to a DSP’s success. Before Google stopped third-party platforms from buying YouTube ad inventory, it reported that only a “small amount” of buying was being done through Google’s AdX, which allowed third-party platforms to bid. At the time, AdExchanger reported that “[b]y ’small amount,’ that reportedly means 5%.”105F[105] A competing DSP, TubeMogul, said that this decision was an “unfortunate development” but “immaterial, since less than 5% of total ad spend through our software in Q2 was directed to YouTube.”106F[106]

This is consistent with the fact that there are several successful DSP competitors that compete with Google, despite not having access to YouTube’s ad inventory. The Trade Desk went public for $1 billion in 2016, processed more than $6.2 billion in transactions in 2021, and had a market cap of more than $25 billion in the first week of August 2022. 107F[107] Other DSPs, like Amazon’s and Xandr (formerly AppNexus), both continue to compete with Google vigorously without access to YouTube inventory, as the Omidyar Roadmap admits in the case of AppNexus.108F[108]

The Roadmap further -alleges that Google’s owned-and-operated properties—including Search, YouTube, Shopping, Flights, and News—confer an anticompetitive advantage because “Google pays no ‘traffic acquisition costs’” for the advertising space on its own sites: “When Google places ads on YouTube, just as when it places ads on its own search results pages, Google pays no ‘traffic acquisition costs’ because it needn’t pay any publisher for access to the ‘eyeballs’ that will see or interact with the ads it helps place.”109F[109]

Google’s parent Alphabet reported that the company’s traffic-acquisition costs were approximately 20% of its revenues in 2021.110F[110] Over the past few years, 40-50% of Alphabet’s expenditures have been on “cost of revenues,”111F[111] and of these, roughly half have involved traffic-acquisition costs.112F[112] Alphabet defines traffic-acquisition costs as (a) “the amounts paid to our distribution partners who make available our search access points and services” and (b) amounts paid for ads displayed on Google Network Members properties. It identifies “distribution partners” as browser providers, mobile carriers, original equipment manufacturers, and software developers.

Contrary to the Roadmap’s insinuations, there is nothing to suggest that these expenditures become less burdensome as a company increases in scale. Indeed, the opposite may be true, if it is more costly to gain access to marginal users than inframarginal ones, consistent with Google’s traffic-acquisition costs increasing over the years as it has grown.113F[113] While Google does not have to pay itself for the use of its own display inventory, there is clearly an opportunity cost to displaying its own inventory rather that of another firm. The claim that the company faces no traffic-acquisition costs for these properties is inaccurate.

The Roadmap’s focus on traffic-acquisition costs also overlooks content-acquisition costs—the payments to content providers from whom Google licenses video and other content for distribution on ad-driven and subscription services such as YouTube and Google Play. While Google does not pay a publisher for access to “eyeballs” on its owned-and-operated properties, it pays substantial and increasing amounts for content on those properties that attract the “eyeballs.”114F[114] Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat indicates, for example, that YouTube pays content creators “a majority of our revenue.”115F[115] Leaving this expense out of the calculation is another example of the over-simplification that characterizes many of the claims that Google’s ad tech business is a simple (and simply anticompetitive) business.

B.   Excess pricing

Where Google’s critics diverge most significantly from the spirit of U.S. antitrust law is in their overriding concern for how advertising revenues are distributed among the recipients of advertisers’ payments: intermediaries (Google) and publishers. The Texas Complaint alleges that Google has a higher “take rate” than competing exchanges,116F[116] is able to increase its take rates without losing market share,117F[117] and “manipulates auctions to increase its take rate.”118F[118] This follows the Roadmap’s speculation—based on the CMA Interim Report—that Google may take a larger cut of advertising spending than its competitors.119F[119] And these allegations echo claims made in another report that Google introduces “hidden” fees that increase the overall cut it takes from ad auctions.120F[120]

First, it should be noted that the basis for these claims in the Roadmap are drawn from the CMA investigation’s interim report, published in December 2019. In the final report, after further investigation, the CMA abandoned this claim. The final report describes the CMA’s analysis of all the billions of Google Ad Manager open auctions related to U.K. web traffic during the period between March 8 and March 14, 2020. This, according to the CMA, allowed it to observe any possible “hidden” fees, as well. The CMA concludes:

Our analysis found that, in transactions where both Google Ads and Ad Manager (AdX) are used, Google’s overall take rate is approximately 30% of advertisers’ spend. This is broadly in line with (or slightly lower than) our aggregate market-wide fee estimate outlined above. We also calculated the margin between the winning bid and the second highest bid in AdX for Google and non-Google DSPs…. We found that Google’s average winning margin was similar to that of non-Google DSPs. Overall, this evidence does not indicate that Google is currently extracting significant hidden fees. As noted below, however, it retains the ability and incentive to do so.121F[121]

This is a crucial finding that severely undermines the allegations that Google extracts excessive or “hidden” fees. It also undermines the claim that there are “missing funds accruing to Google.” While these conclusions do not eliminate the possibility that the industrywide price could itself be above competitive levels (and it remains to be seen whether the plaintiffs states in the Texas case will produce different evidence), they do mean that the best evidence currently available calls into question the charge that Google exploits a lack of interoperability by prioritizing its own products or that it engages in opaque pricing to conceal hidden charges of which its customers are unaware.

More fundamentally, absent evidence of Google deceiving advertisers and publishers to extract above-competitive margins, claims that its prices are “too high” or its revenue sharing “too low” are at odds with established antitrust law. U.S. antitrust law does not attempt to derive “proper” prices and impose these obligations on companies to ensure a “fair” outcome. Absent anticompetitive defects in the process, even monopolists are free to charge monopoly prices. The alternative would be for some agency—a court or a regulator—to regulate pricing and second guess every business decision made by dominant firms.

C.   Cross-subsidies

At the same time, the Roadmap alleges that Google can “charge low prices at one end of the stack, to drive out competitors, while charging high prices at the other to counterbalance any losses.”122F[122] But even if true, this would not be anticompetitive. It is a widely understood feature of platforms that they can shift prices from one side of a multisided market to another to maximize the platform’s total value. For example, a marketplace may make sellers bear the burden of fraud or mis-selling to give assurance to customers, and grow the consumer side of the platform market, just as a ridesharing app may discount rides to attract customers to build a large enough base to induce drivers onto the app.

This is a normal part of platform economics, which has long recognized that offering one side a low, zero, or negative price can be efficient and procompetitive.123F[123] As the U.S. Supreme Court held in Ohio v. American Express, an integrated competitive-effects analysis should look at the overall effect on output, not the effect on one side of the market; the relevant market must include both sides of the platform or the market would not exist at all.124F[124] There is no reason to think that this kind of behavior would generally be classed as “predatory pricing” in the absence of other behavior, such as raising prices after driving out competitors.125F[125]

But neither the Texas Complaint nor the Roadmap allege that Google’s prices were predatory. On the contrary, their sole claim in this respect is that, after being acquired by Google, DoubleClick lowered its prices (by a factor of ten, according to the Roadmap126F[126]), which it then maintained at these lower levels. This price reduction is facially procompetitive, however. It is unusual, to say the least, to describe a price reduction, with no subsequent price rises, as anticompetitive. If less-efficient competitors were unable to compete with these lower prices, that is competition in action. The law does not preclude nonpredatory low prices, nor even predatory prices without recoupment.127F[127] Sustained price reductions are one of the primary goals of antitrust.

Moreover, the source of the Roadmap’s claim that these price reductions were done “to drive out competitors” was, notably, a company that was not actually driven out of business by these price reductions. The source was an ad server, Smart, which claimed that Google’s price reductions “made the provision of publisher ad server difficult to sustain as a standalone business. This was the main reason why Smart felt the need to expand into the provision of SSP services.”128F[128] A competitor of Google’s responding to price reductions by broadening its own offerings is, again, procompetitive, not anticompetitive.

D.   Data gathering and integration

The Texas Complaint and the Roadmap describe several pro-privacy measures Google has adopted or plans to adopt as being detrimental to its competitors, including the decision to disable third-party cookies (which allow digital advertising companies to track users across the web to serve them relevant targeted ads) on the Chrome browser.129F[129] The Complaint argues that this shift benefits Google to the detriment of other ad tech companies, because (it says) Google, but not its competitors, has other data sources it can use to target ads at users.130F[130] In the same vein, the Roadmap points to Google’s decision not to share with advertisers raw data that it compiles about users.131F[131]

The Complaint ignores regulatory causes of these changes altogether, and the Roadmap dismisses the suggestion that they may be driven by the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), on the basis that “data sharing here in the U.S., where we have no privacy regulatory scheme akin to that which is in place in Europe” has also been curtailed.132F[132] Both forget data-privacy laws in U.S. states, such as the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). And, even if that weren’t the case, the claim that GDPR would have no effect outside Europe ignores that companies may find it easier to comply with such laws by changing their practices globally, rather than on a country-by-country or state-by-state basis.133F[133] Many companies have done this: Microsoft, for example, announced in November 2019 that it would “honor California’s new privacy rights throughout the United States.”134F[134]

Both also ignore the possibility that these provisions may be a response to demand from users of Google Chrome. Google may have good reasons to maintain a reputation for protecting user privacy, particularly because of the wide range of services it provides where user privacy is often of paramount importance to many users: Search, Maps, Gmail, YouTube, and Chrome itself.

