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Cournot Competition 

Updated on April 3, 2024
Article byPriya Choubey
Edited byPriya Choubey
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

What Is Cournot Competition?

Cournot Competition refers to a strategic competition model in an oligopolistic market where competitors having identical products decide on the production volume based on the anticipated output level of their competitors. This model helps establish a stable market, providing an outcome that none of the parties back off from.

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These competitors cannot form groups or join hands to exchange business interests. The Cournot competition in game theory reflects the perfect competition in the market as each company’s output is based on its expectation of the competitor’s production volume. 

Key Takeaways

  • Cournot competition is an economic model for an oligopoly market scenario where firms compete by deciding on their output levels depending on the anticipated output levels of the competitors at a given time.
  • Firms should have no cooperation or collaboration in this market structure. Also, they must be in a position to impact the market prices of the goods or services.
  • The competing firm considers that its competitors have a fixed output and plans their production volume accordingly.
  • It differs from the Bertrand model, which considers pricing as the competitive factor.

Cournot Competition Explained

The Cournot competition model throws light on how the rival firms determine their output level by anticipating their competitor’s expected production quantity. Its primary competitive factor is the volume of homogeneous or standardized goods or services produced by each market player or competing firm at a given time. However, the quantity of output is separately but simultaneously decided by each competitor. 

Some of the critical characteristics of this model include the following:

  • It states how the firms behave in an oligopoly market.
  • The model becomes a static one with one-period consideration.
  • It believes that there can be no scope for adjustments or changes further.

The emergence and evolution of the Cournot model are attributed to French mathematician Augustin Cournot, who published Researches into the Mathematical Principles of the Theory of Wealth in 1838, in which he explored the competition dynamics of a monopoly. He specifically focused on a duopoly of spring water suppliers. His research laid the groundwork for analyzing competitive frameworks in an oligopoly setup.

Implementing a profit optimization strategy becomes a balancing act using this model in an oligopoly market. Firms must anticipate their competitors’ actions and adjust their output accordingly. Hence, the Cournot competition model facilitates the decisions on prices and output.

In perfect competition, firms aim to produce a higher quantity of goods or services and price it competently low. In a monopoly, on the other hand, businesses limit the output and price it high. The Cournot model enables businesses to check on the overall output levels and pricing levels, considering different kinds of market structures together. In simple terms, the firms are interdependent in making their production and pricing decisions.  

The model is based on equilibrium, specifically, the Nash equilibrium, where each firm’s production decision aligns with its competitors’ anticipated actions. It ensures stability within the market by minimizing the incentive for firms to alter their production levels for short-term gains. 

Examples

Given below are some examples to understand how Cournot competition works: 

Example #1

Suppose, in a small town, two plant nurseries grow identical plants in every season. In December, Nursery A assumes Nursery B will grow 30,000 flowering plants. Therefore, Nursery A plans to grow 1,000 more plants than Nursery B to maximize its profit.  

This example shows the application of the Cournot model in a duopoly, where businesses proactively anticipate and respond to one another’s moves. By estimating Nursery B’s output, Nursery A modifies its output to maximize profit while gaining a competitive advantage

Example #2

Applying the Cournot competition model to the telecommunication sector offers an understanding of qualitative shifts and long-term trends. The model was applied to the 2013 Slovak mobile operator market, comprising three primary players: Orange Slovakia, Slovak Telecom, and O2.  

Data were drawn from annual reports and financial records, while mobile services were viewed as substitutes, measured by average revenue per user (ARPU). Marginal costs were derived from operating expenses and active SIM cards. It yielded a coefficient of γ = 0.6, which reflected service substitutability. 

The example provides a practical implementation of the Cournot model. It illustrates how it can be applied to examine strategic decision making and competition among a small number of businesses in a particular sector. Furthermore, the research extended the Cournot duopoly to an oligopoly with partially differentiated production and coalition strategies. It provided valuable insight into the dynamics of oligopolies within the telecommunications sector. 

Advantages And Disadvantages

Applying the Cournot competition model in a market offers a wide range of benefits to businesses. However, the model also comes with certain disadvantages and has faced specific criticisms.  

Advantages

Here are the main benefits of this model:

  • Provides practical result: The Cournot competition gives a practical outcome where the prices and quantities can be ascertained between different market structures.
  • Establishes equilibrium: Each company optimizes production based on its competitors’ output. This leads to a stable Nash equilibrium, where changing strategy independently doesn’t yield better results.
  • Ensures profit optimization: The companies in such a competition can frame their strategies to adjust their output levels for profit maximization.
  • Offers simplified model: It is an easily adaptable framework that doesn’t require mathematical expertise. 

Disadvantages

Here are the main challenges of this model:

  • Unrealistic assumptions: The assumptions of product homogeneity, complete rivalry, and fixed output of competitors are vague in the real-world scenario.
  • Lacks price consideration: The Cournot model overlooks the pricing factor, a critical aspect of competition.
  • Disagrees to competitors’ cooperation: In reality, firms operate in cooperation and collaboration with their competitors, which the model doesn’t take into consideration or mention anywhere.
  • Believes in Cournot duopoly: The model’s initial assumption that only two market players compete on output levels is not valid, as the markets have multiple competitors.
  • Ignores dynamic market changes: Such a framework often disregards factors like consumer preference, market demand, and technological changes as critical constraints for pricing and output decisions.

Cournot Competition vs Bertrand Competition

Cournot and Bertrand competition are the two different models of oligopoly industry structure. In the current scenario, businesses use a mix of these models, i.e., the Cournot-Bertrand model, to consider both quantity and market price for sales allocation. 

To understand both better, let us discuss the differences between these two frameworks: 

BasisCournot CompetitionBertrand Competition
DefinitionIt is an economic model in which rival firms compete on the output of homogeneous products.It is an economic model where firms producing identical products compete on pricing.
Competing StrategyFirms decide on quantities produced simultaneously but independently, considering their competitors’ production volumes.Companies set prices simultaneously by independently interpreting their competitors’ pricing strategies.
ConsidersQuantity as a competing factorPrice as a competing factor
Output LevelThe level of output fluctuates between monopoly and perfect competitionDetermines perfect competition
Impact on PricingResults in falling prices due to increased output levels of productsProduct prices concentrate around the marginal cost due to significant competition

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are the assumptions related to the Cournot competition model?

The Cournot competition assumptions state that the competing firms must:

1. Offer identical products
2. Be rational and aim for profit maximization
3. Make output decisions at the same time
4. Compete on output volume
5. Be rivals and have no collusion or cooperation
6. Consider that their competitor produces a fixed quantity of products
7. Have the power to influence market prices

How does Cournot competition impact pricing in the market?

As per the law of supply and demand, the price of commodities falls with a rise in their output levels. Therefore, the firms should account for their competitor’s potential output levels to ensure that they make higher profits with optimal output levels.

Can Cournot competition be applied to industries with differentiated products?

Certain variations of the Cournot model are applicable to differentiated product scenarios. However, it is not efficient for industries with highly heterogeneous product categories.

This article has been a guide to what is Cournot Competition. We explain its examples, comparison with Bertrand competition, advantages, & disadvantages. You may also find some useful articles here –

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