A monopoly is one of the four major types of market structures alongside perfect competition, monopolistic competition, and oligopoly.
It is generally characterized by the absence of competition in which a single producer or seller provides or supplies a particular product in a specific market or industry. In some situations, there can be other producers or sellers operating within the same market or industry.
However, because this single producer or seller has assumed a dominant position, it has substantial and unchallenged control over prices and entry barriers, as well as the bargaining powers of buyers and the bargaining powers of industry suppliers.
Understanding this market structure further requires understanding its specific characteristics, as well as its pros and cons or advantages and disadvantages.
Characteristics of Monopoly
• Dominance of a Single Seller: Remember that a market based on this structure depends on a single producer or seller. This seller either is the only entity operating in that particular market or has achieved a considerable level of dominance and market or industry control that renders its competitors insignificant.
• No Substitute Products: The presence of a single seller dominating the market means that there are no relevant substitutes to its products with similar or related product features and benefits. Other competing products might exist in some situations but they cannot be considered a true alternative.
• Very High Barriers to Entry: Another characteristic of a monopoly is that it is impossible for a new player to enter and compete in the market or industry because the barriers to entry are very high due to high start-up costs, stringent legal and political environment, and restrictions due to intellectual property laws.
• Single Seller is Price Maker: The absence of competitors or the irrelevance of competition despite the presence of other competing sellers in the market gives the single dominant seller full control to decide on the price of its product. Consumers are left without a choice but to accept the price as it is.
• Low Bargaining Powers: In addition, the bargaining power of buyers and the bargaining power of suppliers are low. Remember that the consumers have no other product options to choose from. On the other hand, suppliers have no other customers to do business with but the single dominant seller in the market.
• Ease of Economies of Scale: A single seller in a monopoly market can readily achieve economies of scale because it owns all of the market shares, especially if its consumer base is large. This seller can maximize the advantages of economies of scale and attain optimal levels of operations to reduce its total business cost.
• Restricted Market Information: The information in this market structure is not readily accessible by emerging or potential competitors and the target market. The public does not have complete access to the ins and outs of the market or industry, including the operational processes utilized by the dominant entity.
Advantages and Disadvantages
The following are the advantages of monopoly:
• Possible Price Stability: There are no price wars that might disrupt the market due to the absence or irrelevance of competition. The price can be stable and practical granted that the dominant seller makes its pricing justifiable.
• Low-Priced Product: It is also possible for the product to be affordable because the seller has achieved a considerable level of economies of scale that allows it to lower its business costs, especially the cost per unit of its product.
• Research and Development: Another advantage of a monopoly is that it can promote innovation despite the absence of competition, especially by giving the dominant seller enough budget to invest in research and development.
• Operational Efficiencies: It is also possible for the dominant seller to become very efficient in doing this business, especially in its operations and production because of its economies of scale, low costs, and high profit.
• External Controls: The single seller might dominate the entire market but it can still be subjected to external controls and influences. The government can impose regulations while investors can exert relevant pressures.
The following are the disadvantages of monopoly:
• Fewer Incentives: There are less incentives for a single seller to innovate or cut costs and promote the welfare of its consumers, especially if the product it sells is both essential and relevant to a large number of people.
• Possible High Prices: A dominant seller can decide to maximize its earnings by increasing the price of its product despite lowering its cost. The absence of external controls such as government regulations can make this possible.
• Less Options or Choices: The low bargaining powers of both the consumers and suppliers mean that they are at the helm of the dominant seller. There are no other products to choose from and other sellers to do business with.
• Inferior Product: The fact that there are no incentives to innovate for product improvements means that a seller can grow complacent and stop improving its product. This can be detrimental to dissatisfied consumers.
• Can Stagnate a Market: Another disadvantage of a monopoly is that it can stagnate a market or an industry because of the absence of competition needed in fostering innovation through research and development investments.