Apple and Mozilla, neither of which has a significant online display advertising arm (and thus, have no incentive to block cookies simply to disadvantage display advertisers, as the Complaint alleges Google has done) have taken similar steps to increase user privacy. These are direct competitors of Google Chrome’s, and when Apple made blocking third-party cookies the default in its Safari browser, it was reported by one major outlet as “beating Google by two years to the privacy feature.”135F[135] Indeed, one of the reasons that Google delayed its disabling of third-party cookies was reportedly to implement technologies to “make it easier for advertisers to target certain demographics without laser-sighting down to specific people, ensure that the infrastructure many sites use for logins don’t break, and help provide some level of anonymous tracking so advertisers can know if their ads actually converted into sales.”136F[136]

That Chrome’s competitors, neither of which has an incentive to hurt ad tech companies, have taken the same steps that the Complaint alleges Google is taking for anticompetitive reasons should be compelling evidence that Google, too, is responding to user demand and/or regulation. Under U.S. law, the fact that these are legitimate moves and benefit users interested in privacy—and, indeed, may be a response to competition in the browser market—undermines claims that Google has failed to maximize competition along other dimensions.

The Roadmap also presents a hypothetical circumstance that amounts to an allegation that Google “captures” data from ads served to publishers to “expropriate” publishers’ investments in content that attracts a particular audience:

Some publishers have invested in content that attracts and retains a specific type of consumer, for example, readers of the Wall Street Journal or Golf Digest; this in turn allows them to support their business by selling valuable ads to advertisers looking for exposure to those audiences. Google has two ways to expropriate that value. First, rather than serve an ad on the Wall Street Journal at a high price, it can track the user who visited the Wall Street Journal and wait until she visits a site that sells space at low prices, for example, a local recipe blogger. Google can then sell Wall Street Journal users to advertisers in a way that does not benefit the Wall Street Journal at all and costs advertisers much less. A second strategy used by Google is to take the data describing these differentiated audiences and use it to create an imitation portfolio of consumers that mimic the characteristics of the publisher’s audience. For example, Google could create an audience of consumers similar to the people who read Golf Digest. Then Google sells access to this group of consumers when they visit inexpensive websites. Advertisers are happy to buy these ads because the consumers likely belong to the specialized audience of interest but are available at a much lower price. In these ways the unique audience assembled by the publisher is copied and expropriated.137F[137]

It should be noted that the Roadmap does not conclude that Google engages in these practices, but merely describes strategies Google “can” undertake to “expropriate” publishers’ investments. The Roadmap concedes that advertisers would be “happy” under such hypotheticals, because they are buying effective ads at a “much lower price.” In the Roadmap’s example, the hypothetical recipe blogger is “happy” that it earned revenues from selling an impression and the advertiser is “happy” that it paid a lower price than it would have had the impression been sold to the Wall Street Journal. The Wall Street Journal may not be so “happy” that it did not serve that particular ad, but that display space did not sit empty; the hypothetical lost ad was replaced by another impression that was served. And it is neither Google’s nor antitrust law’s job to make specific publishers better off—nor to make publishers better off at the expense of advertisers—but to ensure that the market as a whole is competitive and acting in consumers’ interests.

These hypotheticals again highlight the tensions discussed above between the different sides of a multisided market. Actions that make advertisers “happy” may come at the expense of publishers’ advertising revenues and actions that increase publishers’ revenues may increase costs to advertisers. One of the goals of a multisided market intermediary such as Google is to balance these competing interests to maximize total revenues flowing through the ad tech stack.

The Roadmap concludes that, through its “entire family of products,” Google collects and analyzes substantial amounts of information about its users. It uses this information to maximize the “effectiveness,” “precision,” and “value” of the ads it intermediates.

First, Google offers an entire family of products—everything from Gmail and Google Maps to the Google Calendar, Google Chrome, Android mobile operating system and the search engine—that gather valuable personal data about its users. Second, the products across the ad stack further collect data on consumer activities that the company then integrates to maximize the effectiveness and precision of ad targeting and attribution and thereby the value of the ads.138F[138]

Rather than “expropriating” publishers’ data, it would be reasonable to conclude that Google is adding value to the data provided by publishers, advertisers, and consumers to better target ads. For example, the Wall Street Journal may not know that a consumer recently did a Google Search for “running shoes.” By adding valuable information from Search, the consumer might be served a relevant running shoe ad on the Wall Street Journal’s site. This benefits the publisher who is paid for serving a valuable impression, the advertiser who sells a pair of shoes, and the consumer who obtains useful information and purchases the product she was seeking.

E.   Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) and header bidding

The Texas Complaint, like the Roadmap, alleges that Google designed Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) “[t]o respond to the threat of header bidding… [by making it] essentially incompatible with JavaScript and header bidding. Google then used its power in the search market to effectively force publishers into using AMP.”139F[139] But this gets several key facts wrong. First, AMP is an open-source industry collaboration project and Google cannot unilaterally impose a design standard on it. 140F[140] Second, a version of header bidding can work with AMP.141F[141] Third, it is mistaken to assert that “non-AMP-formatted results often do not even show up on the first page of results, regardless of their relevance.”142F[142] AMP has been a prerequisite only for inclusion in the top news story carousel, while other listings are ranked by relevance and speed.

Importantly, the argument ignores the main benefit of AMP to publishers and users: faster load times for mobile users who may be on slow connections. One of header bidding’s chief downsides is that it increases page-load latency. It is obvious why an HTML framework built to maximize load times would not be compatible with header bidding. Because AMP confers undisputed benefits on users and publishers, Google and the other companies involved in the AMP project have no obligation to re-engineer AMP to be compatible with header bidding. Any conclusion otherwise would involve a court deciding that users should be forced to use a slower Internet so that websites can use header bidding.

F.   Alleged barriers to entry in the open digital display ad market

Claims about Google’s alleged market power in display advertising rest on assumptions that the company enjoys the benefits of significant barriers to entry throughout the ad tech stack, thus enabling it to extract supercompetitive rents without fear of competition: “With these barriers in place,” it is claimed, “entry seems nearly futile.”143F[143]

A key element in establishing a company’s durable market power—and thus, its ability to impose anticompetitive costs on its users—is the presence of entry barriers. Even a market with only a single company—a true monopoly—cannot act like a monopoly if entry into its market is easy; if it did profitably raise prices, new competitors would enter the market and undercut it.144F[144]

As the Roadmap concedes, “[m]arket power is not permanent, of course. It can be undercut by, among other things, new entrants that offer better quality or lower prices.”145F[145] This notion of “contestability” is a fundamental part of assessing the competitiveness of markets under U.S. antitrust law.146F[146] In the absence of barriers to entry, it is well-established that assumptions of future competitive harm from ongoing conduct cannot be sustained.147F[147] Thus, the Roadmap bases much of its brief against Google on the presence of barriers to entry, “which heighten[] the prospect that Google can engage in conduct that harms competition without restraint from new entrants or potential new entrants.”148F[148] On the strength of these asserted barriers, the Roadmap’s authors interpret ambiguous conduct as anticompetitive.

