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The company you keep: Qualitative uncertainty in providing a club good


Journal of Public Economic Theory

Published online on


Clubs are typically experience goods. Potential members cannot ascertain precisely beforehand their quality (dependent endogenously on the club's facility investment and number of users, itself dependent on its prices). Members with unsatisfactory initial experiences discontinue visits. We show that a monopoly profit maximizer never offers a free trial period for such goods. For quality functions homogeneous of degree of at least minus one, a welfare maximizer, motivated by distributional concerns to mitigate disappointed consumers' losses, always does. We demonstrate the robustness of this finding by showing that (i) without qualitative uncertainty (thus, no disappointed customers), neither welfarist nor monopolist offers free trials; and (ii) if the planner pursues an objective mixing welfare maximization with profit maximization, the likelihood of free trials increases with the weight put on welfare maximization. Regarding club quality and usage, the monopolist provides a socially excessive level of quality to repeat buyers when the quality function is homogeneous of degree zero. With nonhomogeneous quality functions, the monopolist permits too little club usage; quality may or may not be socially excessive.