The Cost of Free: The Effects of “Wait-for-Free” Pricing Schemes on the Monetization of Serialized Digital Content

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Publication History

Received: November 9, 2020
Revised: October 6, 2021; June 16, 2022; September 1, 2022; October 27, 2022
Accepted: November 11, 2022
Published Online as Articles in Advance: August 22, 2023
Published in Issue: September 1, 2023

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Leveraging a combination of analytical frameworks and empirical assessments, this study investigates the effects of wait-for-free (WFF) pricing schemes on the monetization of serialized, digital entertainment content, which has become increasingly pervasive on online platforms. WFF pricing is a strategy in which consumers are given the option to either wait a certain amount of time to acquire digital content at no cost or pay to consume it immediately. We evaluate the extent to which habit formation and present-biased preferences driven by the consumption of addictive stock affect individual consumers’ willingness to wait (or pay) for content, which, in turn, determines the efficacy of WFF pricing. We also examine the conditions under which consumers switch from waiting for free content to instantaneously purchasing content. Our findings indicate that WFF pricing increases the sales of serialized digital content, generating new demand from customers who would otherwise forgo participation in the market. In addition, the pricing design effectively generates sustained profits in the long run. We found that most consumers who initiate a purchase either upon initial market entry or upon switching continue to purchase as new episodes become available. Moreover, the results indicate that as a user accumulates free episodes of a specific series, given extended waiting periods, the likelihood of their conversion from a wait-for-free customer to an instant-purchase customer increases. In particular, WFF pricing effectively augments the willingness to pay of low-valuation consumers as habit formation builds up through time with the free consumption of serialized content. One free episode can elevate the likelihood of consumer purchase by up to 13%. However, as the number of free episodes consumed goes beyond a threshold, the likelihood of conversion decreases. We conclude with a discussion of managerial implications that can help content providers monetize their serialized digital content products.

Additional Details
Author Angela Aerry Choi, Ki-Eun Rhee, Chamna Yoon, and Wonseok Oh
Year 2023
Volume 47
Issue 3
Keywords WFF pricing, habit formation, economic modeling, digital content, price design, econometric analyses
Page Numbers 1073-1100
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