According to the Roadmap, “the CMA’s findings reveal a number of significant barriers to entry into the digital advertising market.”149F[149] But most of its assertions in this regard are flawed, either because the CMA did not, in fact, make “findings” in the ways it suggests, or else because it reaches incorrect conclusions that certain conduct constitutes a barrier.150F[150] The Texas Complaint’s assertions of similar barriers to entry are likewise problematic.151F[151]

1.     Consumer location information

Although the Texas Complaint does not discuss it as an explicit barrier to entry,152F[152] one of the Omidyar Roadmap’s key assertions about barriers to entry relates to Google’s access to user-location data. It asserts that:

The CMA concluded that Google has nearly insurmountable advantages in access to location data, due to the location information it receives from the Android operating system, Google search, and other applications…. An entrant into the ad tech stack requires information about the consumer to target an ad effectively. Because Google accounts for nearly the entirety of the mobile search sector in the UK—97%—and controls many of the known sources of location data, such an entrant faces a large barrier to entry.153F[153]

But the CMA does not, in fact, “conclude[] that Google has nearly insurmountable advantages in access to location data,” either in the CMA Interim Report to which the Roadmap refers, nor in the CMA Final Report. The CMA never makes any claim of “insurmountable advantage.” Indeed, it does not use the word “insurmountable” at all, except to note that “rival platforms did not suggest that accessing consumer data was an insurmountable barrier to entry.”154F[154] Rather, to support this claim, the Roadmap cites to a portion of the CMA Interim Report recounting a suggestion made by Microsoft regarding the “critical” value of location data in providing relevant advertising.155F[155]

Moreover, that portion of the CMA Interim Report, as well as the suggestion made by Microsoft, is about search advertising, not display advertising. While the CMA does not characterize this data in the way the Roadmap claims, it does allege that “Google has exclusive access to a large amount of user data that can be used for targeted advertising and for measuring advertising outcomes, collected through its consumer-facing services. Data collected on its search platform is particularly valuable for targeting purposes in open display as it reveals users’ purchasing intent.”156F[156]

While location data may also be valuable for display advertising in a comparable way, it is not clear that the GPS-level data that is so valuable in providing mobile-search ad listings is particularly useful for display advertising, which may be just as well-targeted by less granular city- or county-level location data.

Consider the Roadmap’s illustrative example:

A digital ad for a brick-and-mortar running store in Des Moines is of little use to a runner looking to test out new shoes in Omaha, and, if shown to the Omaha runner, is unlikely to prompt a click, much less a purchase, from the Des Moines store.157F[157]

This is certainly correct. But GPS or even cell-tower location data is not necessary to determine in which city a user is located. Publicly available databases of IP address locations can provide this information, and they are readily and often freely available to all competitors. It is difficult to imagine that display advertising uses location data at any greater level of granularity except in unusual circumstances; it simply would not be particularly useful or effective.158F[158]

Furthermore, to the extent that location data (like other consumer data) may be useful for display advertising, the most significant issue affecting its availability to advertisers is not Google’s presence in the ad tech stack; it is privacy regulations that limit the collection, use, and sharing of such data.159F[159] These privacy regulations, such as the GDPR, limit the ability of digital firms to sell or otherwise pass user data to third-party advertisers. What seems like unequal treatment, in this regard, is really a case of privacy regulation in action.

These laws may have the indirect effect of favoring larger digital conglomerates that can collect user data through one service and use it to target ads in another. In this sense, it could be true that Google has informational advantages over rivals, though in a critically different way than that alleged by the Roadmap. But it can hardly be considered anticompetitive if the source of such advantage is legal constraints on information sharing. Indeed, an empirical study by economists Avi Goldfarb and Catherine Tucker found that (pre-GDPR) privacy regulation in the EU “restricted advertisers’ ability to collect data on Web users in order to target ad campaigns. We ?nd that, on average, display advertising became far less effective at changing stated purchase intent after the EU laws were enacted, relative to display advertising in other countries.”160F[160] Along similar lines, Nils Wernerfelt and his co-authors show that access to data from different sources significantly improves ad targeting.161F[161] In turn, this may give a competitive advantage to firms that operate several successful web services and applications.

As Israeli competition law scholars Michal Gal and Oshrit Aviv found with respect to the GDPR, privacy regulations can function as a barrier to entry in several further ways.162F[162] These include creating new economies of scale associated with regulatory compliance, increased litigation risk, and uncertainty around interpretation of the rules. Because they serve to make reputation more central, they also can lead users to become more likely to entrust their data to incumbents but not to unknown, new entrants.163F[163]

2.     Attribution measurement

“Attribution” refers to the method by which advertisers can see which ad led a user to an action, such as visiting a website or making a purchase.164F[164] The Roadmap alleges that Google can design attribution to mislead advertisers by, for example, favoring search ads over display ads.165F[165] This would lead to more of the advertiser’s money going to Google instead of (in part) to a publisher, and (assuming, as the Roadmap implies, that this makes ad campaigns less effective166F[166]) can harm advertisers by misleading them into choosing a less-effective advertising channel.

The Roadmap provides no evidence this is taking place. What it describes is more a complaint about the nature of search advertising in general: that companies will sometimes end up paying for ads in lieu of identical organic search results for their pages. That is an argument to be had elsewhere, but there are clear reasons why it may be in an advertiser’s interest to advertise even in these situations. Paid search ads may give them greater control over how a link is displayed to a user (for example, with text the advertiser has chosen, rather than text that the search engine has retrieved) or guarantee a prominent listing for searches where the advertiser’s URL listing is not always guaranteed to be on top.

Apart from the broader objection to the nature of search advertising, the Roadmap’s authors also object to Google setting an attribution default in its DSP. But advertisers can choose from several different attribution models, not just the default one that the Roadmap objects to, which attributes to search ads the “last click.” Other options include “last non-direct click,” which “ignores direct traffic and attributes 100% of the conversion value to the last channel that the customer clicked through from before buying or converting”; “last Google Ads click”; “First interaction”; and others that give attribution weights according to where and when the customer saw or used the ads during their purchase or conversion “journey.”167F[167] These are precisely the kinds of models that the Roadmap’s authors implicitly believe are more appropriate for campaigns heavy on display advertising. Advertisers can also create their own custom models, and Google has published guides for advertisers to help them choose among the different models.168F[168]

The Roadmap’s objection is thus reduced to being about the choice by Google to use the “last click” attribution model as the default. But some model has to be the default, and “last click” is also the default on, for example, Microsoft Advertising.169F[169] Indeed, according to digital-ad-intermediary company, Outbrain (one of Google’s competitors), it is the most common attribution default across the industry.170F[170] For the Roadmap’s objection to carry any weight, a case based on this claim would need to demonstrate that it was unusual for Google to use “last click” as the default attribution. Even then, given the ease with which advertisers can change the attribution model, the charge would be thin.

3.     ‘Opaque’ pricing

Both the Texas Complaint and the Roadmap allege that Google’s “opaque pricing” constitutes a barrier to entry by impeding “advertisers from switching to a lower-cost for higher-quality” buying tool.171F[171] As the Roadmap puts it, a “new or potential new PAS or DSP cannot credibly claim to be able to undercut the Google products on price if the publishers and advertisers cannot tell how much Google actually is charging.”172F[172] The Texas Complaint further alleges that “Google compounds its exclusionary auction manipulations by purposefully keeping its auction mechanics, terms, and pricing, opaque and ‘nontransparent.’ This makes it nearly impossible for publishers and advertisers to discover Google’s misrepresentations, and even harder for rivals to neutralize or offset.”173F[173] Both the Texas Complaint and the Roadmap also suggest that competition is undermined when publishers and advertisers do not know the fee structure of the intermediaries they are using.

But it is not unusual for businesses’ costs and prices to be private to their competitors, and it is not a barrier to competition. Grocery stores do not need to know how much it cost a farmer to grow an orange or how much their rivals are paying for transportation, unless they are attempting to anticompetitively coordinate their prices; they just need to work to make their own costs as low as possible and to reduce their prices to consumers by as much as possible. Similarly efficient firms are perfectly able to offer competitive prices simply by making the best offer based on their own fundamentals; only less-efficient firms will struggle (as they should).

Along these lines, for competition to work effectively in display advertising, Google’s competitors do not need to know what Google is charging; they need to offer a price and product that is more attractive overall to potential customers than Google’s is. Similarly, a publisher does not need to know how much an advertiser bid to place an ad, nor does the advertiser need to know how much the publisher received to serve the ad. The advertiser’s competition concern is whether an effective ad can be served at a lower price from a different intermediary and the publisher’s competition concern is whether it can earn greater revenues from a different intermediary. One should not be surprised that Google does not reveal information on which competing intermediaries can free ride. Indeed, this is widely considered to be one of the hallmarks of vigorous competition.


As we have argued, many of the most significant claims made against Google’s ad tech products are based on a misunderstanding of U.S. antitrust law, or of the details of the ad tech market itself. Although we cannot be sure how the Texas, et al. v. Google case will develop once the allegations in the Complaint are fleshed out into full arguments, many of its initial claims and assumptions are wrongheaded. Based on the information currently available, if the court rules in favor of these, the result will be to condemn procompetitive conduct and potentially to impose costly, inefficient remedies that function as a drag on innovation.

Legislators, too, who may be concerned about Google’s conduct and tempted to impose regulatory requirements on it and other tech companies should bear in minds the risk of the Nirvana fallacy, in which real-life conduct is compared against a hypothetical “competition maximizing” benchmark, and anything that falls short is deemed problematic and in need of intervention.174F[174] That approach would pervert the incentives of businesses to innovate and compete, and would make an unobtainable “perfect” that exists only in the minds of some economists and lawyers the enemy of a “good” that exists in the market right now.


[1] Third Amended Complaint, Texas v. Google, 21-md-3010-PKC (S.D.N.Y. Jan 14, 2022) at 105 (hereinafter, “Texas Complaint”).

