Reading: Price and Revenue in a Perfectly Competitive Industry and Firm

Price and Revenue

Each firm in a perfectly competitive market is a price taker; the equilibrium price and industry output are determined by demand and supply. Figure 9.1 “The Market for Radishes” shows how demand and supply in the market for radishes, which we shall assume are produced under conditions of perfect competition, determine total output and price. The equilibrium price is $0.40 per pound; the equilibrium quantity is 10 million pounds per month.


Graph of the supply and demand curves for radishes. The two curves intersect at 10 million points of radishes produced at a price of 40 cents.

Figure 9.1 The Market for Radishes. Price and output in a competitive market are determined by demand and supply. In the market for radishes, the equilibrium price is $0.40 per pound; 10 million pounds per month are produced and purchased at this price.

Because it is a price taker, each firm in the radish industry assumes it can sell all the radishes it wants at a price of $0.40 per pound. No matter how many or how few radishes it produces, the firm expects to sell them all at the market price.

The assumption that the firm expects to sell all the radishes it wants at the market price is crucial. If a firm did not expect to sell all of its radishes at the market price—if it had to lower the price to sell some quantities—the firm would not be a price taker. And price-taking behavior is central to the model of perfect competition.

Radish growers—and perfectly competitive firms in general—have no reason to charge a price lower than the market price. Because buyers have complete information and because we assume each firm’s product is identical to that of its rivals, firms are unable to charge a price higher than the market price. For perfectly competitive firms, the price is very much like the weather: they may complain about it, but in perfect competition there is nothing any of them can do about it.

This video explains how the market supply and demand curves determine the price of a good, and why firms in a perfectly competitive market are price takers.

Total Revenue

While a firm in a perfectly competitive market has no influence over its price, it does determine the output it will produce. In selecting the quantity of that output, one important consideration is the revenue the firm will gain by producing it.

A firm’s total revenue is found by multiplying its output by the price at which it sells that output. For a perfectly competitive firm, total revenue (TR) is the market price (P) times the quantity the firm produces (Q), or

TR = P x Q

The relationship between market price and the firm’s total revenue curve is a crucial one. Panel (a) of Figure 9.2 “Total Revenue, Marginal Revenue, and Average Revenue” shows total revenue curves for a radish grower at three possible market prices: $0.20, $0.40, and $0.60 per pound. Each total revenue curve is a linear, upward-sloping curve. At any price, the greater the quantity a perfectly competitive firm sells, the greater its total revenue. Notice that the greater the price, the steeper the total revenue curve is.

Two graphs. The first shows the total revenue for various amounts of radishes produced when there are different price points. If the price for radishes is 20 cents, the slope of the curve is only .2. At 40 cents, the slope is .4, and at 60 cents, the slope is .6. The second graph shows that at each price level, the marginal and average revenue lines are just straight lines across the graph, showing that irregardless of how many pounds of radishes are produced at either .20, .40, or .60 cents, then marginal and average revenues remain the same.

Figure 9.2 Total Revenue, Marginal Revenue, and Average Revenue. Panel (a) shows different total revenue curves for three possible market prices in perfect competition. A total revenue curve is a straight line coming out of the origin. The slope of a total revenue curve is MR; it equals the market price (P) and AR in perfect competition. Marginal revenue and average revenue are thus a single horizontal line at the market price, as shown in Panel (b). There is a different marginal revenue curve for each price.


Marginal Revenue, Price, and Demand for the Perfectly Competitive Firm

We have seen that a perfectly competitive firm’s marginal revenue curve is simply a horizontal line at the market price and that this same line is also the firm’s average revenue curve. For the perfectly competitive firm, MR=P=AR. The marginal revenue curve has another meaning as well. It is the demand curve facing a perfectly competitive firm.

Consider the case of a single radish producer, Tony Gortari. We assume that the radish market is perfectly competitive; Mr. Gortari runs a perfectly competitive firm. Suppose the market price of radishes is $0.40 per pound. How many pounds of radishes can Mr. Gortari sell at this price? The answer comes from our assumption that he is a price taker: He can sell any quantity he wishes at this price. How many pounds of radishes will he sell if he charges a price that exceeds the market price? None. His radishes are identical to those of every other firm in the market, and everyone in the market has complete information. That means the demand curve facing Mr. Gortari is a horizontal line at the market price as illustrated in Figure 9.3 “Price, Marginal Revenue, and Demand”. Notice that the curve is labeled d to distinguish it from the market demand curve, D, in Figure 9.1 “The Market for Radishes”. The horizontal line in Figure 9.3 “Price, Marginal Revenue, and Demand” is also Mr. Gortari’s marginal revenue curve, MR, and his average revenue curve, AR. It is also the market price, P.

Of course, Mr. Gortari could charge a price below the market price, but why would he? We assume he can sell all the radishes he wants at the market price; there would be no reason to charge a lower price. Mr. Gortari faces a demand curve that is a horizontal line at the market price. In our subsequent analysis, we shall refer to the horizontal line at the market price simply as marginal revenue. We should remember, however, that this same line gives us the market price, average revenue, and the demand curve facing the firm.

Graph showing that the demand curve is equal to the marginal revenue, average revenue, and price. No matter the quantity sold, this radish grower will need to sell at the $.40 per pound.

Figure 9.3 Price, Marginal Revenue, and Demand. A perfectly competitive firm faces a horizontal demand curve at the market price. Here, radish grower Tony Gortari faces demand curve d at the market price of $0.40 per pound. He could sell q1 or q2—or any other quantity—at a price of $0.40 per pound.

More generally, we can say that any perfectly competitive firm faces a horizontal demand curve at the market price. We saw an example of a horizontal demand curve in the module on elasticity. Such a curve is perfectly elastic, meaning that any quantity is demanded at a given price.

Note that Figure 9.1 shows the market (and demand curve) for a perfectly competitive industry and Figure 9.3 shows the demand curve for a perfectly competitive firm.

This video demonstrates how average revenue equals marginal revenue, which equals price in a perfectly competitive market.

Self Check: Perfectly Competitive Firms and Industries

Answer the question(s) below to see how well you understand the topics covered in the previous section. This short quiz does not count toward your grade in the class, and you can retake it an unlimited number of times.

You’ll have more success on the Self Check if you’ve completed the two Readings in this section.

Use this quiz to check your understanding and decide whether to (1) study the previous section further or (2) move on to the next section.