[2] See Complaint, United States v. Google LLC, No. 1:20-CV-03010 (D.D.C. Oct. 20, 2020); see also, Complaint, State of Colorado, et al. v. Google LLC, 1:20-CV-03715 (D.D.C. Dec. 17, 2020).

[3] DoJ Expected to File Antitrust Lawsuit Against Google in Weeks—Bloomberg News, U.S. News (Jul. 14, 2022), https://money.usnews.com/investing/news/articles/2022-07-14/doj-expected-to-file-antitrust-lawsuit-against-google-in-weeks-bloomberg-news.

[4] Antitrust: Commission Opens Investigation into Possible Anticompetitive Conduct by Google in the Online Advertising Technology Sector, European Commission (Jun. 22, 2021), https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_21_3143.

[5] Bundeskartellamt Publishes Report on Non-Search Online Advertising for Public Discussion, Bundeskartellamt (Aug. 29, 2022), https://www.bundeskartellamt.de/SharedDocs/Meldung/EN/Pressemitteilungen/2022/29_08_2022_SU_Online_Werbung.html?nn=3599398.

[6] Id.

[7] Online Platforms and Digital Advertising Market Study, U.K. Competition and Markets Authority (Jul. 1, 2020), https://www.gov.uk/cma-cases/online-platforms-and-digital-advertising-market-study (hereinafter “CMA Market Study”); Online Platforms and Digital Advertising, Market Study Final Report, U.K. Competition and Markets Authority (Jul. 1, 2020), https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/5fa557668fa8f5788db46efc/Final_report_Digital_ALT_TEXT.pdf (hereinafter “CMA Final Report”), at 21 & 37.

[8] See Josh Frydenberg, Competition and Consumer (Price Inquiry—Digital Advertising Services) Direction 2020 (Feb. 10, 2020); Ad Tech Inquiry Issues Paper 5, Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (Mar. 10, 2020); Digital Advertising Services Inquiry, Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (Feb. 26, 2021), https://www.accc.gov.au/focus-areas/inquiries-finalised/digital-advertising-services-inquiry/submissions-to-interim-report.

[9] Investigation of Competition in Digital Markets, Majority Staff Report and Recommendations, Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law of the Committee on the Judiciary (Oct. 4, 2020), available at https://templatelab.com/competition-in-digital-markets/4493-519; Hearing on Stacking the Tech: Has Google Harmed Competition in Online Advertising?, Committee of the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights (Sep. 15, 2020), https://www.judiciary.senate.gov/meetings/stacking-the-tech-has-google-harmed-competition-in-online-advertising.

[10] Investigation of Competition in Digital Markets, Majority Staff Report and Recommendations, id., at 20.

[11] Competition and Transparency in Digital Advertising Act, S.4258, 117th Congress (2021-2022), https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/senate-bill/4258/text.

[12] Lee Introduces Digital Advertising Act, Mike Lee US Senator for Utah (May 19, 2022), https://www.lee.senate.gov/2022/5/lee-introduces-digital-advertising-act.

[13] Support Mounts for Lee’s Digital Advertising Act, Mike Lee US Senator for Utah (May 27, 2022), https://www.lee.senate.gov/2022/5/support-mounts-for-lee-s-digital-advertising-act.

[14] Online Platforms and Digital Advertising Market Study Interim Report, U.K. Competition and Markets Authority (Dec. 18, 2019), https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/5ed0f75bd3bf7f4602e98330/Interim_report_—_web.pdf (hereinafter, “CMA Interim Report”).

[15] Fiona M. Scott Morton & David C. Dinielli, Roadmap for a Digital Advertising Monopolization Case Against Google, Omidyar Network (May 2020), https://omidyar.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Roadmap-for-a-Case-Against-Google.pdf (hereinafter, “Roadmap” or “Omidyar Roadmap”). One of the Roadmap’s authors testified at a Senate hearing on the display-advertising market, and the report has been widely cited. See, e.g., Gilad Edelman, Here’s What an Antitrust Case Against Google Might Look Like, Wired (May 18, 2020), https://www.wired.com/story/antitrust-case-against-google-roadmap-paper.

[16] Damien Geradin & Dimitrios Katsifis, An EU Competition Law Analysis of Online Display Advertising in the Programmatic Age, 15 Eur. Comp. J. 55 (2019); Damien Geradin & Dimitrios Katsifis, “Trust Me, I’m Fair”: Analysing Google’s Latest Practices in Ad Tech from the Perspective of EU Competition Law, 16 Eur. Comp. J. 11 (2020); Damien Geradin & Dimitrios Katsifis, Online Platforms and Digital Advertising Market Study: Observations on CMA’s Interim Report, TILEC Discussion Paper No. DP2020-044 (Feb. 13, 2020), https://ssrn.com/abstract=3537864; Damien Geradin & Dimitrios Katsifis, Competition in Ad Tech: A Response to Google, TILEC Discussion Paper No. DP2020-038 (Jun. 3, 2020), https://ssrn.com/abstract=3617839.

[17] The markets alleged in the Texas Complaint involve (1) publisher ad servers, (2) ad exchanges, (3) ad-buying tools for large advertisers, (4) ad-buying tools for small advertisers, (5) in-app mediation tools, and (6) in-app networks. The complaint does not relate to other forms of advertising on the Internet, such as targeted text-based ads sold by search engines, video ads that run before or during video content, or shareable ads on social media platforms.

[18] This section is distilled from our much longer discussion of the broader market surrounding digital advertising. See Eric Fruits, Geoffrey A. Manne & Lazar Radic, Relevant Market in the Google AdTech Case, ICLE Issue Brief 2022-06-01 (2022), https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=4125569.

[19] Benedict Evans, News by the Ton: 75 Years of US Advertising (Jun. 15, 2020), https://www.ben-evans.com/benedictevans/2020/6/14/75-years-of-us-advertising; Benedict Evans, TV, Merchant Media and the Unbundling of Advertising (Mar. 18, 2022), https://www.ben-evans.com/benedictevans/2022/3/18/unbundling-advertising.

[20] See Fruits, Manne & Radic, supra note 18.

[21] Michael Schneider & Kate Aurthur, R.I.P. Cable TV: Why Hollywood Is Slowly Killing Its Biggest Moneymaker, Variety (Jul. 21, 2020), https://variety.com/2020/tv/news/cable-tv-decline-streaming-cord-cutting-1234710007 (“[B]asic cable feasted on a dual revenue stream of subscriber fees and advertising revenue. But that gravy train started going off the rails when the streaming services arrived.”).

[22] At the same time, as Benedict Evans notes, not all digital advertising is drawn from offline sources: “[I]f you talk to people at both Google and Facebook and in the agency world, you’ll hear that a lot of the money spent on Google and Facebook is money that was never spent on traditional advertising—it’s coming from SMEs [small and medium enterprises] and local businesses that might have spent in classified at most but probably wouldn’t have done even that.” Evans, News by the Ton, supra note 19 (emphasis in original).

[23] See Xi He, Rigoberto Lopez & Yizao Liu, Are Online and Offline Advertising Substitutes or Complements? Evidence from U.S. Food Industries, 15 J. Agricultural & Food Indus. Org. 1 (2017).

[24] David Bardey, Jorge Tovar & Nicolas Santos, Characterization of the Relevant Market in the Media Industry: Some New Evidence, Toulouse School of Economics Working Paper 16-719 (2016), https://www.tse-fr.eu/publications/characterization-relevant-market-media-industry-some-new-evidence (“The results show substitution and complementary patterns across certain media outlets. An increase in price for advertising in radio, for instance, leads to higher demand for newspapers and outdoors. Similarly, complementarity relationships between media outlets are observed, suggesting that advertising across the various media platforms is, overall, interwoven.”).

[25] David S. Evans, The Online Advertising Industry: Economics, Evolution, and Privacy, 23 J. Econ. Persp. 37, 49 (2009).

[26] Avi Goldfarb & Catherine Tucker, Search Engine Advertising: Channel Substitution When Pricing Ads to Context, 57 Management Sci. 458 (2011) (The authors find that the price of “ambulance chaser” lawyer ads was significantly more expensive in states prohibiting direct-mail solicitation by attorneys. This leads them to conclude that “online advertising substitutes for online advertising”).

[27] Avi Goldfarb & Catherine Tucker, Substitution Between Offline and Online Advertising Markets, 7 J. Competition L. & Econ. 37, 43 (2011).

[28] Daniel S. Levine, Ad-Supported Cyber-Magazines to Launch on Internet, Adweek (Sep. 10, 1993).

[29] Id.

[30] Brian Morrissey, How the Banner Ad Was Born, Digiday (Apr. 12, 2013), https://digiday.com/marketing/how-the-banner-ad-was-born.

[31] Chris Lapham, AOL and GNN Partner to Build Launch Pad, CMC Magazine (Jul. 1, 1995), https://www.december.com/cmc/mag/1995/jul/cutting.html.

[32] Kim Cleland, Poppe Creates Web Net, Advertising Age (Oct. 30, 1995).

[33] Id.

[34] The History of Online Advertising, OKO Ad Management (Jul. 19, 2019), https://oko.uk/blog/the-history-of-online-advertising.

[35] The company changed its name to Overture, which was acquired by Yahoo! in 2003.

[36] GoTo.com Announces First Round of Financing, Totaling More Than $ 6 Million, Led by Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Business Wire (May 19, 1998), https://www.internetnews.com/marketing/goto-com-raises-6-million-in-first-round-of-financing.

[37] Will Oremus, Google’s Big Break, Slate (Oct. 13, 2013), https://slate.com/business/2013/10/googles-big-break-how-bill-gross-goto-com-inspired-the-adwords-business-model.html.

[38] Id.

[39] Dean Schmid, The History of Display Advertising: Everything You Need to Know, DisruptorDaily.com (Aug. 14, 2017), https://www.disruptordaily.com/the-history-of-display-advertising-everything-you-need-to-know.

[40] Julia Scheeres, Death of Banner Ads Exaggerated, Wired (Jan. 26, 2001), https://www.wired.com/2001/01/death-of-banner-ads-exaggerated.

[41] Id.

[42] Breaking News, AdAge (Oct. 23, 2000).

[43] Mark Evans, Investors Leap off Overture Roller Coaster: Rival Google Elbows In, National Post (Feb. 21, 2002).

[44] Oremus, supra note 37.

[45] Google Grabs Applied Semantics, EuropeMedia (Apr. 25, 2003); Google Expands Advertising Monetization Program for Websites, Google Press Release (Jun. 18, 2003), http://googlepress.blogspot.com/2003/06/google-expands-advertising-monetization.html.

[46] Dean Schmid, The History of Display Advertising: Everything You Need to Know, DisruptorDaily (Aug. 14, 2017), https://www.disruptordaily.com/the-history-of-display-advertising-everything-you-need-to-know.

[47] Kate Walsh, Search Marketing: Understanding the Basics, B2B Marketing Magazine (March 2006).

[48] Louise Story & Miguel Helft, Google Buys DoubleClick for $3.1 Billion, The New York Times (Apr. 14, 2007), https://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/14/technology/14DoubleClick.html.

[49] Sarah Sluis, The Year Header Bidding Went Mainstream, AdExchanger (Dec. 27, 2016); Townhall Media Selects OpenX for Patent-Pending Header Bidding Solution, BusinessWire (Sep. 18, 2015), https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20150918005110/en/Townhall-Media-Selects-OpenX-for-Patent-Pending-Header-Bidding-Solution.

[50] As the name suggests, ad waterfalls enable publishers to sell their inventory seriatim, beginning with premium, direct sales and flowing through the most historically profitable ad servers in succession to unload unsold inventory before offering its remnant inventory in the open display channel. See, e.g., Maciej Zawadzinski, What Is Waterfalling and How Does it Work?, Clearcode (Aug. 20, 2021), https://clearcode.cc/blog/what-is-waterfalling.

[51] See, e.g., Header Bidding, OKO Ad Management, https://oko.uk/topic/header-bidding (retrieved July 27, 2022).

[52] Client-side header bidding is so-named because it operates via a small piece of java script embedded in the header of a publisher’s website and executed within the user’s browser (i.e., client). See, e.g., Maciej Zawadzinski, What Is Header Bidding and How Does it Work?, Clearcode (Aug. 20, 2021), https://clearcode.cc/blog/what-is-header-bidding.

[53] Header Bidding Facts and Statistics 2021, Automatad (Jun. 27, 2021), https://headerbidding.co/header-bidding-statistics. Today, 70% of the top 10,000 U.S. publishers use header bidding. See Header Bidding (HBIX) Tracker, kevel (retrieved Nov. 1, 2022), https://www.kevel.com/hbix.

[54] See, e.g., CMA Final Report, supra note 7, at Appendix M, ¶ 33.

[55] See, e.g., Vishveshwar Jatain, Header Bidding Integrations: Client Vs. Server-Side, Explained, Blockthrough (Apr. 15, 2021), https://blockthrough.com/blog/header-bidding-integrations-client-vs-server-side-explained.

[56] IAB and PwC, IAB Internet Advertising Revenue Report, 2010 Full Year Results (Apr. 2011), available at https://www.iab.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/IAB_Full_year_2010_0413_Final.pdf; Megan Graham, Digital Ad Revenue Jumped 35% in the U.S. Last Year, Biggest Gain Since 2006, Wall Street Journal (Apr. 12, 2022), https://www.wsj.com/articles/digital-ad-revenue-jumped-35-in-the-u-s-last-year-biggest-gain-since-2006-11649759401.

[57] Producer Price Index by Commodity: Advertising Space and Time Sales: Internet Advertising Sales, Excluding Internet Advertising Sold by Print Publishers, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/WPU365; Producer Price Index, December 2009—February 2021, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://fred.stlouisfed.org/graph/?g=vtTd.

[58] Scott Morton & Dinielli, supra note 15, at 9.

[59] Importantly, however, network effects are not monolithic; nor do they increase forever. For different types of networks at different points in their growth, adding more users might not increase the value of the platform and could even reduce the platform’s benefits. See, e.g., D’Arcy Coolican & Li Jin, The Dynamics of Network Effects, Andreesen Horowitz (Dec. 13, 2018), https://a16z.com/2018/12/13/network-effects-dynamics-in-practice.

[60] See Stan J. Liebowitz & Stephen E. Margolis, Network Externality: An Uncommon Tragedy, 8 J. Econ. Persp. 133 (1994).

[61] Catherine Tucker, Digital Data, Platforms and the Usual [Antitrust] Suspects: Network Effects, Switching Costs, Essential Facility, 54 Rev. Indus. Org. 683, 686 (2019).

[62] See, e.g., David S. Evans, Economics of Vertical Restraints for Multi-Sided Platforms, University of Chicago Institute for Law & Economics Olin Research Paper No. 626 (Jan. 2, 2013), https://ssrn.com/abstract=2195778.

[63] See, e.g., Stylianos Despotakis, R. Ravi & Amin Sayedi, First-Price Auctions in Online Display Advertising, 58 J. Marketing Research 888 (2021). See also Display Advertising Switched to First-Price Auctions After Adoption of Header Bidding, New Study Finds, Tepper School of Business (Apr. 22, 2020), https://www.cmu.edu/tepper/news/stories/2020/april/display-advertisting-research-ravi.html.

[64]  Jonathan Levin, Auction Theory (Oct. 2004), available at https://web.stanford.edu/~jdlevin/Econ%20286/Auctions.pdf.

[65] Maciej Zawadzi?ski, How Do First-Price and Second-Price Auctions Work in Online Advertising?, Clearcode (Aug. 12, 2021), https://clearcode.cc/blog/first-price-second-price-auction.

[66] Id.

[67] Texas Complaint, supra note 1, at ¶ 351 (“Overall, the lack of transparency prevents more efficient competition that would drive greater innovation, increase the quality of intermediary services, increase output, and create downward pricing pressure on intermediary fees.”); Scott Morton & Dinielli, supra note 15, at 18 (“Based on the public facts known at the moment, however, it does not seem plausible that the incremental efficiencies created by the conduct described here could outweigh all the harms to competition resulting from this broad pattern of behaviors.”); Scott Morton & Dinielli, supra note 15, at 38 (“It also is true that Google has allowed some rivals to survive (although not necessarily to thrive). It is possible that Google adopted a strategy of incomplete foreclosure specifically so that it can paint an illusion of healthy competition when the reality is quite different. Indeed, to the extent Google has adopted ‘pro-competitive’ concessions, the narrative here demonstrates that they simply have not succeeded in addressing the harms or lowering the barriers to entry.”).

[68] Id. at 3 (“It is clear even to us as lay people that there are less anticompetitive ways of delivering effective digital advertising—and thereby preserving the substantial benefits from this technology—than those employed by Google.”).

[69] United States v. Aluminum Co. of America, 148 F.2d 416, 430 (2nd Cir. 1945) (Learned Hand, J.) (emphasis added).

[70] Cal. Computer Prods., Inc. v. Int’l Bus. Machine Corp., 613 F.2d 727, 744 (9th Cir. 1979) (“IBM, assuming it was a monopolist, had the right to redesign its products to make them more attractive to buyers whether by reason of lower manufacturing cost and price or improved performance. It was under no duty to help [its competitors] survive or expand.”).

[71] Scott Morton & Dinielli, supra note 15 at 18.

[72] Texas Second Amended Complaint at ¶ 113.

[73] See Verizon Commc’ns Inc. v. Law Offices of Curtis V. Trinko, LLP, 540 U.S. 398, 408 (2004). The exception—”at or near the outer boundary of § 2 liability” (id. at 409)—is the extremely narrow case in which a monopolist (i) sacrifices profits, by (ii) terminating a prior course of dealing, (iii) for no purpose except to harm competition. See Novell v. Microsoft, 731 F.3d 1064, 1074-75 (10th Cir. 2013) (Gorsuch, J.) (holding that a refusal-to-deal claim requires terminating “a preexisting voluntary” course of dealing where the “monopolist decided to forsake short-term profits,” and “the monopolist’s conduct” is “irrational but for its anticompetitive effect”).

[74] Opinion and Order, Texas, et al. v. Google, 21-md-3010-PKC (S.D.N.Y, Sep. 13, 2022) (citing Charych v. Siriusware, Inc., 790 Fed. App’x 299, 302 (2nd Cir. 2019)).

[75] United States v. Colgate & Co., 250 U.S. 300, 307 (1919).

[76] Trinko, 540 U.S. at 407-08

[77] See Brunswick Corp. v. Pueblo Bowl-O-Mat, Inc., 429 U.S. 477, 488 (1977) (“The antitrust laws, however, were enacted for ‘the protection of competition not competitors.’”) (quoting Brown Shoe Co. v. United States, 370 U.S. 294, 320 (1962)).

[78] See Ohio v. American Express, 138 U.S. 2274, 2285 (2018) (“Due to indirect network effects, two-sided platforms cannot raise prices on one side without risking a feedback loop of declining demand…. Price increases on one side of the platform [] do not suggest anticompetitive effects without some evidence that they have increased the overall cost of the platform’s services.”).

[79] Geoffrey A. Manne, In Defence of the Supreme Court’s ‘Single Market’ Definition in Ohio v American Express, 7 J. Antitrust Enforcement 104, 111 (2019) (quoting Brief for Amici Curiae Antitrust Law & Economics Scholars in Support of Respondents at 19, Ohio v. American Express, 138 U.S. 2274 (2018) (No. 16-1454) and United States, et al. v. American Express, 838 F.3d 179, 198 (2nd Cir. 2016)).

[80] Among innumerable examples, see Texas Complaint, supra note 1, at ¶ 297 (“Google’s harm to the competitive process has harmed customers in this market, i.e., online publishers.”). Notably, the Texas Complaint does, in places, recognize that identifying the incidence of benefits and harms in multisided markets is complex—it just fails to carry its analysis to its logical conclusion. Thus, in ¶157 the Complaint notes that “[t]he higher advertising revenue publishers make from exchanges permits publishers to offer consumers better quality content and lower-priced or free access to their content.” (Emphasis added). Undoubtedly, this is true. But if it is correct, then it must also be correct that, at the same time, the correspondingly higher prices advertisers pay for advertising through exchanges limits their ability to provide marketing benefits directly to consumers and may increase the price to consumers of the advertised goods. It is an empirical question which effect is larger, but the mere possibility that one set of consumers could benefit from a different arrangement is insufficient on its own to identify harm when another set of consumers would be harmed by it.

[81] See Harold Demsetz, Information and Efficiency: Another Viewpoint, 12 J. L. & Econ. 1, 1-2 (1969) (“In practice, those who adopt the nirvana viewpoint seek to discover discrepancies between the ideal and the real and if discrepancies are found, they deduce that the real is inefficient…. The nirvana approach is… susceptible… to committing three logical fallacies—the grass is always greener fallacy, the fallacy of the free lunch, and the people could be different fallacy.”) (emphasis in original).

[82] See, generally, Thomas Nachbar, Less Restrictive Alternatives and the Ancillary Restraints Doctrine, Virginia Law and Economics Research Paper No. 2020-18 (2021) (forthcoming U. Seattle L. Rev.) at 57-8, available at https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3723807 (“The more general risk to tech markets comes from the intangible nature of the products and services they produce. Although many of the cases cited for less restrictive alternatives are horizontal cases, it is the vertical context (which normally receives more permissive antitrust review) in which less restrictive alternatives present the greatest likelihood of destabilizing current law because of the difficulty of specifying what is and is not less restrictive with regard to the intangible products produced by today’s ‘big tech’ economy. To the extent that less restrictive alternatives present problems of incrementalism, those problems will be exacerbated in the ‘big tech’ markets.”).

[83] See Geoffrey A. Manne, Error Costs in Digital Markets, Global Antitrust Institute Report on the Digital Economy (Joshua D. Wright & Douglas H. Ginsburg, eds., 2020) 33, 76, available at https://gaidigitalreport.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Manne-Error-Costs-in-Digital-Markets.pdf (“The concern with error costs is especially high in dynamic markets in which it is difficult to discern the real competitive effects of a firm’s conduct from observation alone. And for several reasons, antitrust decision-making in the context of innovation tends much more readily toward distrust of novel behavior, thus exacerbating the risk and cost of over-enforcement.”).

[84] Among many other examples, see Texas Second Amended Complaint at ¶138 (“Then, through Dynamic Allocation, Google’s ad server passed inside information to Google’s exchange and permitted Google’s exchange to purchase valuable impressions at artificially depressed prices. Competing exchanges were deprived of the opportunity to compete for inventory and left with the low-value impressions passed over by Google’s exchange.”); Omidyar Roadmap, supra note 15, at 20 (“[A]fter purchasing DoubleClick, which became its publisher ad server, Google apparently lowered its prices to publishers by a factor of ten, at least according to one publisher’s account related to the CMA. Low prices for this service can force rivals to depart, thereby directly reducing competition.”).

[85] Barry Wright Corp. v. ITT Grinnell Corp., 724 F.2d. 227, 235 (1st Cir. 1983) (Breyer, C.J.).

[86] Allied Orthopedic Appliances, Inc. v. Tyco Health Care Grp. LP, 592 F.3d 991, 1000 (9th Cir. 2010).

[87] Berkey Photo, Inc. v. Eastman Kodak Co., 603 F.2d 263, 287 (2nd Cir. 1979). See also, Manne & Wright, Innovation and the Limits of Antitrust, 6 J. Comp. L. & Econ. 153–202 (March 2010), https://doi.org/10.1093/joclec/nhp032.

[88] Allied Orthopedic, 592 F.3d at 999-1000; see also, California Computers Prods. v. IBM, 613 F.2d 727, 744 (9th Cir. 1979); Foremost Pro Color, Inc. v. Eastman Kodak Co., 703 F.2d 534, 543-45 (9th Cir. 1983).

[89] Foremost Pro Color, 703 F.2d at 543.

[90] Allied Orthopedic, 592 F.3d at 1000.

[91] Verizon Commc’ns, Inc. v. Law Offices of Curtis V. Trinko, 540 U.S. 398, 400-41 (2004).

[92] Trinko, 540 U.S. at 415-16.

[93] Id.; see also New York Merc. Exch., Inc. v. Intercontinental Exch. Inc., 323 F.Supp.2d 559 (S.D.N.Y. 2004) (dismissing Section 2 claim and reiterating limited exceptions in which forced sharing is appropriate).

[94] See, e.g., Jack Walters & Sons Corp. v. Morton Bldg., Inc., 737 F.2d 698, 710 (7th Cir. 1984) (“We just said that vertical integration is not an improper objective. But this puts the matter too tepidly; vertical integration usually is procompetitive. If there are cost savings from bringing into the firm a function formerly performed outside it, the firm will be made a more effective competitor.”). There is a robust body of empirical research indicating that vertical integration is generally procompetitive or benign. For a summary of the leading meta-studies by DOJ and FTC economists and others, see Koren W. Wong-Ervin, Antitrust Analysis of Vertical Mergers: Recent Developments and Economic Teachings, The Antitrust Source (February 2019), https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/publishing/antitrust_source/2018-2019/atsource-february2019/feb19_wong_ervin_2_18f.pdf. See also, Francine Lafontaine & Margaret Slade, Vertical Integration and Firm Boundaries: The Evidence, 45 J. Econ. Lit. 677 (2007) (“In spite of the lack of unified theory, overall a fairly clear empirical picture emerges. The data appear to be telling us that efficiency considerations overwhelm anticompetitive motives in most contexts. Furthermore, even when we limit attention to natural monopolies or tight oligopolies, the evidence of anticompetitive harm is not strong.”). See also, generally, Geoffrey A. Manne, Kristian Stout & Eric Fruits, The Fatal Economic Flaws of the Contemporary Campaign Against Vertical Integration, 68 Kansas L. Rev. 923 (2020).

[95] Scott Morton & Dinielli, supra note 15, at 17.

[96] See, e.g., Port Dock & Stone Corp. v. Oldcastle Ne., Inc., 507 F.3d 117, 123-25 (2nd Cir. 2007) (affirming dismissal of a Section 2 claim and finding that even a monopolist’s “vertical expansion into another level of the same product market will ordinarily be for the purpose of increasing its efficiency, which is a prototypical valid business purpose”). Moreover, single-firm conduct that supposedly projects power into another market, even through anticompetitive means, does not violate Sherman Act Section 2 unless the practices threaten monopoly power in that distinct second market. Harming competition is not enough. See Trinko, 540 U.S. at 415 n.4 (citing Spectrum Sports, Inc. v. McQuillan, 506 U.S. 447, 459 (1993)).

[97] Thus, the Omidyar Roadmap condemns Google’s supposed integration of data “to maximize the effectiveness and precision of ad targeting and attribution and thereby the value of an ad,” Scott Morton & Dinielli, supra note 15, at 20, even though the conduct makes Google’s offering to advertisers more attractive.

[98] Id. at 18-19.

[99] CMA Interim Report, supra note 14, at ¶ 5.89.

[100] Texas Second Amended Complaint at ¶ 113.

[101] Scott Morton & Dinielli, supra note 15, at 22.

[102] Texas Second Amended Complaint at ¶¶ 284-91 (“Cutting off access to YouTube foreclosed competition in the ad buying tool markets and protected Google’s market power in these markets. Many DSPs stopped growing, many others went out of business, and the market overall has been closed to entry.”).

[103] Scott Morton & Dinielli, supra note 15, at 22.

[104] See, e.g., Ryan Joe, The Big Story: Call of the Peacock, AdExchanger (Jan. 22, 2020) at 31:05-31:26, https://www.adexchanger.com/podcast/the-big-story/the-big-story-call-of-the-peacock (indicating that NBC’s Peacock streaming service will have only direct sales when it launches); Kevin Weiss, What Is the Amazon Demand Side Platform (DSP)?, Amplio (July 2019), https://www.ampliodigital.com/blog/what-is-the-amazon-demand-side-platform-dsp (“Amazon DSP is the only way to access advertising inventory exclusively available on Amazon’s collection of owned online properties and devices like: Kindle; Fire TV; IMDb; Amazon Owned & Operated properties”); Tim Cross, Xandr Launches New Demand-Side Platform ‘Xandr Invest’, VideoAdNews (Jun. 10, 2019) https://videoadnews.com/2019/06/10/xandr-launches-new-demand-side-platform-xandr-invest (“Xandr [AT&T-Time Warner’s ad tech division] has announced it will be the exclusive source of inventory from Community, its recently announced video marketplace which includes content from various WarnerMedia brands as well as Vice, Hearst Magazines, Newsy, Philo, Tubi and XUMO.”).

[105] Neal Mohan, Focusing Investments to Improve Buying on YouTube, Google (Aug. 6, 2015) https://doubleclick-advertisers.googleblog.com/2015 (“To continue improving the YouTube advertising experience for as many of our clients as possible, we’ll be focusing our future development efforts on the formats and channels used by most of our partners. To enable that, as of the end of the year, we’ll no longer support the small amount of YouTube buying happening on the DoubleClick Ad Exchange.”); see also, Kelly Liyakasa, Google to Yank YouTube Inventory out of AdX by Year’s End, AdExchanger (Aug. 6, 2015), https://www.adexchanger.com/ad-exchange-news/google-to-yank-youtube-inventory-out-of-adx-by-years-end.

[106] Liyakasa, id.

[107] See Lara O’Reilly, Ad Tech Company The Trade Desk Goes Public at $28.75 Per Share—A Huge Pop on its $18 Price Target, Business Insider (Sep. 21, 2016), https://www.businessinsider.com/the-trade-desk-ipo-2016-9; Trey Titone, The Bill That Could Break Up Google and Shake Up Ad Tech, Ad Tech Explained (May 23, 2022), https://adtechexplained.com/competition-and-transparency-in-digital-advertising-act-ctda; Trade Desk Market Cap, YCharts, https://ycharts.com/companies/TTD/market_cap.

[108] Scott Morton & Dinielli, supra note 15, at 16 n.70 (identifying AppNexus as a “vigorous competitor to Google”).

[109] Id. at 2, 28-29.

[110] Annual Report (Form 10-K) for Year Ending December 31, 2021, Alphabet Inc. (Feb. 02, 2022), https://www.sec.gov/ix?doc=/Archives/edgar/data/0001652044/000165204422000019/goog-20211231.htm.

[111] Id.

[112] Id.

[113] Id.

[114] Id.

[115] Rachel Kaser, YouTube Claims to Share Billions in Ad Money with Creators, Unlike Instagram, The Next Web (Feb. 5, 2020), https://thenextweb.com/facebook/2020/02/05/youtube-claims-share-billions-ad-money-creators-unlike-instagram.

[116] Texas Complaint, supra note 1, at ¶¶ 61, 156, 253, 288.

[117] Id. ¶ 157.

[118] Id. ¶ 21.

[119] Scott Morton & Dinielli, supra note 15, at 14 (“The CMA estimates Google’s take rate, or price, at 40%, which it deems a supra-competitive price for the services provided by the Google-controlled players in ad tech stack. A recent study by the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA) found that publishers received 51% of the price, while the amount they could track going to intermediaries was 34%. The study could not find where the remaining 15% of the price went. As we will describe below, Google has such a dominant position across all elements of the ecosystem, it seems likely that these missing funds are accruing to Google at least in part, which would support the CMA’s findings.”).

[120] Geradin & Katsifis, “Trust Me, I’m Fair,” supra note 16 (“[L]ack of competition across the ad tech chain enables Google to exploit advertisers and publishers by charging hidden fees for ad intermediation on top of its disclosed commission…. Unfortunately, we conclude that Google’s latest switch does nothing to increase auction transparency. Worse, it seems to strengthen Google’s ability to extract hidden margins from its customers, while undermining the competitive pressure exercised by header bidding.”).

[121] CMA Final Report, supra note 7, at 275 (emphasis added).

[122] Scott Morton & Dinielli, supra note 15, at 20.

[123] See, e.g., Jean-Charles Rochet & Jean Tirole, Platform Competition in Two-Sided Markets, 1 J. Eur. Econ. Ass’n 990 (2003); Bruno Jullien, Price Skewness and Competition in Multi-Sided Markets, IDEI Working Paper 504 (March 2008), available at https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/6375977.pdf.

[124] See Joshua. D. Wright & John. M. Yun, Burdens and Balancing in Multisided Markets: The First Principles Approach of Ohio v. American Express, 54 Rev. Industrial Organization 717 (2019); Manne, In Defence of the Supreme Court’s ‘Single Market’ Definition in Ohio v American Express, supra note 79.

[125] As described here, true pricing is theoretically possible but difficult in practice: “To successfully engage in predatory pricing means taking enormous and rising losses that grow for the ‘predatory’ firm as customers switch to it from its competitor. And once the rival firm has exited the market, if the predatory firm raises prices above average cost (i.e., to recoup its losses), there is no guarantee that a new competitor will not enter the market selling at the previously competitive price. And the competing firm can either shut down temporarily or, in some cases, just buy up the ‘predatory’ firm’s discounted goods to resell later.” Sam Bowman, Buck’s “Third Way”: A Different Road to the Same Destination, Truth on the Market (Oct. 27, 2020), https://truthonthemarket.com/2020/10/27/bucks-third-way-a-different-road-to-the-same-destination.

[126] Scott Morton & Dinielli, supra note 15, at 20.

[127] See, e.g., Barry Wright, 724 F.2d at 234-35.

[128] CMA Interim Report, supra note 14, at Appendix H, ¶ 194.

[129] Texas Complaint, supra note 1, at ¶ 477.

[130] Id. at ¶¶ 473-476.

[131] Scott Morton & Dinielli, supra note 15, at 28.

[132] Id. at 28.

[133] As one study on the effects of GDPR (in this case, on app development) notes, “While 42.1 percent of EU-developed apps exit in the year following GDPR, the analogous ?gure averages between 37.7 and 50 percent in the other six countries, con?rming the di?culty in ?nding an untreated part of the world.” Rebecca Janßen, Reinhold Kesler, Michael E. Kummer, & Joel Waldfogel, GDPR and the Lost Generation of Innovative Apps, NBER Working Paper 30028 (May 2022) at 19-20, available at https://www.nber.org/papers/w30028.

[134] Julie Brill, Microsoft Will Honor California’s New Privacy Rights Throughout the United States, Microsoft Blog (Nov. 11, 2019), https://blogs.microsoft.com/on-the-issues/2019/11/11/microsoft-california-privacy-rights.

[135] Nick Statt, Apple Updates Safari’s Anti-Tracking with Full Third-Party Cookie Blocking, The Verge (Mar. 24, 2020), https://www.theverge.com/2020/3/24/21192830/apple-safari-intelligent-tracking-privacy-full-third-party-cookie-blocking.

[136] Dieter Bohn, Google to “Phase Out” Third-Party Cookies in Chrome, but not for Two Years, The Verge (Jan. 24, 2020), https://www.theverge.com/2020/1/14/21064698/google-third-party-cookies-chrome-two-years-privacy-safari-firefox.

[137] Scott Morton & Dinielli, supra note 15, at 30.

[138] Id. at 20.

[139] Texas Complaint, supra note 1, at ¶¶ 407-408. See also, Scott Morton & Dinielli, supra note 15, at 26.

[140] See David Besbris, Introducing the Accelerated Mobile Pages Project, for a Faster, Open Mobile Web, Google (Oct. 7, 2015), https://blog.google/products/search/introducing-accelerated-mobile-pages/.

[141] See Automated Team, Header Bidding on AMP—A Complete Guide, Automated (Jan. 10, 2020), https://headerbidding.co/header-bidding-amp.

[142] Scott Morton & Dinielli, supra note 15, at 26.

[143] Id. at 17.

[144] See William J. Baumol, Contestable Markets: An Uprising in the Theory of Industry Structure, 72 Am. Econ. Rev. 1, 14 (1982) (“In the limit, when entry and exit are completely free, efficient incumbent monopolists and oligopolists may in fact be able to prevent entry. But they can do so only by behaving virtuously, that is, by offering to consumers the benefits which competition would otherwise bring. For every deviation from good behavior instantly makes them vulnerable to hit-and-run entry.”).

[145] Scott Morton & Dinielli, supra note 15, at 15.

[146] See, generally, William J. Baumol, John C. Panzar, & Robert D. Willig, Contestable Markets and the Theory of Industry Structure (1982).

[147] United States v. Microsoft Corp., 253 F.3d 34 (D.C. Cir. 2001) (“Because a firm cannot possess monopoly power in a market unless that market is also protected by significant barriers to entry… it follows that a firm cannot threaten to achieve monopoly power in a market unless that market is, or will be, similarly protected.”).

[148] Scott Morton & Dinielli, supra note 15, at 15.

[149] Id.

[150] See CMA Final Report, supra note 7, at 252–55 for a discussion of barriers to entry.

[151] See Texas Complaint, supra note 1, at ¶ 127: In addition to these barriers, Google’s own anticompetitive conduct imposes additional barriers to entry and expansion. As addressed below in Section VII.A, from 2010 to present, Google has tied its ad server to its ad exchange, requiring publishers to use Google’s ad server in order to receive live, competitive bids from Google’s ad exchange. This tie effectively forces almost every large publisher to use Google’s ad server. And because it is difficult-to-impossible for a publisher to use multiple ad servers simultaneously, requiring publishers to use Google’s ad server effectively prohibits them from using a competitor’s ad server. Google’s anticompetitive conduct creates an unnatural and nearly insurmountable barrier to entry.

[152] An earlier version of the Texas Complaint did make assertions regarding Google’s abuse of monopoly power through the “use [of] its data advantages to trade on inside information” (Texas Second Amended Complaint at ¶ 311), by which the state plaintiffs may mean (or have meant) to encompass location data, among other things.

[153] Scott Morton & Dinielli, supra note 15, at 15.

[154] CMA Interim Report, supra note 14, at 189 (emphasis added).

[155] Id., at ¶ 3.71 (“Microsoft suggested that accessing at-scale location data from user devices is a critical input to providing relevant, localized results. It indicated its belief that Google has unique advantages in this area, due to the location data that it receives from the Android operating system and the location data it receives when users access Google Search or other apps like Google Maps/Waze.”).

[156] CMA Final Report, supra note 7, at ¶ 5.268.

[157] Scott Morton & Dinielli, supra note 15, at 15.

[158] To be sure, location data can be helpful in assessing the efficacy of advertising by, for example, enabling an advertiser to better evaluate whether an advertisement led users to go to the advertiser’s physical location. But this function hardly seems necessary to a well-functioning market, and other sources of such information (e.g., questionnaires) are available.

[159] Regulation (EU) 2016/679 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 April 2016 on the Protection of Natural Persons with Regard to the Processing of Personal Data and on the Free Movement of Such Data, and Repealing Directive 95/46/EC (General Data Protection Regulation), OJ L 119, 4.5, 2016; See, e.g., Bert Peeters, Processing of Location Data: Navigating the EU Data Protection Framework, CiTiP Blog (Feb. 4, 2021), https://www.law.kuleuven.be/citip/blog/processing-of-location-data-navigating-the-eu-data-protection-framework. (“The general understanding seems to be that, while European law does not qualify location data as a ‘special category’ of data under article 9 of the GDPR, location data should for all intents and purposes be treated with the utmost of care.”).

[160] Avi Goldfarb & Catherine Tucker, Privacy Regulation and Online Advertising, 57 Mgmt. Sci. 57, 57 (2011).

[161] Nils Wernerfelt, Anna Tuchman, Bradley Shapiro, & Robert Moakler, Estimating the Value of Offsite Data to Advertisers on Meta, University of Chicago, Becker Friedman Institute for Economics Working Paper No. 114 (August 22, 2022) at 1, available at https://ssrn.com/abstract=4198438 (“Taken together, our results suggest a substantial benefit of offsite data across a wide range of advertisers, an important input into policy in this space.”).

[162] Michal S. Gal & Oshrit Aviv, The Competitive Effects of the GDPR, 16 J. Competition & Econ. 349 (May 18, 2020). See also James Campbell, Avi Goldfarb, & Catherine Tucker, Privacy Regulation and Market Structure, 24 J. Econ. & Mgmt. Strategy 47, 68 (2015) (“[A] potential risk in privacy regulation is the entrenchment of the existing incumbent firms and a consequent reduction in the incentives to invest in quality. These incentives are stronger when firms have little consumer-facing price flexibility, as is the case in online media.”).

[163] Gal & Aviv, id. at 16.

[164] See, e.g., Cheok Lup, Explaining Marketing Attribution Models [Scenario Example], tinkerEdge (Nov. 12, 2015), https://www.tinkeredge.com/blog/web-analytics/explaining-marketing-attribution-models. (“On Day #1: User wants to purchase a coffee table for his new house, and perform a keyword search on Google. He clicks on one of the organic listings on Google Search Engine Result Page (SERP) to land onto Overstock.com. On Day # 2: He continues his search for his coffee table, and clicks on one of the PPC ads on Google SERP to land onto Overstock.com again. He subscribes to the email newsletter this time. On Day #3: He receives an eDM [electronic direct mail] from Overstock.com with a promotional offer of 30% discount sale, and clicks the “Buy Now” button from the eDM to enter the website. Unable to resist the discount offer, he decides to make a purchase of the furniture from the website.”). Attribution metrics determine which channel gets credit for the ultimate sale.

[165] Scott Morton & Dinielli, supra note 15, at 29

[166] “Furthermore, the default makes the advertiser believe that search ads are very effective relative to display ads, so the advertiser has no reason to change the default.” Id.

[167] See About the Default MCF Attribution Models: Learn How Each MCF Model Assigns Conversion Credit, Google Analytics Help (last visited Nov. 1, 2022), Attribution Models, Google, https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/1665189?hl=en. For the Google Analytics 4 version of these attribution models currently being implemented, see [GA4] About Attribution and Attribution Modeling, Google Analytics Help (last visited Nov. 1, 2022), https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/10596866. Google even created a guide called “Beyond Last Click Attribution” to help advertisers select the most appropriate model. See Beyond Last Click Attribution: Official Guide to Attribution Modeling in Google Ads, Google Ads Help (last visited Nov. 1, 2022), https://support.google.com/google-ads/answer/7003286.

[168] See Joan Arensman & Wilfred Yeung, Move Beyond Last Click Attribution in AdWords, Google Blog (May 10, 2016), https://adwords.googleblog.com/2016/05/move-beyond-last-click-attribution.html.

[169] How Does Conversion Tracking Work?, Microsoft Advertising (n.d.) https://help.ads.microsoft.com/#apex/ads/en/56710/2.

[170] Nir Elharar, How to Choose the Right Marketing Attribution Model for Your Content, Outbrain (Apr. 8, 2019), https://www.outbrain.com/blog/marketing-attribution-model-content.

[171] Texas Complaint, supra note 1, at ¶ 195.

[172] Scott Morton & Dinielli, supra note 15, at 17

[173] Texas Complaint, supra note 1, at ¶ 351.

[174] See Demsetz, supra note 81.

Continue reading
Antitrust & Consumer Protection